Category Archives: Uncategorized

Winter Vegetables

Well, just take a look out the window. Chances are it is raining, or the sun may be glaring, but you know that it’s freezing outside, that misleading swine. This was the view from our living room window at about 3pm this afternoon. Miserable, isn’t it ?

A couple of friends and I have taken up yoga in an attempt to beat our winter blues (and premature back pain). I realise that it is only October, but for someone who hates this lack of sun and heat as much as I, it may as well already be winter; I’m seriously considering hibernation. As we spilled onto the pavement outside Brighton’s Buddhist centre last Friday evening after a class, limber and supple and refreshed into the chilly night air, we encountered a farmer’s market about to close for the evening. With gleeful excitement we perused the colourful array of tasty and healthy fruit and veg and outstayed our welcome long enough to warrant free figs. We ate yellow baby tomatoes out of a paper bag as we walked home in our leggings, each with our own respective plans to make soup for dinner that evening. It seemed like the perfect way to round off the day.

My choice: chunky vegetable and lentil – just saute an onion, add 500ml vegetable stock, cube a potato and some butternut squash, add a few handfuls of lentils and simmer for 20 or so minutes. Throw in a can of chopped tomatoes, a tablespoon of tomato puree, and some chopped leafy greens (I used spinach and kale). Season as you wish.

Freeze what you can’t physically fit into your tiny, cold-shrunk stomach in mismatched plastic tubs. Above is this very soup in its frozen form, a soup-cicle, if you will. It is necessary, as I find myself making a lot of soup recently, what with having developed somewhat of an obsession with fresh vegetables and farmers’ markets.

And another good way of using up a mismatch of leftover veg…

… like I need an excuse to make pizza.

I’ve been experimenting with different doughs. This here pizza is on the gluten-free base I have made previously. It’s nutty and chewy, kind of like a wholegrain, savoury cookie, topped with a plethora of Mediterranean delight.

I went to the Turkish/Greek market near where I live, one of those ones with all the fresh olives and sun-dried tomatoes and artichokes and baklava on display, and you can spoon them, dripping in oil and herbs, into little tupperware dishes and pay per lb; with freshly baked bread, pitta and fruits and vegetables and nuts and yoghurt and all the goat and sheep’s cheese you could possibly want at any one time. Going there is like a trip to the zoo for me. Markets are beautiful.

I bought some halva and some Greek yoghurt, the figs and the feta. A true Mediterranean feast. Though I have never visited Greece, I feel like this was a subconscious effort on my part to ignore how cold and grey and dreary England is becoming. I like to think that the figs on this pizza add a little sunshine to my wintery squash vibe.

Feta and butternut squash pizza with fig and caramelised onion

Roast some butternut squash with olive oil, salt, pepper and rosemary for about 25 – 30 minutes on medium-high heat.

While the squash is roasting, caramelise your onions.

When you take it out, mash it up a bit. I didn’t think the figs would go very well with tomato pizza sauce, so I left it out. You can either go commando or make some kind of cheese or white sauce with which to top your pizza (I find a mixture of cream cheese and lemon juice works well on tomato-less pizzas), or just drizzle some olive oil over the top, then spread the mashed butternut squash mixture across your pizza base of choice (Wholemeal, gluten-free, or see below !).

Slice your figs, crumble your feta (any goat’s cheese would work well) and arrange your onions over the top, with an extra sprinkling of rosemary and pepper for good measure (use judgement – too much rosemary can end up tasting soapy, I’ve heard…). I chose to omit the final dash of salt I usually put over my pizzas before baking – mozzarella needs it, feta does not.

Providing your pizza base has been pre-cooked, you should only need to cook your assembled pizza for about 10-15 minutes.

The colours on this remind me of a seventies caravan.

Pizza Fiorentina

So, from Greece back to the homeland of the pizza, tonight I made fiorentina. That’s tomato, mozzarella, spinach, black olives and artichokes all topped off with a poached egg, black pepper and parmesan cheese. It’s perfect.

