Thursday, 24 July 2014

Going vegan- week 2

I'm back with my update on week 2! You can say one thing for veganism- it certainly aids regular blog posting.

I've carried on with many things from week 1. I'm still eating my Bircher-style muesli for work-day breakfasts, and coconut yoghurt at the weekend. I'm still taking some form of salad type stuff in for lunch, but this time with homemade caramelised onion hummus and some genuinely tasty Ryvita crispbreads (the multigrain one). And I'm eating more Linda McCartney sausages than expected.

There have been some interesting food developments though. After a couple of false starts, I think I've finally found an acceptable soy yoghurt. Unfortunately, I can't seem to locate any plain coconut yoghurt (my preferred option) around here and the (delicious) raw chocolate ones from CoYo are just too much like pudding for me to take into work for a mid-afternoon snack. I tried the Tesco Free From soy natural yoghurt in week 1 but it was pretty horrible- a weird chalky taste, and a smell of slaked clay that reminded me of those mud mask sachets I used to apply as a teenager. It was verging on inedible for me, even when I tried it with lots of chopped up fruit and vanilla extract. I'm sad to say I had to chuck this. Next up was an Alpro vanilla soy yoghurt, initially purchased as there was no plain one available in Tesco. Thankfully this was heaps better. Still a very slight chalky after-taste, but nothing terrible and lots of vanilla flavour. In many ways this was more like a vanilla custard, which is probably due to the amount of added sugar in it. I don't want a load of glucose-fructose syrup in my yoghurt though, so was relieved to finally track down some plain soy yoghurt from Alpro. This was not exactly delicious but had minimal chalkiness, so was acceptable with fruit.

I've also tried three vegan 'cheeses'. The soya-free Cheezly brand one was vaguely ok-ish when crumbled over my hot chilli in week 1. Although it doesn't melt, it tasted faintly savoury, like a sort of homoeopathic feta. I tried to add it to my lunchtime salads too, but it's far less successful cold. It was just about edible but not that pleasant. I also tried the Tesco Free From strong soya cheese. This was more cheese-like in texture, and looked a bit like (cheap) Cheddar. But I'm afraid that it just didn't work for me in terms of taste or texture, and I could only eat a tiny bite of it. I'm not even sure why, as it wasn't that unpleasant, but I was immediately sure that that tiny bite would be enough. I still have it in the fridge though, and now a few days have passed I'm wondering if I should try cooking with it. But I don't want to ruin a perfectly nice dinner with the cheese of instant aversion. We shall see. I have fared much better with a Free From garlic and herb soft cheese-style soya spread from Tesco (also soy based). The texture of this was much more like cream cheese, and the strong flavourings meant that pretty much all you could taste was herbiness. Not amazing, but nice enough to go on a Ryvita.

Dinners have continued to be rather successful. I sautéed butternut squash with garlic and za'atar, and made a cheese-free rocket and basil pesto to go over steamed broccoli, which was served with tofu one night and Linda McCartney sausages the next. I also made some frickin excellent lentil and mushroom burgers, which I ate with sweet potato fries, and a big green salad. The burgers were inspired by this recipe from food enthusiast and vegan, ultra-marathon runner Scott Jurek. I changed quite a few things due to an ingredient deficiency and not quite reading the recipe properly, so my version is below, but these were genuinely fab and I will be making them again.

Lentil and mushroom burgers (makes around 6-8 depending on size):

390g tin of green lentils (I used one from Tesco)
Around 100g chestnut mushrooms
3 medium spring onions
3 cloves of garlic
1 tsp mixed dried herbs
0.5 tsp paprika
0.5 tsp ground black pepper
2 tsp English mustard
1 tblsp gram (chickpea) flour
Around 1 tblsp chopped hazelnuts
Around 100g quinoa cooked in Marigold vegetable bouillon stock (and cooled)
Plain oil for frying

