The un-riskiness of vegan cooking

Breakfast

Weetabix type cereal, soya milk, grapes

This was the Co-op’s own brand of wheat biscuits which are labelled as vegan. They make you feel as though you’re having a healthy start to the day and using sweetened soya milk means that you don’t even need sugar.

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Lunch

Ciabatta with cherry tomatoes and olive oil, tortilla chips, apple, raspberry licorice

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This was a reduced-resource version of bruschetta, which normally includes some sort of herb (probably basil) and/or garlic. I hadn’t got round to equipping myself with herbs or garlic, but the basic idea was the same. You just toast the ciabatta, then top it with some tomatoes, herbs, olive oil, and salt. Many people would probably frown on serving a traditional Italian dish with crisps, but I always feel as though something is missing if a bread-based lunch isn’t accompanied by additional carbs in the form of fried potato!

Dinner

Yesterday was Animal Aid and Viva’s Day of Action for Fish (please click here or here to read more), so I thought it might be a good day to have some faux fish for dinner and highlight the great (and very realistic) alternatives that are available. Unfortunately though, I totally failed to turn on the oven in the flat I’ve just moved into, so the ‘fish style steaks’ were definitely off the menu. They were the Redwood brand, which can be bought in Holland and Barrett (please click here to see). I can confirm from previous experience that they’re very nice and unbelievably similar to cod in batter.

In the end I decided to go for some broccoli pasta with pine nuts and lemon,  which would have been more of a success if the simple task of cooking the broccoli had gone more smoothly. I only had one saucepan, but thought that the broccoli and pasta would take about the same amount of time and could reasonably be cooked together. I’m used to gas hobs though, and didn’t realise quite how long pasta takes to cook on an electric hob. By the time the pasta was al dente, both the taste and texture of the broccoli had been severely compromised. Actually though, it’s  quite a good illustration of the fail-safe nature of vegan cooking, as over-cooking the veg is about the worst that can happen and the results will generally still be fairly nice, even if not quite what you’d envisaged. That certainly applied to this dish, which tasted really quite nice once the pine nuts, lemon and olive oil had been added, even if the broccoli itself left much to be desired!

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Vegan cheese discovery!

Breakfast

Cinnamon and raisin bagel, jam, apple

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Now that the packet of bagels is open, it seems a shame not to use them for at least some breakfasts. They also make a really lovely start to the day if lightly toasted and spread with some vegan margarine (and jam).

Lunch

Leek and sweetcorn pasta salad, spinach, sesame snaps, apple

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Like most animal-free pasta dishes, this makes a really good pasta salad although I’d suggest leaving it out of the fridge for a while so that the coldness isn’t too excessive. The soya cream sauce becomes a nice pasta salad dressing when it’s served like this.

Dinner

Toasted sandwich with ‘cream cheese’ and tomato, crisps, apple, Alpro soya dessert

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An exciting discovery on the vegan cheese front as this is definitely the nicest ‘cream cheese’ I’ve tried. It’s the Tofutti brand and you can buy it in Holland and Barrett (it’s available in a variety of flavours). They’ve definitely managed to get the cream cheese texture spot on and it’s really smooth and spreadable. It also tastes lovely and there’s no strong ‘cheesy’ flavour. It made a great toasted sandwich combined with some sliced cherry tomatoes, a sprinkle of lemon thyme and a drizzle of olive oil. Basil would have been more Italian but the lemon thyme gave it (unsurprisingly) a nice lemony flavour. I’m very much looking forward to having a ‘cream cheese’ bagel in the near future.

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Snacks

Wholemeal crackers, exotic dried fruit mix

The dried fruit is great for a sugar boost, especially the really sweet chunks of pineapple. The wholemeal crackers (from Lidl) are great to nibble on.

A magic sauce ingredient

Breakfast

Cinnamon and raisin bagel with jam, apple

The New York Bakery bagels are a great option for an animal-free breakfast. I’ve just had a look on their Facebook page and can now confirm that all their bagels (not just the ones I’ve tried) are suitable for vegans. I find that the cinnamon & raisin, oat & fruit and blueberry variety are especially great for breakfast.

Lunch

Peanut butter and tomato sandwich, crisps, apple, Alpro soya dessert

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My toaster was a little over enthusiastic (as you can see) but the toasted sandwich was still pretty nice. Peanut butter and tomatoes may not seem like the most natural combination, but the juiciness of the tomatoes actually goes really nicely with the peanut butter. I felt the need  for a choclatey boost and an Alpro soya dessert is always a great way to get this.

Dinner

Leek and sweetcorn pasta, salad

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This is a seriously simple pasta dish and really delicious too. I do find that veggie stock cubes are a bit of a magic ingredient as they add a lovely flavour to any sauce. I go for the Kallo veggie stock cubes, which you can buy in Holland and Barrett or Sainsbury’s.

