Wednesday, 25 March 2015

A baked bean brunch

So here's a recipe that falls into the accidental vegan category. Home made baked beans form an excellent brunch option, and are more satisfactory than just pouring some out of  a tin (though the work of Mr Heinz has its place too). Making them means that you have the option of adjusting the levels of seasoning and adding some extra flavours and spices too. For this batch I added a little chilli, but soy sauce, thyme, and mustard have all made appearances previously (though probably not together). Using tinned cooked beans might not seem quite in the spirit of things, but it does make this a pretty excellent meal to make from stuff in the cupboard, and without the need for soaking things overnight. I think a key aspect of these beans is the chunky tomato sauce base, and with some garlic mushrooms, and sliced avocado, this made a really filling and tasty winter (vegan) brunch.

Recipe (enough for around 4 people)

1 tin (410g) cannellini beans, drained
1 tin (300g) haricot beans, drained
2 small dried bay leaves
1 medium white onion, finely chopped
1 small carrot, finely chopped (optional)
1 small stick celery, finely chopped
2 fat cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp chilli flakes
1 tin (400g) chopped tomatoes
1 fresh tomato, roughly chopped or handful of cherry tomatoes (optional)
1 tsp dried mixed herbs
1 tblsp sundried tomato puree
1-2 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp salt (or to taste)
Some generous grinds of black pepper
2-3 tblsp olive oil
Some water

Warm the oil in a medium saucepan and then put in the onion, carrot, celery, and bay leaves. Stir well and leave to cook over a medium/low heat until the vegetables are soft (probably around 15 minutes), then add the garlic, dried herbs and chilli flakes and cook for another 5 minutes or so. Add the fresh tomato if you're using any, and then the tinned toms and puree. Make sure everything is well mixed, stir in the sugar, salt and pepper, and pour in around half a tin can full of water. Leave the tomato sauce to simmer gently for around 30 minutes, adding a little more water if it ever looks super thick. Tip in the beans and simmer for another 5-10 minutes before checking the seasoning. Serve piping hot on some nice bread (I had some fancy sourdough and spelt and sunflower seed options), toasted and spread with something non-dairy (eg olive oil or a sunflower spread), and bask in the glow of being an accidental vegan.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Vegan February

I randomly decided to do another vegan month for February. I quite enjoyed it last time round, and now feel I have a lot more confidence in cooking in a vegan stylee, and not just falling back on a default option of Linda McCartney sausages and vegetables. This time round, I expanded into exploring some more vegan baking, cooked a lot more Indian food, and other food that just happened not to have dairy as a key ingredient. And I have to say I really enjoyed it again.

So here's my recipe for vegan apricot, pear and almond crumble with custard. In the depths of a gloomy February a hearty hot pudding was an essential, so I was delighted to discover that crumble and custard is very simple to veganise.

These days I usually buy ready-made, fresh custard from the supermarket, but googling revealed that the instant custard powders I remember as a kid were accidentally vegan; consisting of just cornflour, vanilla flavour, and colouring to be mixed with sugar and milk (no eggs involved!). So on this principle, I warmed a pint of almond milk with around 2 tblsp of caster sugar, until it was fully dissolved. I then made a loose paste with around 1.5 tblsp of corn flour and a little more milk, and gradually mixed that into the hot milk. Once the custard had thickened, I added 1 tsp of vanilla extract. You can just adjust the amount of cornflour so your custard is as thick or thin as you prefer. I suspect using soy milk would have resulted in a less nutty taste, but this was still very nice. Alternatively, you could just use Bird's custard powder with your plant-based milk of choice, for a fully traditional yellow custard.

The crumble was made with a fruit base of four sliced Rocha dessert pears, which did not require any advance cooking, and a tin of apricots halves (feel free to use fresh ones in the summer). The crumble topping consisted of 125g plain flour, 75g ground almonds, 75g sugar, 100g sunflower spread, and a handful of flaked almonds. Combine the flour, sugar, ground almonds and spread together and until they form loose crumbs and then stir in the other almonds. Scatter the topping on the fruit, and bake at gas mark five for around 25 minutes or until lightly browned on top, and serve with the hot custard. This should be enough for six people, or several helpings for two across a weekend.