The ultimate animal-free sweet

First of all, apologies for the lack of posts over the last few days. I have just moved house and trying to get some sort of internet access has been a painfully slow process! 

Breakfast

Muesli, soya milk

This was the Co-op muesli, which makes a nice energising start to the day. The Co-op and Sainsbury’s both say whether their products are vegan so it’s easy to choose. It’s generally pretty easy to find vegan muesli, although Alpen annoyingly contains milk powder.

Lunch

Hummus and falafel wrap, chilli crackers

This is my usual choice of bought lunch from Tesco, but it is very nice. Tesco also do a roasted veg and hummus sandwich which is another reliable vegan sandwich option.

Dinner

Spinach, tofu and butter bean salad, pitta bread

Getting ready to move had resulted in severely restricted cooking time, but this super-quick salad was actually pretty nice. I just filled up a bowl with spinach leaves, then added good handfuls of marinated tofu pieces and butter beans, plus a drizzle of olive oil. The marinated tofu pieces were the Cauldron brand and seem to be quite readily available in the supermarket.  They’re great to use in salads or sandwiches.

Dessert

Orange, licorice

The licorice was the Panda brand, raspberry flavour. In fact, many of the Panda licorice products seem to be animal-free and are helpfully marked as vegan. The raspberry flavour is one of my favourites and I think it’s fairly healthy as sweets go (less than 0.5% fat according to the packet). It’s available in Holland and Barrett (please click here to see).

How to make a great dish from spare veg

Breakfast

Muesli, soya milk

This breakfast seems to have been on repeat a bit too often this week so I’ll be sure to branch out in future!

Lunch

Wholemeal sandwich thins with salad and hummus, crisps, figs, peanut bar

I’d say that the Warburtons wholemeal sandwich thins are even nicer than the white ones and presumably a healthier choice. They’re ideal for making a light sandwich. I just spread them with some soya margarine and hummus, then added some chopped cucumber and cherry tomatoes for a bit of refreshing juiciness. The result was really tasty, although I’d suggest using at least two sandwich thins to ensure sufficient levels of afternoon fuel.

Fresh figs are definitely worth splashing out on if you can find them as they really do taste special. These ones were from Tesco, but I’m not sure that they’re in stock on a permanent basis. The peanut bar was the Cofresh brand, and you can usually get them from the World Food section of supermarkets or from AMT coffee stalls. They’re basically just sugar and peanuts, so delicious but probably not ideal for teeth.

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Dinner

Mediterranean pasta, salad

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This was basically a version of Mediterranean tagliatelle, but I used fusilli rather than spaghetti and added in some celery. This recipe is extremely quick and good for finishing up any spare veg. It also has a really lovely flavour and tastes a bit like something you might get in Italy.

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Dessert

Ginger and chocolate brownie, melon

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This was another of the sticky chocolate brownies. They certainly keep really well and maintain their sticky texture. Apologies for the melon arrangement- I had envisaged something slightly less naff but this is how it turned out. It didn’t affect the taste though and melon and ginger is definitely a winning combination.

Snacks

Banana

It’s amazing how a single fruit can make such a great snack that’s ready-wrapped in eco-friendly form!

Sticky chocolate brownies: 100% plant

Breakfast

Muesli, soya milk

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Always an energising start to the day!

Lunch

Couscous salad, apple

The couscous salad was from Marks & Spencer, which shows how easy it is to eat animal-free food on the move. This was the salad with wheatberries and butternut squash, but you can also get a couscous with roasted veg that seems to be vegan. M&S seems annoyingly fond of adding honey and yogurt to foods that would otherwise be animal-free, but nice vegan options are available, even at tiny branches. Rather an expensive lunch solution I know, but quite nice to splash out every now and again.

Dinner

Sweet potato and carrot crumble, cucumber, hummus

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This shows how a few simple, low budget ingredients can make a lovely dish with a delicious taste. I must admit that the chopping provides you with a bit of a workout, but after that it’s pretty easy going and mainly just a case of vaguely monitoring some veg while it simmers. Please click here for the recipe.

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Dessert

Chocolate and ginger brownie

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This recipe has been veganized from Blissful Brownies, a Marks & Spencer cookbook (excessive promotion of M&S an accidental feature of today’s post!) In fact though, I just needed to use vegan margarine instead of butter so I can’t really claim any great work of veganization. The results are satisfyingly rich and sticky, and you’d never know that they were 100% plant.