So firstly, I didn't have things like ground flaxseed and nutritional yeast which the Jurker uses in his recipe. I subbed those and the breadcrumbs for quinoa and Marigold stock powder. I find this quite salty too, so didn't bother adding any more to the mix. I also didn't read the bit about cooking the vegetables first. So I basically put everything above, except the nuts and quinoa, in the food processor and pulsed and until it had a suitably coarse burger-like texture. I then added the other ingredients put it all in the fridge overnight. The mixture turned out to be a little on the wet-side but not too sloppy. When it came to dinner time, I heated up a thin layer of oil in a non-stick frying pan, took a heaped tablespoon of the burger mix and plopped into the pan, using the back of the spoon to push it down and shape it a bit. These needed around 3-4 minutes on each side to form a crust and colour up. They were just about robust enough to be flipped over and later manoeuvred onto a plate. I'm pretty sure that a lot of moisture was coming from the raw mushroom, so I will definitely cook these first next time, and that should make the patties a lot more robust. But nevertheless, these burgers tasted damn good. Lentil and mushroom immediately summons up some sort of stupid hippy, dippy cliché, but these were properly packed full of flavour and had a great succulent texture. I did think that a bit of melted cheese over the top would be an excellent addition, but obviously that's not very vegan, so some grilled onions and tomato ketchup were a very acceptable substitute. The burgers would be great in a bun with green leaves, but I kept mine au naturel and ate them with some sweet potato fries and a big salad.

The weekend involved polishing off lots of the above as leftovers, snacking on salted crisps, crackers with peanut butter, a variety of raw and roasted nuts, and moderate quantities of dark chocolate. As it was so flipping hot (and humid), dinners minimised cooking and were mostly salad based. On the left is a romaine lettuce, fennel, raddish, carrot, spring onion, artichoke heart, and yellow pepper salad, with a side of beetroot, the now ubiquitous Linda McCartney sausages (rosemary and red onion this time) and a stuffed mushroom courtesy of Sainsburys (a rare cheese-free pre-prepared item vegetarian item).

I also managed a visit to the Gog Magog cafe during the week. My concerns that I'd have to sit in a corner with a black tea, while everyone one else had coffee and cake were unfounded as obtaining a soy milk latte was totally non-problematic, and there was even a vegan cake offering in the form of a damn good date flapjack. Huzzah! And now onwards to week 3!

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Going vegan- week 1

Nothing very interesting has been happening here in terms of eating. I've generally been cooking the same range of things and not eating out that much, which is pretty normal really. Anyway, for various reasons I thought that this month I'd try a 30 day vegan challenge. Veganism has always seemed a bit daunting, but after a bit of research it actually seemed pretty achievable. As I don't eat meat anyway, I didn't think it would be that much of a shock to the system and there seem to be a lot of vegan substitutes available too. However, most of these seem to be based on soy and as I didn't want to become one giant walking soy bean I tried not to go too crazy with these. As an additional factor, I've also been minimising the amount of sugar and processed grains I eat, so no relying on pasta or toast for dinner either.

So as I near the end of week 1, here's what I've been eating, some recipes, and some of my views on the vegan products I've purchased.

One thing I've realised about being vegan is that a bit of preparation is often key. So for workday breakfasts I decided on a sort of seed-enriched Bircher muesli with almond milk.

Bircher-style muesli (enough for around 4 portions):

4-5 tblsp coarse porridge oats
Around 50g Asda seed mix (containing pumpkin, sunflower, hemp seeds, and linseeds)
Around 50g Asda triple berry and seed mix (similar to the above but with dried cranberries, goji berries, and blueberries too)
2-3 tblsp chia seeds
Around 100ml, or enough to submerge everything, of Alpro almond milk

I put all of the above in a bowl and left it covered in the fridge overnight. The next morning I took out around a quarter, topped it up with some more almond milk and added some toasted coconut flakes and chopped up fresh strawberries. I have to say that this was very nice indeed. The almond milk was genuinely tasty, all the nuts and seeds meant that the muesli was flavourful as well as filling, and the bit of fresh fruit added some natural sweetness. I would definitely have this again.

I think I got a bit carried away with my work lunches (the fear of being hungry was strong). So I took in a carrot and brazil nut dip, peanut butter hummus, little gem and tomato salad, red pepper and celery sticks, and a couple of Carr's water biscuits with Vitalite sunflower spread. This was actually a bit much, but did facilitate grazing.