The quantities I’ve given aren’t that precise but, like most vegan dishes, it would be quite hard for this to go seriously wrong. My kitchen scales were a thrifty but perhaps not overly wise purchase from the pound shop and I’m not 100% convinced about their accuracy.

Ingredients for leek and sweetcorn pasta (serves 2):

– 2 smallish leeks

– A good handful of lemon thyme

– 150g pasta

– Olive oil

– A handful of cherry tomatoes

– 2 small cartons of Alpro soya cream

– A tin of sweetcorn, rinsed and drained

– One veggie stock cube

Method:

1. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil. Meanwhile, cut the top and end off the leeks, then slice them lengthways and chop into smaller pieces (I find they cook best like this). Strip the leaves off a good few stalks of lemon thyme.

2. Add the pasta to the boiling water along with a splash of olive oil. Simmer for about 10 minutes until tender, stirring occasionally.

3. Meanwhile, heat a good splash of oil in a saucepan and add the leeks and thyme. Simmer for about 5 mins until very tender, stirring constantly.

4. Add the tomatoes, soya cream and sweetcorn, crumble the stock cube over the top and continue to simmer for another 5 mins, stirring frequently.

5. Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce. Heat through for a few minutes, then serve.

I thought that taking my pasta to the park might make for a relaxing dinner. This didn’t quite live up to my expectations though, as the box of pasta proved extremely popular with the local ants who seemed to appear within seconds of me sitting down, bringing all their friends with them and trying to climb into the box. I encouraged them back onto the grass, gathered my dinner up and headed over to a bench but it wasn’t the most relaxing meal ever recorded.

Dessert

Sesame snaps and grapes

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Sesame snaps are difficult to beat, and maybe they’re at least slightly good for you as there are some sesame seeds underneath all the sugar.

Snacks

Dried fruit

I find that the ‘exotic fruit’ type mixes are really great for an energy boost.

How to make your lunchtime feel like a holiday

Breakfast

Toasted sandwich, strawberries

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Strawberries are always a lovely way to start the day and a wholemeal toasted sandwich gives you a good supply of energy (especially when filled with jam).

Lunch

Pasta with Homemade Tomato Sauce, strawberries, dark chocolate

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This was the pasta I made yesterday, but the cold version was ideal for lunch. I’d suggest leaving it out of the fridge during the morning though, as the cold does tend to dull its flavour.  If you can manage to eat lunch outside in the sun, this pasta dish might almost make you feel like you’re on holiday in Italy!

Tea

Pepper, seed and sultana salad, pitta bread, tortilla chips/Bombay mix

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I didn’t have time to shop today, so this was just thrown together out of the ingredients I had in the fridge/store cupboard. It worked really well though, as the sweet sultanas contrasted nicely with the slightly sharper peppers. To make it for one person, I just used a handful of crunchy salad, one tinned, roasted pepper (sliced), one large tomato (sliced) and good handfuls of seeds and raisins. I find that a drizzle of olive oil is always a good last minute addition.  Wholemeal pitta breads tend to go really well with salads, especially when toasted and spread with a little soya margarine.

Dessert 

Mango and strawberries, biscuits

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Strawberries and mango go really well together for a super-sweet fruit salad. The biscuits were a vegan variety that I found in the Co-op (morning coffee biscuits apparently).

Snacks

Nakd fruit bar, wholemeal crackers

More of the wholemeal crackers from Aldi, which I’m finding are really good for a mid-afternoon energy boost.

A tomato sauce that won’t let you down

Breakfast

Wholemeal toast, strawberry jam, watermelon

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Watermelon is a lovely refreshing way to start the day and makes you feel as though you’re on holiday in a hot country. It probably wouldn’t keep you going until lunchtime though, so I’d suggest teaming it up with something fairly filling e.g. wholemeal toast.

Lunch

Pitta breads with salad and roasted peppers, tortilla chips, watermelon

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In case you were wondering how I could find time to roast peppers at lunchtime, the answer is that I didn’t! These were the ready roasted variety that you can buy in a jar. In supermarkets, they’re sometimes kept by the olives, and sometimes in the Greek section of the World Foods aisle. They have a slightly sharper taste than home-roasted peppers, but they go well sliced and popped in a pitta bread with a handful of salad. You’ll probably find you need more than one pitta though, as this is a fairly light filling. I always lightly toast pitta breads first (I find it makes them much easier to slice), and spread with some soya margarine.

Dinner

Pasta with homemade tomato sauce, salad

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This sauce is so easy to do and makes the pasta taste genuinely lovely. It would also be great with spaghetti (which is generally egg-free unless it’s fresh).