Ingredients:

– 4 pieces of stem ginger in syrup (I used the Opies brand, which you can hopefully find in the home baking section of supermarkets)

– 225g plain flour

– 1.5 tsp ground ginger

– 1 tsp ground cinnamon

– 0.25 tsp ground nutmeg

– 115g brown sugar

– 115g vegan margarine

– 115g golden syrup

– 100g dark chocolate

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to gas 2 (150 degrees). Grease a baking tin with some extra vegan margarine (I normally use a square tin for these).

2. Finely chop or grate the stem ginger. Sift the flour and spices into a bowl, then stir in the stem ginger, followed by the sugar.

3. Melt the margarine and golden syrup in a pan, then stir into the flour mixture.

4. Roughly dice the chocolate and stir that in too. Press the dough into a tin and cook for 30 mins.

Although this is fairly quick for a brownie recipe, it’s obviously not instant. If you don’t have time for baking, a good option might be the Vegan Cakery which has an incredible range and offers mail delivery. I’ve sadly never tried their cakes, but they certainly look delicious. Maybe I’ll have to make an order in the name of research!

Snacks

Rice coated peanuts, apple

You can buy the rice coated peanuts in Tesco and they’re seriously addictive. They’re also a nice crisp alternative to have with a sandwich.

A shortcut to shortbread

Breakfast

Muesli, soya milk

This breakfast has been repeated a bit too often this week, I know, but it is very energizing! As from tomorrow, I’ll be branching out.

Lunch

Chargrilled veg and hummus sandwich, salt and pepper nuts, blueberries

Another shop bought lunch today, but it was good to try this Tesco sandwich that I’ve been told about but never actually experienced. It was pretty nice, although I think on balance I prefer the falafel wrap. Bizarrely, I’ve seen salt and pepper nuts which include milk powder, but these ones were definitely animal-free. They came from the ‘healthy snacks’ section of Tesco and were certainly very nice, even if their health food status may be a little dubious.

Dinner

Couscous with cauliflower and olives, stuffed pitta breads

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There was some couscous left over from last night, so I decided to bulk it out with cauliflower, olives and cucumber. I find that cauliflower tastes much better if it’s not boiled, just placed in a pan with a good splash of boiling water (not enough to cover it), and a stock cube crumbled over and stirred in. You can then just put a lid on the pan and simmer until the cauliflower is tender, stirring regularly and adding more water if it looks in danger of drying out. This way it develops a really nice flavour and doesn’t take very long at all (around 10 mins?) The pitta breads were just lightly toasted, sliced, spread with vegan margarine and stuffed with leafy salad and tomatoes.

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Dessert

Shortbread, nectarine

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It’s really easy to make an animal-free version of ‘normal’ shortbread- you just replace the butter with vegan margarine. Today though, I didn’t have any white flour so had to go for wholemeal. I was concerned that this could give a bit of a cardboardy result, so used brown sugar (plus a little golden syrup) to try and combat this. The end result was actually pretty nice and I suppose healthier than white shortbread. This is also quite a good time saving recipe as you don’t have to spend time sifting the flour or ‘rubbing in’ the margarine- it’s just a case of stir and go!

Ingredients:

– 175g wholemeal flour

– 60g brown sugar

–  Cinnamon

– 120g vegan margarine (I used the Pure brand of sunflower margarine)

– 1 tbsp golden syrup

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to gas 3 (160 C) and grease a flan tin.

2. Place the flour and sugar in a bowl, then add a generous sprinkling of cinnamon.

3. Stir in the margarine and golden syrup until a dough forms.

4. Press the mixture into the tin, prick with a fork and bake for around 35-40 mins, until just going brown at the edges.

5. Cut into slices while still warm, before it hardens.

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The end result makes a nice dessert with some fresh fruit, or you can just enjoy with a cup of tea!

When to think before you bin

Breakfast

Maple and pecan crisp cereal, soya milk, tinned cherries

This is the usual sugary cereal that I indulge in at the weekend. We had some tinned cherries in the fridge which made a nice addition, even if the stones were a bit of a surprise.

Lunch

Banana baguette, crisps, watermelon, flapjacks

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I had a nice par-bake baguette to put in the oven, and thought I’d come up with a creative sandwich filling to go in it. I liked the idea of carrot and tahini, and thought that chopped carrot, 1 tbsp tahini and a good splash of water would be something that the blender could transform into a nice sandwich filling. Unfortunately though, I think it prefers slightly softer, cooked vegetables, and after repeated attempts I was left with small chunks of carrot floating in a tahini coloured solution. Not one of my best inventions. Luckily though, animal-free sandwich options are easy to come by, and I went for chopped banana instead. I think a banana baguette must be the ultimate energy sandwich.

