How not to serve a pasta salad

Breakfast

Maple and pecan crisp cereal, soya milk

This was a nice sugary start to rather an early Sunday morning.

Lunch

Roasted pepper pasta salad,  side salads,  home made hummus and mini ryvitas

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My Grandparents were coming over for Sunday lunch and the plan was to create a nice picnic to eat in a nearby park. Unfortunately though, the weather was not in a good mood and we ended up eating indoors (using the paper plates and plastic glasses that I’d  bought for the picnic). Despite carefully choosing matching paper plates and  napkins, I’d totally failed to consider what I’d serve the pasta in. I’m not really set up for entertaining yet, and don’t own such a thing as a serving dish. I didn’t have time to go shopping this morning, but was pleased to find that the corner shop was selling what looked like large plastic dishes. They certainly weren’t going to increase the classiness of my pasta salad, but I thought they looked fairly bright and summery, so purchased one and gave it a thorough wash. Sure enough, it worked well for the pasta and it wasn’t until I was washing it up after the meal that it’s true identity dawned on me. Whilst I scrubbed the bottom, I saw the words ‘cat litter tray’. An interesting choice of serving dish.

The dinner itself was actually pretty nice though. I’d prepared my trusty roasted pepper pasta salad, along with some home made hummus and tomatoes with lemon thyme and olive oil. We also had watercress and pea shoots with a choice of figs or bananas as a topping (anything sweet goes really well with watercress), and the mini ryvitas were good for dipping in the hummus.

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Dessert

Strawberry and dark chocolate dessert, dark chocolate with coffee

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This was literally just a combination of Alpro soya dessert and strawberries served in a glass (actually a plastic picnic one). It wa lovely and sweet but not overwhelmingly sugary.

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Tea

Rye bread with peanut butter and kiwi, hummus and carrots, crisps

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My Grandparents had brought me a whole bag of amazing animal-free goodies, including some delicious rye bread with sunflower seeds. I’d enjoyed the rye bread I bought before, but this was in a whole new class as it wasn’t at all bitter or vinegary, just really full of great taste and goodness. Since I’d already tried rye bread with peanut butter and grapes, I thought that kiwi would be a good variation. In fact, I think it works even better than the grape version, and I’d definitely recommend it. The hummus was left over from lunch time and the carrot batons needed using up. I can never resist some crisps with this type of tea.

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Dessert

Banana, strawberries, oaty biscuits

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Just a simple and fairly normal dessert after my unconventional first course, but it tasted very good.

Snacks

Flapjack/fruit bar bites, stem ginger pieces

The flapjack/fruit bar ‘bites’ resulted from the realisation that I didn’t actually have any biscuits to go with a cup of tea after we came back from our walk. I had the oaty ones, but I wasn’t sure if they were guest grade (they’ve been open a while), so decided to chop a Nakd bar and a Blackfriars flapjack into bitesize pieces. They actually went really well with a cup of tea. The stem ginger pieces were another item from the wonderful goody bag and I look forward to using them in desserts.

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Britain’s best traditional food?

Breakfast

Maple and pecan crisp cereal, soya milk, strawberries

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This was my usual weekend breakfast cereal, combined with some strawberries that were left over from last night’s dessert. A sweet but very nice start to a Saturday morning.

Lunch

Peanut butter and grape bagel, crisps, fruit (extra grapes and strawberries), cocoa and orange bar

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This is rather an unusual sandwich filling but it’s definitely one of my favourites. I especially love sesame seed bagels, and you can’t go wrong with some crisps and a bit of fruit. The cocoa and orange bar was from the Nakd range. They’re great for energy and it’s amazing to think that they’re essentially just made out of dried fruit.

Dinner

Pea risotto, grape and pea shoot salad

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My Dad kindly made this for me and it was really delicious. It’s also a great store cupboard dish, as the ingredients are all things that you’re likely to have in your cupboard (or freezer) anyway. I featured the pea risotto recipe last week, but I can’t really claim credit for it as it’s one that I veganised (and simplified) from a fairly ancient recipe book.