The carrot dip was inspired by this Vegan Society recipe, but here's my version.

Carrot and brazil nut dip (easily enough for 4):

4 medium carrots
Around 50g brazil nuts
1 spring onion
0.5 tsp ground cumin
1 tblsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Peel and chop the carrots, and either boil or steam until they are just cooked. Put in a food processor (yay for the Kenwood mini-chopper), roughly chop the spring onion and nuts, add the oil and cumin to the carrots and process until coarsely blended. I wouldn't normally use un-toasted spices, but in this case the hot carrots apply a bit of heat to the cumin and also soften the spring onion. Season the dip to taste, and leave to cool.

The hummus is adapted from a Nigella Lawson recipe which replaces tahini with peanut butter. I blended around 1.5tblsp of crunchy peanut butter with one clove of garlic, a 400g tin of drained chickpeas, 2-3tblsp olive oil, and a similar amount of water to form a nice hummus-y texture. Add salt and pepper to taste. Again, this makes loads.

For dinner in week 1, I thought I'd go for a big one pot meal-type thing which would minimise cooking after work later in the week. Having decided on a chilli, this plan was a bit overly successful as I ended up with enough to feed at least 8 people. I threw in lots of spices and garlic with a tomato base, and used soy mince for texture and protein. I ate this with a guacamole, a sweetcorn salsa, and some tortilla chips. Here's my basic recipe, which can be easily tweaked depending on what you like or have available.

Mexican-style chilli (easily enough for 8):

454g bag of soy mince (I used the frozen one from Tesco, and left it to defrost in the fridge before cooking)
1 stick celery, diced
1 large carrot, diced
1 green pepper, chopped into chunks
1 yellow pepper, chopped into chunks
Half a red pepper, chopped into chunks
5-6 medium chestnut mushrooms, quartered
1 medium onion, finely sliced
5 medium garlic cloves, crushed
1 bay leaf
210g tin of kidney beans, drained
400g tin of chopped tomatoes in tomato juice
1 heaped tblsp sun-dried tomato purée (I use the Gia brand)
1 tsp dried mixed herbs
2 tsp chilli flakes
2 tsp paprika
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
3-4 tblsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to season

Sweat down the celery, carrot, and onion, with the bay leaf in the olive oil over a lowish heat. Once soft add the peppers, mushrooms, garlic, herbs, and spices. After a few minutes, stir in the soy mince, and after a bit more cooking add the tinned tomatoes and purée. I also half-filled the (now empty) tin of tomatoes with water and put that in too, but you might want to vary this depending on the chilli consistency your prefer. After adding salt and pepper, the chilli simmered for around 20 minutes. Add the kidney beans, check the seasoning, and simmer for another 5 minutes or so, or until the peppers are fully cooked.

Due to making so much of all the above stuffs, the weekend was mainly filled with eating the leftovers (I still had to freeze some of the chilli). But an excellent additional breakfast option was a raw chocolate CoYo coconut yogurt. These were genuinely delicious, and tasted more like a chocolate mousse really. As with the Bircher muesli, I'm sure these will be reappearing in post-vegan life.

Weekend dinners were a bit more mixed. One involving a tomato, fennel, and black olive stew, green beans with almonds and garlic, Linda McCartney sausages, and a salad of raw mushroom and jarred artichoke hearts was excellent.

Another involving cumin roasted cauliflower, courgettes with garlic and chilli, guacamole, and smoked tofu with caramelised onion was less good. All the bits tasted quite nice, but it was a pretty random combination which didn't really complement each other. Perfectly edible, but I have realised that beige and green is never the best look for an appetising dinner.

Overall week 1 of veganism went rather smoothly. I ate more beans and soy than I would normally, but probably also more vegetables. I definitely wasn't hungry, and certainly didn't feel I was missing out on anything. So pretty positive really. I can't say I feel particularly 'healthier' either, but that wasn't a particular aim and seven days of doing anything probably isn't going to have much impact. So anyway, onwards to week 2!