There are still a few of my Nan’s delicious flapjacks left, and I thought that a couple of these might go well after lunch with some healthy watermelon just to vaguely balance things out.

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Dinner

Aubergine and lemon pasta, salad (with tortilla chips)

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This is another dinner that virtually cooks itself. It’s true that the aubergines take a while in the oven, but they can essentially be left to their own devices so this is a good recipe if you’re trying to get things done around the house, in the garden or at the computer. The three aubergines that I used were fairly small so I ended up with some extra pasta (I didn’t want to risk adding too much to the sauce and making it dry). To create a second helping, I just combined the extra pasta with the aubergine skins, some more soya cream and half a veggie stock cube crumbled in. It may seem surprising, but roasted aubergine skins are a really lovely ingredient in their own right and also taste delicious spread with hummus. Before binning them, it’s definitely worth considering their potential! The aubergine cooking method is the same as for aubergine roulade with lemon and tarragon sauce, and it’s roughly based on Ottolenghi’s method but simplified a bit.

Ingredients  for aubergine and lemon pasta (serves 3):

– 3 largeish aubergines

– 225 g pasta (I found that wholegrain worked well here)

– Olive oil

– 1-2 small cartons of soya cream

– Zest of 3-4 lemons

– 1 veggie stock cube (I like the Kallo ones)

– (Optional) A good handful of fresh basil, roughly chopped

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to gas 7 (220 C)

2. Top and tail the aubergines and place on a baking tray, whole.  Roast for about 45 mins-1 hour until the skins are really charred and the aubergines feel soft when a knife is inserted. You can turn  them once half way through cooking but this isn’t essential.

3. When the aubergines are ready, remove from the oven, cut open lengthways and scoop out the flesh. It may help to steady the aubergine with a fork and scoop out the flesh with a spoon. You may want to cut up some of the larger pieces (kitchen scissors are useful for this).

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4. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil and add the pasta, along with a splash of olive oil. Simmer for about 10 mins or until tender, stirring occasionally.

5. Meanwhile, place the cooked aubergine in a separate pan, along with the soya cream, lemon zest and basil. Crumble the stock cube over the top and stir in (this just helps to make the flavour even better). Simmer very gently until hot through, stirring  almost constantly to prevent sticking.

6. When the pasta is ready, drain and stir into the aubergine sauce. Serve in a dish with a lid to help it stay hot for longer.

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Dessert

Raspberry sorbet, strawberries, vegan chocolate

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This raspberry sorbet is from Tesco and, unlike many of their products, actually admits to being vegan on the packaging. It has a lovely sweet, refreshing taste, and went well with some strawberries (despite the colour clash).

Snacks

Apple, nuts

An energy filled snack that was relatively healthy too.

How to branch out at breakfast

Breakfast

Wholemeal pitta breads with jam, strawberries, pomegranate seeds

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This slightly unusual breakfast resulted from a lack of shopping yesterday evening. It was actually quite a discovery though, as toasted pitta breads with jam make a really nice start to the day, combining healthy wholemeal with a sweet filling. The pomegranate and strawberries needed eating and were a nice refreshing addition.

Lunch

Falafel and hummus wrap, crisps, banana, flapjacks

The lack of shopping also resulted in restricted packed lunch resources, so I opted for a shop sandwich. Tesco’s hummus and falafel wrap is one of my favourite animal-free sandwich options and always makes for a filling but not excessively heavy lunch.

The flapjacks had been made by my Nan, a legendary baker who finds it easy to turn her hand to animal-free goodies. The flapjacks were amazing, with a great treacly taste and moist texture. My only criticism would be how difficult it is to stop eating them, but fortunately they were cut into bite size pieces which makes it a little easier to stop before the whole box disappears!

Dinner

Red cabbage and almond noodles, salad (nuts and Bombay mix as toppings)

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These certainly aren’t the type of ingredients you’d expect to find with noodles, but they work really well  and the dish has a lovely savoury-sweet flavour. Tonight’s version was expertly prepared by my parents when I arrived back in Oxford for the weekend and tasted great.