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The pea shoots in the salad tasted so different to the peas in the risotto that you’d never guess the link. Pea shoots seem to have dramatically dropped in price lately and cost a similar amount to any another packet of salad. For salad toppings, we had some rice coated peanuts and Bombay mix, both of which also make great animal-free snacks.

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Dessert

Watermelon, strawberries, Bourbon biscuit

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My third serving of strawberries I know, but they are hard to beat and being a fruit I’m sure that they’re at least vaguely good for you. You may not think of traditional British food as being particularly animal-friendly, but strawberries couldn’t be more of a summertime tradition and they’re definitely vegan! The watermelon cubes were really sweet too, and always make a refreshing dessert.

Snacks

Banana, pumpkin seeds

Bananas make a really great energy-packed snack, and pumpkin seeds are surprisingly good for keeping you going in between meals.

A breakfast food that’s great for lunch

Breakfast

Weetabix type cereal, pomegranate seeds, soya milk

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This is a great if slightly unusual combination, and you feel that you’re getting a good dose of vitamins to start the day with.

Lunch

Pomegranate and pine nut salad, breakfast muffins

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This salad is nice to look at but also tastes delicious as it uses some really special ingredients. To make it for one person, I just used a good bowlful of watercress, some sweet pepper (chopped), a smallish piece of cucumber (diced), and  generous handfuls of pine nuts and pomegranate seeds. I drizzled some olive oil over the top to serve it. The pine nuts were left over from the ones I’d roasted yesterday but they’d still be delicious unroasted. If you’re aiming for a 5 minute salad (as I usually am at lunchtime) I’d suggest either preparing the pomegranate seeds in advance, or just splashing out on a packet of ready-prepared ones.

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A couple of ‘breakfast’ muffins were actually perfect with this, as they’re basically just lovely soft white bread. I popped the muffins into the toaster whole, and found that this created an especially soft centre and crusty outside. I don’t have a particularly spacious toaster, so hopefully this option should be open to everyone. As I mentioned when they appeared at a more conventional time of day, some breakfast muffins do contain milk, but the Sainsbury’s Basics variety is definitely animal-friendly (and also quite friendly towards the bank balance).

Dinner

Fig, spinach and hazelnut pasta, salad

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My mum kindly made this for me from the recipe for fig, spinach and almond pasta that I posted last week. It actually tasted even better than the original and she topped the pasta with chopped hazelnuts rather than almonds, which added an even more sophisticated flavour. We had some Bombay mix as a salad topping, which is yet another lovely snack that generally seems to be animal free.

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Dessert

Vegan ice cream, strawberries

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This was another helping of the wonderful ginger flavour Booja Booja ice cream. It went really well with some especially sweet strawberries.

 Snacks

Morning: Pumpkin seeds

Afternoon: A couple of oaty biscuits

Well balanced in that one of the snacks was pretty healthy and the other decidedly not.

Fruit in savoury dishes: pushing the boundaries of taste

Breakfast

Peach and apricot cereal, soya milk

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This was Sainsbury’s cheaper version of Special K. It’s definitely ideal if you like a light breakfast, but as someone who tends towards a  heartier start to the day I found that I needed at least two bowls of it. It was a nice cereal though, and the fruit pieces definitely added an extra something.

Lunch

Khobez and home made hummus, carrot batons, piece of flapjack

A had a few brown chickpeas and blackeye peas left over so decided to throw together a quick hummus last night before going to bed. I’m pleased to report that my mini lemon grater seems to have returned after an unexplained absence (possibly resulting from an annoying void at the back of the cutlery drawer). It’s certainly an essential piece of equipment for adding a zesty tang to spreads and sauces.

I just used a good handful of chickpeas/blackeye peas, the juice of half a lemon (and zest of one), about 1/2 tbsp of tahini, 1 tbsp olive oil and a small splash of water. I just mashed this together with a fork and spoon until it resembled a more conventional hummus. It only took 5 minutes or so, and it was definitely worth the effort to have a tasty, nutritious spread for lunch the next day. Khobez are a plain, but very nice, variety of Arabic bread. I find that you ideally need a couple of these for a decent lunch, since they look fairly big but are completely flat so not all that filling. I’d definitely recommend this as a creative lunch idea.