This is my favourite food to eat of all time.

On my journey to create the perfect pizza base I have had to relinquish some of my health-fascism in the form of using WHITE FLOUR. Well, as I read on a forum wherein the pros and cons of wholemeal flour were being discussed, some things where just not meant to be wholemeal. Pizza dough is one of them. Sure, I will happily make and eat a wholemeal pizza crust, but you can’t compare it to those soft, chewy and smooth white bases that the Italians and a number of UK-Italian restaurants do so well.

So I’m trying this recipe tonight, with the semolina and strong white. It turned out really good, if not a little crispy. At the moment I’m yearning for that stretchy, doughy puffiness that I can never seem to achieve with homemade pizza, especially not in the gluten-free or wholemeal versions. It is so elusive.

I’ll let you know when I get there.

Amy x

French Onion Soup

I found some cheddar in my freezer.

I had a big fat juicy onion that needed some lovin’.

I grabbed some vegetable stock. Gotta have stock. Never know when the mood for soup’s gonna hit ya.

Being a person who never knows when the mood for anything is going to hit her, I keep my kitchen fully stocked with an array of ingredients, no matter how often or how little they are used. One of these ingredients is fortified wine. Which just so happens to make a fantastic French Onion Soup.

All I needed to do was shuffle up to the shop and get a crusty, wholemeal roll to toast and adorn my fragrant and flavoursome French friend.

French Onion Soup for One

Preheat your grill to high.

Peel and chop one large yellow onion into rings.

Heat a dab of butter and a splash of olive oil in a pan. On a low heat, cook onions, stirring every 5 minutes or so, for 25 minutes, until they are sweet and caramelised.

Add a few drops of balsamic vinegar and a sprinkling of sugar.

Stir 1-2 tablespoons of cornflour into the onion mixture to thicken it slightly.

Stir 2-3 tablespoons of sherry or white wine into about 200ml of vegetable stock (which works just as well as the beef stock that is traditionally called for in this recipe). Add to onion mixture.

Let simmer for a few minutes while you toast a slice of wholemeal bread.

Pour the soup into an oven-proof bowl. Top with toast. You can cut into croutons if you wish.

Cover with a generous layer of cheese and grill for a few minutes until cheese is melted and bubbling. Gruyere or emmenthal is usually used to top this soup, but what sane person has gruyere or emmenthal just lying around ? Cheddar is the common man’s cheese, and cheddar is what I had, so cheddar is what I used.

Gobble up. It’s so comforting.

Winter is coming.

Tofu Lasagne

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Piercing the film lid of a Linda McCartney vegetarian lasagne ready meal, placing it lovingly into the microwave, shutting the door and pressing ‘Go’ is about as close as I’ve ever come to making this dish. I can’t really believe that I’ve never done it before, shame on me ! Well today is the day that I changed that part of my life forever, by making…

VEGAN TOFU LASAGNE !

(What a strange combination of letters combine to form the word ‘lasagne,’… lasagne, lasagne, lasagne… so weird !)

You will need:
Wholewheat lasagne sheets (mine you can just put straight in the dish without pre-boiling – check your packet instructions)
200g spinach
400g pack of firm tofu, drained
60ml soy milk
2 cloves of garlic
2 tbsps lemon juice
2 tbsps fresh basil
1 tsp salt/pepper
A double batch of the tomato sauce I detail under the pizza recipe in this post (so about 20 cherry tomatoes worth)

Optional: a few handfuls of grated not-zzarella (I used Cheezly); a sprinkling or two of vegan imitation parmesan; a handful of pine nuts

Method:

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.

Blanch the spinach (place in boiling water for a few seconds, then remove and plunge immediately into cool water). Leave aside to drain.

Place the tofu, milk, garlic, lemon, basil and seasoning in a food processor and blend until fairly smooth but slightly textured. I think the idea here is to create some kind of imitation ricotta…

Stir the spinach through the mixture.