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Chocolate and pecan blondies

Not that you need telling, but the recipes on the Smitten Kitchen blog are really rather good. Luckily a lot of other people realised this a while ago as blogger Deb Perlman now has a best selling cookbook.

Anyway, I made these blondies from a basic recipe on her blog the other week, and added around 75g of chopped up dark chocolate (85% cocoa) and about the same weight of lightly toasted pecan nuts. These were the first blondies I've made, and possibly tasted too. They were quite sweet, but were perfect in small squares and had a great fudge-y texture. They are the sort of thing that would be ideal for picnics or travelling with, as they don't have the logistical issues of transporting a large Victoria sponge (but are equally as delicious). Definitely one to make again once summer re-appears.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Pint Shop, Cambridge, UK

Pint Shop is located right in the centre of Cambridge, but you could easily walk past and not notice it. That would be an error. It only opened late year, but it's been a great addition to the limited number of independent eating options in town. It's a slightly odd space with a pub/bar at the front, and a dining room at the back (and another upstairs too apparently). I went for a weekend lunch earlier in the year which was lovely (but unblogged), so it was an obvious choice for a midweek, day-off-work, late lunch. And by late lunch, I mean very late- I think we rocked up at around 3:45pm, so were the only people in the dining room, but service was still prompt and friendly.

 There would normally be other people here.

Bread and a jug of water arrived unprompted, and an exceptionally helpful front of house person assisted me in choosing the nicest gin and tonic I have ever had (with City of London Dry Gin if you're interested). Wanting something lighter to eat, I chose a couple of starters and sides (to share), which all used simple ingredients done really well. A classic asparagus and poached egg dish was cooked perfectly and well seasoned. The crumbed hake was a bit like square fishfingers, but none the worse for that, and the grilled spring onions that came with it were deliciously tender and smoky. I love broccoli with anchovy, and would have been delighted with am extra pot of the dressing for dipping purposes. As I think the picture below captures, onion rings were ginormous but still light and crispy.

Having scoffed all of this, and with the MCP devouring a large baked bream, we were too full for pudding (a rarity). All of this food, along with a couple of alcoholic drinks came to around £55 (without service) which I think was excellent value for the quality of cooking. I've only been twice, but I already pretty much love Pint Shop. I would happily return just for a G&T, but some food would be even better.

Pint Shop
10 Peas Hill
Cambridge CB2 3PN

Monday, 28 April 2014

Teri-Aki, Cambridge, UK- A return visit

I really love the Japanese food at Teri-Aki's, but I have a horrible feeling that the last time I went was actually also the first time I blogged about it. As is the way with such things, I seem to have reversed the trend recently by going three times in the past few months. Back in the day I always used to order their fried soba noodles, but on recent lunch visits I've switched to sushi and and some smaller hot dishes. So I can thoroughly recommend the tempura, agedashi tofu, nasu dengaku aubergine, and the maki rolls.

The tempura was crisp and oil free, whether contained seafood or vegetables, the sushi fresh and flavourful; and I've yet to have a poor plate of aubergine or tofu. Service has always been a bit patchy at Teri-Aki's, but based on recent experiences, it has become a lot more consistent.

So with prices hovering around the five pound mark for the smaller dishes, and smaller plates of sushi, and around a tenner for large plates of noodles, Teri-Aki's remains excellent value. This was all really rather reassuring after such a long gap between visits, and left me wondering why I'd left it for so long. Anyway, it's firmly back on the radar now, and next time I might even order something aside from tempura, aubergine, and tofu (but probably won't).

Teri-Aki Restaurant and Bar
6-8 Quayside
Cambridge CB5 8AB

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Kalo jeera diye mach or Bengali-style salmon with black onion seeds

This is a really simple salmon recipe that my parents came up with aeons ago for cooking what was at the time a pretty unfamiliar British fish- so a true fusion dish! I'm sure it could be adapted for use with other oily fish, or indeed the more traditional Bengali rui mach. There isn't much jhol, or gravy, as such but what you do have is quite a delicately spiced dish which really compliments the rich flavour of salmon.