Dinner

Avocado, kiwi and pine nut couscous, watercress

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This is another example of how fruit can be a great addition to savoury dishes (and sandwiches). This is a really unusual dish that looks pretty and tastes great. Even better, I’d say it takes under 20 mins to prepare. I admit that pine nuts are incredibly pricey, but they’re definitely a worthwhile investment from time to time. For optimum results I  would make sure that the avocado and kiwi are really ripe (I think mine could have benefited from a little more time in the fruit bowl).

Ingredients for avocado, kiwi and pine nut couscous (serves 2):

– A pack of pine nuts

– 150g couscous

– Around 600 ml stock

– Zest of one lemon

– 2 ripe avocadoes

– 2 very ripe kiwi fruits

– About 1/4 large cucumber

– A small handful of fresh coriander leaves

Method:

1. Place the pine nuts in the oven on gas 6 (200 C) until they are lightly browned. This should take around 5 mins. When they are ready, remove from the oven and set aside.

2. Meanwhile, place the couscous in a bowl and add the stock and lemon zest. Cover and leave for about 10 mins, until the water is absorbed, but the couscous still looks very moist. The idea is that it stays moister than for traditional couscous dishes where it has to be fluffed with a fork before serving.

3. While the couscous cooks, peel and chop the avocado and kiwi. Chop the cucumber.

4. When the couscous is ready, stir in all the other ingredients and enjoy. I found that some watercress salad was enough with this, but had been snacking on the way home. If you wanted a heartier meal, I’d suggest serving with hummus and pitta bread or a more substantial salad e.g. watercress, beetroot and sultana salad

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Dessert

Pomegranate and yogurt dessert, a little dark chocolate

Pomegranates have to be one of  my favourite fruits, as they’re so versatile. Ottolenghi’s cookbooks make the great suggestion of adding them to aubergine, and this really does make for a winning pasta dish. They’re also great in desserts though. Today I just had a spoonful of soya yogurt that needed finishing, so added it to some pomegranate seeds (plus a drizzle of golden syrup). I foolishly stirred it together, and although it tasted great it looked decidedly odd (hence the lack of photo).

Extracting the lovely red seeds from a pomegranate is not as time consuming as you might think. I’ve heard of tapping the skin to get the seeds out, but personally I find it easier just to cut the fruit into four, then  peel the seeds away from the skin, and they tend to come off in fairly neat little clusters. Pomegranates do come with a bit of a warning though, as their bright red juice can create a serious mess in seconds. It wasn’t anything that couldn’t be tackled with some ethical and very effective Astonish spray, but there was a moment when I could see large chunks of my rent deposit going on replacing a work surface that looked like a piece of modern art.

Snacks

Carrot batons, pumpkin seeds

I hadn’t really considered pumpkin seeds as a snacking material before, but I’d run out of nuts and felt that I should make at least some effort not to resort to sugary snacks. I used some  of the seeds that I’d roasted a while ago and stored, and they made a really nice snack that was more filling than you might imagine.

How to start the day softly

Breakfast

Breakfast muffins with jam, tinned mandarins

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Breakfast muffins are yet another great choice for a soft and delicious start to the morning. Some of them do have milk in, but the Sainsbury’s Basics ones are definitely suitable for vegans and they’re just as nice as any of the more expensive ranges. I find that strawberry or raspberry jam is the perfect filling for white muffins. The tinned mandarins were left over from yesterday’s dessert, so I thought they’d be good as a source of early-morning vitamins.

Lunch

Spicy potato and chickpeas, a little rye bread, carrot batons, piece of flapjack

I thought that last night’s dinner would make an upmarket potato salad that would be ideal for lunch. It was certainly nice enough, but having experienced the hot version, I have to admit I was slightly disappointed. All in all, I think this dish needs to stick to being a creative comfort food that’s eaten hot, rather than developing a dual identity as a potato salad. The carrot batons were nice to eat on the side, but I found that the rye bread was rather surplus to requirements so only had a small piece. The flapjack was another member of the Blackfriars range (this time date and walnut).