In a baking dish, layer tomato sauce, then your lasagna sheet, followed by tofu and cheese/pine nuts if you’re using. Repeat until dish is full/ingredients are gone. Finish with pasta sheets and tomato sauce, and cheese if you wish.

Bake for 45 minutes

Makes 4 servings. Adapted from The Daily Green.

Things I learnt from making this dish:

Drain your tofu like a mother. I mean really drain that badboy – take it out of the packet in the morning, squeeze it, wrap it in paper towels, stick it under something heavy in your fridge. Go for a 10 mile run. Take it out. Squeeze it again. Wrap it up. Put it back in the fridge. Repeat. Check it throughout the day and change the paper towels if need be.

Make more tomato sauce than you think you need. I ran out. It’s better to have too much – you can always put it on some pasta for lunch the next day.

Season this like you’ve never seasoned before. I enjoyed this but because of the tof-overload it was a bit bland, next time, MORE EVERYTHING. Especially tomato sauce because I reckon this is where the most flavour is in this dish.

Other than that, I totally am not missing dairy products anymore. I’m no longer starving either. And it’s sunny.

Life is AWESOME.

Amy x

Of Portobello Mushrooms, Pizza, Pine Nuts and Plastic Cheese

… and other such vegan-related endeavours that do not begin with ‘P’.

So here are some of the dairy-free meals I’ve been enjoying this week:

Baked sweet potato with sautéed spinach, kale and pine nuts – stab your potato with a fork several times. Cover it in olive oil, salt and pepper. Bake at 200 degrees C for an hour. Heat some olive oil in a pan. Add chopped garlic, pine nuts, spinach and kale. Season with salt, pepper, nutmeg, lemon juice and balsamic vinegar and sauté for about 5 mins. Add to potato.

Spinach is high in iron, which many vegetarian and vegan diets lack due to the elimination of animal products in which iron is rife, particularly red meat. Both greens along with the sweet potato are packed with too many vitamins to list, and the sweet potato itself is a particularly good, non-dairy source of calcium. So it’s good to know my bones aren’t about to disintegrate just yet. And I chucked the pine nuts in for a bit of protein and mono-unsaturated fat.

Grilled portobello mushroom “cheeseburger” – preheat grill to medium-high. Remove the gills and stem from one large portobello mushroom and drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Finely chop some olives, garlic and spinach and fill mushroom cavity with mixture. Grill for 6-8 minutes, then top with dairy-free mozzarella or other vegan-friendly cheese of your choice. Bake for a further 2-3 minutes, or until cheese is bubbling and has started to colour. Serve with ketchup in a wholemeal bun.

Mushrooms, as well as being a good source of B vitamins, and a variety of disease-fighting minerals, are hearty and filling and therefore good for combatting the satiety issues I’ve been experiencing since turning vegan, which thankfully seem to be waning.

… I was too excited to eat this to take a picture.

(Vegan-friendly!) pizza – make some pizza dough and allow to rise for 1 hour. Chop 10 cherry tomatoes and blend in food processor. Heat some olive oil in a pan. Add tomato mixture to oil, plus chopped garlic, a tablespoon of tomato purée, fresh basil, salt, pepper and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Heat through and leave to stand. Put some onions on to caramelise on a low heat. When dough has risen, preheat the oven to 200 degrees C. Roll out pizza dough onto a foiled/oiled baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and top with tomato sauce, spinach, olives, caramelised onions and dairy-free mozzarella. Bake for a further 10 – 15 minutes.

The not-zzarella is really tasty ! I was a bit sparing with it on the pizza and mushroom in case it was horrible, but it really wasn’t ! I really couldn’t much tell the difference. I mean, obviously it’s not mozzarella and it never will be, but it definitely didn’t feel like a compromise and I enjoyed this pizza as much as I would have enjoyed one with real dairy cheese. I was too scared to use it when I baked the potato but next time I make one I am definitely topping it with this stuff.