Ingredients for red cabbage and almond noodles (serves 3):

– 1/2 packet flaked almonds

– 1/2  red cabbage

– A generous handful of figs

– 3 leeks

– Rapeseed/olive oil

– A jug of veggie stock (500 ml plus extra)

– 1 packet of spinach

– 1 tbsp brown sugar

– Nutmeg

– 2 packets of egg-free straight to wok noodles

Method:

1. Place the almonds on a baking tray and roast in the oven on gas 6 (200 C) for 5-10 minutes until golden.Remove from the oven and set aside.

2. Meanwhile, chop the cabbage and figs. Slice the leeks lengthways.

3. Heat a good splash of oil in a pan and add the leeks. Sautee gently for about 5 mins, stirring constantly, until they begin to soften. Add the cabbage and sautee for a few more minutes.

4. Add about 500 ml stock, plus the figs, spinach, sugar and a good sprinkle of nutmeg. You may need to add the spinach in several batches, stirring one  in until it wilts then adding the next. Simmer for around 10 mins, stirring very regularly.

5. Add the noodles and simmer until hot through, stirring regularly. You may need to add a little more stock at this point.

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Dessert

Watermelon, flapjacks, a few squares of vegan chocolate

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I thought I should probably share the amazing flapjacks with the rest of my family, and everyone agreed on how delicious they were. The syrupy texture went really well with some watermelon.

Snacks

Nuts, vegan marshmallows

Freedom Mallows are a really irresistible brand of animal-free marshmallow. They’re not a filling snack, but definitely a very delicious one.

A reunion with marshmallows

Breakfast

Fruit and oat bagel with strawberry jam, mango pieces

This was a really lovely start to a Saturday morning. Bagels are definitely at their best while still hot from the toaster so the soya spread melts and soaks in satisfyingly.

Lunch

Purple nut roast, couple of oaty biscuits, pineapple

The nut roast was purchased at the V-delicious veggie/vegan food festival in London. Needless to say, my morning there was thoroughly enjoyable (minus the two hour journey as the London Underground had decided not to cooperate). Being there really helped you to get a feel for the diversity and scope of vegan food. It was also great to see Viva! (Vegetarians International Voice for Animals), providing some really good info booklets about both the health and ethical reasons to go animal free (available to buy for a tiny price at http://www.viva.org.uk/guides/index.htm).

Moving on to less serious matters, there was a huge range of vegan sweeties, including the wonderful Freedom Mallows. It had been many years since I’d eaten a marshmallow, as the presence of gelatine had put me off long before going completely animal free. To be fair, my local health food shop does sell vegan marshmallows, but I’ve always found the pricing a little outside my budget and the large slabs don’t seem to lend themselves to a hot chocolate topping. The Freedom Mallows only cost £1.99 per packet though, and they’re beautifully light and fluffy. They’re also a perfect size for hot chocolate and if you’re like me, you may also appreciate the cute bunny packaging. Fortunately they weren’t exclusive to the veggie event and you can buy them on Viva!’s website. Here’s a link that will (hopefully) take you straight to these revolutionary sweeties: http://www.vivashop.org.uk/catalog/viva/food/confectionery

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Dinner

Leek, potato and celery soup, bagel, pistachio nuts

Dessert: A vegan cupcake

This is a really nice version of the classic leek and potato soup as the celery adds an extra layer of flavour. It’s also seriously quick to prepare.

Ingredients for leek, potato and celery soup (serves 2):

– 2 large leeks

– 4 medium sticks of celery

– A little rapeseed oil

– 2 smallish potatoes

– Around 1 litre veggie stock

Method:

1. Chop the leeks and celery (I find it works best if you chop the leeks lengthways rather than in round slices). Peel and chop the potatoes.

2. Heat a good splash of rapeseed oil in the pan and add the leek and celery. Saute for around 5 mins, stirring almost constantly.

3. Add the potatoes and saute for another couple of minutes.

4. Add the stock, cover and simmer for around 15 mins or until the potatoes are soft.

5. Blend and reheat if needed before serving. Be sure not to let the soup boil though, or it will lose some of its flavour.

The cupcake was from Ms Cupcake’s beautiful stall at the veggie fest. I bought a box of  four cakes to share with my family (resisting the temptation to sample one on the way back to Oxford) and we opted for cutting them in half so we could try more than one flavour each. I went for half a strawberry and chocolate cupcake and half a plain chocolate one. They were every bit as delicious as they look and it’s surprisingly easy to get through the generous topping.

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