Tea

Khobez with avocado and peppers, crisps

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As mentioned yesterday, khobez are a plain but very nice type of Arabic flat bread. Another of my avocadoes had finally ripened, so I spread some of it over half a khobez and topped with a sliced mini pepper. Cutting the flat bread open would have taken some fairly precise knife work, and given my track record for kitchen injuries I thought I’d opt for folding it over. The sweet juiciness of the peppers really added an extra something to the lovely flavour of the avocado and this made a really good sandwich. A word of warning though, this is definitely a sandwich to be eaten at home, as I suspect that the avocado would soon turn an off-putting colour if it was used in a packed lunch. I found that you actually needed two khobez, but one might be enough if you were eating this at lunch time. The crisps were (again) the salt and vinegar kettle chips, just to help balance out what seemed a scarily healthy sandwich.

Dessert

Instant mango ‘cheesecake’

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I’m convinced that this is a nice recipe (it doesn’t contain anything that isn’t delicious), but a series of unfortunate choices meant that tonight’s dessert wasn’t exactly a resounding success. I crumbled one and a half (fairly small) oaty biscuits from Sainsbury’s into the base of a glass, then built up layers of chopped mango and soya yogurt before topping with the final half a biscuit (roughly crumbled). The most fundamental mistake was preparing the mango on the chopping board that I’d used for last night’s onion and garlic. Whilst garlic mango might sound like an item on the menu of an expensive restaurant, it wasn’t a very welcome addition to my dessert. I’d also used the Sojade brand of vegan yogurt, and although their flavoured yogurts are really delicious, when it comes to plain soya yogurt I much prefer the Alpro version. I will be returning to this recipe once I have a fruit-specific chopping board and a pot of Alpro soya yogurt!

Snacks

Morning: Fig roll

This is yet another nice  biscuit that’s available in animal-free form. Just check the ingredients (or even quicker, the allergy advice section of the packaging).

Evening: Carrot batons left over from lunch, almonds. These two items make quite a filling and nutritious snack.

A creative comfort food

Breakfast

Weetabix type cereal, strawberries, soya milk

I know- the same breakfast as yesterday, but my failure to go to the shops meant that this was the only option available. I can’t say it was a great hardship though as  this is definitely one of my favourite breakfasts. I spared you yet another photo of it!

Lunch

Falafel wrap, coconut peanuts, grapes, fruit bar

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Another result of yesterday’s non-shopping trip was a decided lack of lunch material. I had nuts, crisps, fruit and many other great sandwich accompaniments, just nothing that could really constitute the centrepiece of a packed lunch. Luckily though, and perhaps contrary to popular belief, it is possible to buy a vegan sandwich in the supermarket. One of my favourite shop sandwiches is Tesco’s falafel wrap with hummus and chutney. I have to admit that they’d gone a little overboard on the chutney today, but it still made a lovely sandwich, especially accompanied by the famous coconut peanuts (available in Sainsbury’s World Foods aisle), some  grapes and a cocoa and orange Nakd bar (great for energy).

Dinner

Spicy potato and chickpeas, Khobez (flatbreads), carrot batons

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I didn’t feel particularly in need of a comfort dinner, but when I tried this dish ‘comfort food’ was the first term that sprang to mind. I think it’s the combination of warming spices, potato and pulses, but it’s a nice variant on the macaroni cheese type dish (which can, of course, be easily veganised)!

Ingredients for spicy potato and chickpeas (serves 2):

– 1 fairly  large potato

– A jug of veggie stock

– 1 onion

– 1-2 cloves garlic

– 1  tin of chickpeas (I found that the brown ones worked well in this- they can hopefully be found in the World Foods aisle)

– (Optional) A handful of blackeye peas

– Olive oil

– 1 tsp Cumin seeds

– (If possible) A sprinkling of fennel seeds

– 1/2 a small carton of soya cream

–  A generous handful of fresh coriander

Method:

1. Peel and dice the potato.

2. Place the potato in a saucepan, cover with the stock and simmer until tender (about 10 mins). When it’s cooked, drain and set aside.