Sadly, its protein powers pale in comparison with the real thing, with mozzarella packing 2.2g per 10g serving, and my Cheezly proffering a paltry 0.5g of protein per 10g serving. Not good, but all the vegetables that I piled on top of this beauty seem to have done the job of helping me stay full and feel satisfied tonight.

My mum had a mini freak-out that I was going to die of malnutrition, so I blinded her and consequently you, Dear Reader, with my unnecessary stores of food-science-knowledge. I think I managed to convince her that protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals are available in a wide range of non-animal-derived foods and it is possible to obtain them all with the exception of vitamin B12, which remains elusive in the vegan world save for fortified cereals… and Marmite. And so Mama Squirrell bestowed upon me the biggest tub of Marmite I have ever laid eyes upon. And I had some on my toast this morning. So all is well, and I remain alive and kicking indefinitely.

I hope this post goes towards proving that you absolutely can follow a balanced and varied diet without consuming animal products. At least, you can for a week. We’ll have to wait and see what the next three have in store…

Until next time,

Amy x

Feeling Peckish

Okay. It’s nearly the end of week one of Vegan Challenge Month and contrary to the numerous accounts of feeling “lighter,” “healthier,” “energised” and “rejuvenated” after eliminating all animal-derived products from one’s diet, at this point in time all I can report is feeling TOTALLY, INSATIABLY, CONSTANTLY HUNGRY.

So I did my research, and I suspected as much:

Both animal and human studies show that consuming protein, as compared to carbohydrate and fat, promotes stronger feelings of satiety and suppresses food intake at the next meal. In humans, visual analogue scales (which use a scale to measure how hungry a person is) and food intake are often used to measure satiety. In addition, changes in hormone levels that affect appetite can provide a closer look at how the three macronutrients impact satiety and hunger. Cholecystokinin (CCK) is an intestinal hormone that is released after a meal and signals satiety. Increased levels of peptide YY (PYY) signal satiety, and ghrelin levels increase when we are hungry. In addition to altering our feelings of satiety, protein-rich meals stimulate CCK and inhibit ghrelin, providing a biological explanation for how protein works to influence satiety.

(Spano, 2009)

There you have it. Protein consumption stimulates the satiety hormone and suppresses the hunger hormone. (I suddenly get the feeling we’ve been over this before…)

I can’t say I didn’t already feel energised, healthy and light – I do a lot of running and not a lot of eating meat anyway, but I wasn’t expecting such a marked increase in my appetite. Vegan Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday went swimmingly. On Thursday I was hungover and have been at home for the last few days. I’ve been racking my brains and have come up with a combination of explanations as to my recent bear-about-to-hibernate-like eating patterns…

1. I’ve inadvertently reduced my protein intake and am therefore releasing more hunger hormones – coming home on Thursday to my parents’ not-so-vegan-friendly house (love them though I do, of course) where your best bet for protein is chicken or cheese probably didn’t do much to help matters.

2. The colossal amount of sugar I consumed in the form of cocktails on Wednesday night resulted in spending Thursday constantly craving quick-fix carbohydrates which in turn resulted in a vicious cycle of hunger and cravings and bingeing.

3. Carb0loading and running the marathon did something weird to my hunger levels for the following week and a half, and now my appetite has suddenly returned with a vengeance.

These things coupled with the fact that I’ve been exercising like a mad thing – and really was eating next to nothing at the beginning of the week because, in a strange, sick way, I relished the notion of not having to eat in order to fuel a marathon training plan – have apparently resulted in an explosion of hunger that needs to be addressed.

It all seems to have been a little too much for my body, my metabolism and my brain to handle – eating an extra meal a day, running 26.2 miles, suddenly losing that ‘extra meal’ and then losing all dairy products the week after, in which I also embarked on my new run/yoga/cycle/swim exercise regime – maybe I just need to tone it all down a little bit.