Recipe (enough for 2)

Around 300g of salmon, scaled and cut into large-ish chunks
A large thumb-sized piece of ginger, squashed to a paste
2 cloves of garlic, squashed to a paste
1 large dried bay leaf
1 whole green chilli, pricked a few times
Around 2 tsp black onion seeds (a.k.a. nigella, kalonji, or kalo jeera if you're Bengali)
Around 1.5 tsp turmeric
A small squirt of tomato purée
Around 1 tsp salt, or to taste
Around 1 tblsp plain oil
Couple of tbslp chopped fresh coriander leaves (optional)

Firstly marinate the fish in around 1 tsp of turmeric. Give it a good stir so it's all lightly coated, and leave it for around 30mins (or less if that's more convenient). In the meantime squish the the ginger and garlic, and mix into a paste. When you're ready to cook, heat the oil in a suitable pan (non-stick is pretty handy for this) and then put in the fish. Gently fry for a few minutes on each side to 'seal' it but not cook it fully. Take the fish out (leaving the oil in the pan) and put it the bay leaf, ginger and garlic, and chilli. Cook over a medium heat for a few minutes and then add the black onion seeds, and continue to cook. After another couple of minutes, put the fish back in, sprinkle over the rest of the turmeric, and add the tomato purée with a couple of tablespoons of water. Gently mix everything together, season to taste and place over a low heat until the fish is cooked through. This will probably take 5 to 10 minutes depending on the size of your fish pieces.

Once cooked, take off the heat and stir in the coriander if you're using it. Serve with plain boiled rice, and maybe some vegetables, while contemplating the the brilliance of kalo jeera.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Ful kopi daata torkari or Bengali-style cauliflower stalks

The Bengalis have been chomping their way through fish bones and bits of indigestible vegetable for centuries now. Something I've never quite got my fussy head around #BengaliFail

But there are a few things which I have come round to, and this dish of cauliflower with its stalks is one of them. I guess it is the vegetable equivalent of nose-to-tail eating, as it uses the entire cauliflower with very little waste. In fact you can make it totally sans florets (and use those for something else), but I prefer to save about half of them and have it as a more mixed dish. You can also add in other vegetables- as peas or butternut squash which work particularly well.

This dish also uses the typical Bengali spice blend of panch phoron. This is a mixture of whole fenugreek, cumin, mustard, fennel, and black onion seeds, and is used in a range of vegetable dishes. I am reliably informed that this is available in Waitrose, (or any Indian grocery shop).

Recipe (plenty for 2):

2 dried bay leaves
Around 2-3 tsps panch phoron
1 tsp turmeric
Stalks from one medium cauliflower and around half the florets
Around a tblsp of fresh ginger, crushed into a paste
1 whole green chilli
1 tsp salt, or to taste
1-1.5 tblsp plain oil, such as sunflower.

Firstly prep your cauliflower by removing any outer leaves or stalks that look all shrivelled up and inedible, and then start cutting away at the inner stalks to reach the florets. Cut the florets away from the core and set aside any you're saving for later. Slice up the stalks into medium pieces that aren't too thick, and do the same with the core. The cauliflower florets should be cut into smaller pieces too, but nothing too tiny as you don't want them to disintegrate in the pan. Once you've got the ginger crushed and ready, you're ready to cook. Heat up the oil in a large pan, and when it's hot (but not smoking) put in the bay leaves and panch phoron seeds. Reduce the heat if needed so that nothing scorches. When the seeds start to pop a little, put in the ginger and then the cauliflower stalks and florets and chilli, and give everything a good stir. Add the salt and turmeric, turn the heat down, put  a lid on the pan, and allow to cook for around 15 minutes. Check on it during this time, and if it looks like anything is catching, add a little water and stir well. The torkari is done when the stalks and florets are both tender and fully cooked through. If you wanted to add some peas, wait until the cauliflower is cooked before putting them in. But if you were using squash, give this a head start and add it in first, allowing it to cook for around 10 minutes before putting in the cauliflower. Serve with rice, other Bengali things, or chapatis.