3. Meanwhile, Peel and chop the onion. Peel and press the garlic clove. Drain and rinse the chickpeas and blackeye peas.

4. Heat the oil in a saucepan and add the onion, garlic, cumin seeds and fennel seeds. Sautee very gently for about 5 mins, stirring constantly (spices just love to burn)!

5. Add the potato and pulses to the onion and spices, along with a good splash of water. Simmer for another few mins, stirring constantly. Add the soya cream and continue to simmer and stir for another few mins, until the sauce is piping hot too. At the last minute, stir in the coriander and serve.

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I thought that this type of meal was a good excuse to try yet another type of bread. This time it was khobez, a type of Arabic flatbread, which declares happily on the packet that it’s suitable for vegans. I often find that breads contain an awful lot of mysterious additives, but the ingredients in this one are just wholemeal flour, water, sugar, yeast and salt, plus just one preservative. It was a really nice plain side bread, and I look forward to trying them in stuffed form. As you may have guessed, I found them in Sainsbury’s, but they were just tucked in amongst the more major bread brands.

Dessert

Animal free yogurt pot with mandarin and cinnamon (and a few squares of dark chocolate)

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This is a lovely dessert that looks appetizing, tastes great and can be prepared in seconds. To make it, I just built up a few layers of plain soya yogurt and mandarin, then topped with a drizzle of golden syrup (easier if you get one of the new squeezy bottles) and a sprinkle of cinnamon. For presentation purposes, I’d leave it like this, but to eat I’d recommend stirring so that the whole thing benefits from the golden syrup and cinnamon.

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Snacks

Just a continuation of what I’d brought for lunch, so a few more grapes and the last of the coconut peanuts (probably best not to buy any more for a while- they’re so addictive).

When bravery in the kitchen pays off

Breakfast

Weetabix type cereal, strawberries, soya milk

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This never fails as a lovely filling breakfast for a summer morning. In reality though, the summery part has more to do with the availability of strawberries than with warm mornings.

Lunch

Watercress, fig and bean salad, wholemeal roll, grapes, peanut bar

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This refreshing salad was actually hearty enough for a main meal. If you want to transform a salad into a meal, I always find that adding ingredients like beans and seeds helps to make it really filling and nutritious. To make the salad for one person I just used a bowl of watercress, a generous handful of blackeye peas and pumkin seeds, some chopped figs and a couple of mini peppers, sliced. A soft wholemeal roll is great on the side, and I find that these go well even without being warmed or spread with soya margarine. I suspected that the salad may have been a little dry without the usual drizzle of olive oil but didn’t want to risk oiling the entire contents of my bag. In fact though, it wasn’t dry at all which may have been due to the nice moist peppers.

Tea

Rye bread with peanut butter and grapes, salad, crisps

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This is where the need for bravery comes in. Rye bread, peanut butter and grapes may not sound like an obvious combination, but if you give it a go I don’t think you’ll regret it. My vague theory is that the slightly sharp taste of the rye bread goes well with the mild, salty peanut butter, and the sweetness of the grapes adds a nice finishing touch as well as a refreshing burst of juice. I just toasted the  rye bread (one end at a time due to toaster dimension limitations), then spread it with some soya margarine and peanut butter. I arranged a few chopped grapes on top to finish it off, but these definitely need to be really sweet ones. The salad was just some watercress with a few of the wonderful mini peppers, but I added a bag of salt and vinegar kettle chips to balance out what seemed an excessively healthy meal.

Dessert

Strawberries and dark chocolate

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I had a nice punnet of strawberries that needed eating, but hadn’t been able to buy ingredients for a more creative dessert. I do find that this one is hard to beat though.

Snacks

Just almonds today. I bought these in Costcutters, assuming that this was a shrewd business decision, but on reflection I think they actually cost more than in the supermarket. Still, I felt more economical just for going into Costcutters, even if no costs were actually cut.