Having said that, I don’t actually feel all that guilty about the entire punnet of syrup-covered dates that I ate whilst waiting for my train the other day…

See you in Wagamama’s this evening with my not-vegan and not-happy at not-being-able-to-get-pizza-tonight boyfriend ! (Love you, Gareth !)

Amy x

References:
Marie Spano, 2009, Protein and Satiety, available at http://www.foodproductdesign.com/articles/2009/08/protein-and-satiety.aspx (accessed 28th April, 2012)

Dairy-free Tea Party

KP came to visit. She is my best friend, other half of our band, KP and Squizz and she turned 21 on Monday ! (Happy Birthday, KP !) There was only one thing for it. Dairy-free tea party !

Yes. A dairy-free tea party with presents, four different types of tea, jam, soy buttercream, raspberries, scones (rustic cupcakes that I intended this time to be scones, ie. bigger) and banana muffins from Joy the Baker‘s banana mango bread recipe minus the mango and plus some dried fruit and seeds.

A dairy-free tea party that escalated into dairy-free vodka lemonades in The Mashtun…

Dairy-free mojitos and japanese food in Pompoko…

Dairy-free tequila and blueberry vodka in The Pav Tav…

Dairy-free cocktails in The Twisted Lemon…

More dairy-free drinks and excellent (hideous) dancing in Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar…

Oh, and then a visit to the all-night Market Diner café, which was dairy-free because I was too drunk and too tired to eat or drink anything even if they’d had soy (I didn’t think it appropriate to ask).

I pondered the practicality of a soy White Russian. I had to pass on a delicious-sounding cocktail entitled ‘Banoffee Pie’ because it was made with cream. I almost ordered one until Alex kindly pointed out that my crazy new diet restriction would not allow it. Then Will had two and I have to say I eyed them wistfully. And now as the hangover slowly nibbles away at my good humour all I want to do is fry myself up a couple of eggs BUT I CAN’T BECAUSE I’M A FECKING VEGAN THIS MONTH.

I cycled to university and felt like utter death. The lid to my salt shaker fell off while I was cooking and thus emptied its entire contents into my sautéed spinach and kale recovery lunch, rendering it totally inedible. I think I must have consumed about a million calories in cakes and alcohol. Me and KP had a conversation about chocolate Philadelphia in the car on the way home and I died a little inside at the thought of having to wait a month to try some.

The saga continues, the plot thickens, the challenge goes on.

Oh, also, we apparently climbed into an olive grove at some point during the evening. I remember none of this…

Sincerely,
Never Drinking Again
x

Vegan Baking Pt. II: Rustic Cupcakes

Yup, that's bona-fide dairy-free "butter"cream you see there.

I call them “Rustic Cupcakes,” because they were always intended to be cupcakes, except they’re nowhere near dainty or cute enough. They are the overweight child and I am the pushy mother who squeezes them into their leotard and drives them to ballet class week after week with disconcerting enthusiasm. (If you’ve just stumbled across this, please check out this post for the recipe and somewhat of an explanation for the weird series of events that led to this abomination.)

Maybe I should call them “Fairy-Scones.” As in fairy-cakes. That taste like scones. They are nice with the buttercream and a good cuppa – turns out hazelnut milk is really nice in tea. On some I just used plain buttercream (soya spread + icing sugar), others I used chocolate buttercream (soya spread + icing sugar + cocoa powder) and some I put a layer of fig jam in too !

Now for some photo evidence of me forcing my friends to enjoy my Frankenstein’s Monster of a batch of cupcakes… sorry, rustic cupcakes. If I say that it makes it sound intentional…

Today has been my last day of pesca-vegetarianism* for at least the next month. The milk is gone, the cheese is gone, the salmon is in the freezer; my kitchen is free of dairy indefinitely.

Next stop, Vegan Town !

Amy x

*I made this word up