Ingredients for pasta with homemade tomato sauce (serves 2):

– 1 onion

– 2-3 cloves of garlic

– Around 1 tbsp lemon thyme

– 150g pasta

– Olive oil

– 6 large tomatoes (ideally vine ripened, not the pallid salad kind)

– 1 veggie stock cube

– (Optional) seeds e.g. pumpkin seeds

Method:

1. Bring a large pan of water to the boil.

2. Meanwhile, finely chop the onion, crush the garlic cloves and strip the leaves off the lemon thyme. Roughly chop the tomatoes and set aside.

3. Heath a generous splash of oil in a pan and add the onion, garlic and lemon thyme. Sautee for around 5 mins or a little longer, until the onion is really soft but not brown. Stir almost constantly to prevent burning and disaster!

4. Add the tomatoes and crumble the stock cub over the top. Stir for a few minutes until the liquid from the  tomatoes forms a sauce. Cover and simmer gently for around 10 mins, stirring occasionally.

5. Meanwhile, add the pasta to the boiling water, along with a good splash of oil. Simmer for around 10 mins, until soft. Drain the pasta, then stir into the sauce. Stir in a few handfuls of seeds and serve.

I just had a crunchy salad on the side with a drizzle of olive oil and some Bombay mix for added spiciness. It made a really lovely, almost Italian type meal.

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Dessert

Strawberries, biscuits, a few squares of dark chocolate

The strawberries were really lovely and sweet, and went well with a couple of the Co-op’s Morning Coffee Biscuits (marked as vegan).

Snacks

Cocoa Nakd bar, satsumas

I probably shouldn’t be eating Christmas fruits in July, but they still taste nice!

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.

The perfect alternative to meringue?

Breakfast

Peach and apricot balance, soya milk, strawberries, banana

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I’d almost reached the end of the packet of cereal, so had to bulk it out with some fruit but it was just as filling and probably much healthier.

Lunch

Pitta bread stuffed with marinated tofu and tomato salad,  pretzels, apple, dried mango

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I’d say that this is definitely one of the best sandwiches around. This morning I just briefly posted a wholemeal pitta bread in the toaster to warm it and make it easier to cut, then spread it with some soya margarine and added rocket salad, sliced cherry tomatoes and some marinated tofu pieces. The whole process only took around 5 mins, so it’s not the type of packed lunch you have to get up early to make. The marinated tofu peices are one of my favourite tofu products, and they’re great added to sandwiches and salads. This was the Cauldron brand, and I generally find that they’re available in the larger supermarkets (although some sort of tofu can generally be purchased in any supermarket). The pretzels are just a very addictive crisp  alternative, and dried mango is good for a sweet, but maybe slightly healthier, end to a meal.

Dinner

Thyme, seed and cherry tomato pasta, marinated tofu and cucumber salad

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When I made a roasted pepper pasta salad for Sunday lunch, I cooked slightly too much pasta. To avoid swamping the Mediterranean veg with excessive amounts of plain pasta, I stowed some of the surplus pasta in the fridge. During the week, I’ve considered taking it for lunch, but the thought of preparing a pasta salad before 8 am never really appealed. Its days were numbered, but it came into its own tonight when I wanted to save time by avoiding a shopping trip. I still had plenty of the lovely herbs that my grandparents had brought over from their garden, so I thought that these would do a pretty good job of perking up the pasta.

This turns out to be a great way to use up excess cooked pasta (which often results from the wise decision to gradually add  pasta to sauce and avoid the risk of dryness).  Keeping the pasta for nearly a week was probably pushing it though, and I wouldn’t suggest that anyone else does the same! I have an incredibly zealous fridge which is great for stopping things from going off (if slightly annoying when it produces icy strawberries etc.).  As well as saving time on supermarket trips, the whole thing was definitely ready in under 15 mins.

Ingredients for thyme, seed and cherry tomato pasta (serves 2):

– 150g dried pasta, cooked

– 1 onion

– 2 large garlic cloves

– A good handful of thyme

– Olive oil

– A generous sprinkle of seeds (e.g. pumpkin, sunflower)

– A good handful of cherry tomatoes

Method:

1. Chop the onion, crush the garlic and take the thyme leaves off the stalks.

2. Heat a good splash of oil in a pan and add  the onion, garlic and thyme. Sautee for around 5 mins, stirring constantly, until the onion is soft and transparent. Add the seeds and continue to sautee for a few more minutes.

3. Add a good splash of water, plus the cherry tomatoes (whole). Simmer for another 5 mins, stirring almost constantly. Add more water if necessary. It’s not to create a sauce, but just  to stop the mixture from burning.

4. Finally, add the  pasta and continue to simmer, stirring frequently, until the pasta is hot through.

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I served this with some cucumber and marinated tofu pieces, as there wasn’t quite as much pasta as I would usually cook. If using more pasta though, a leafy salad would probably suffice.

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Dessert

Halva with strawberries and pomegranate seeds, a few pieces of dark chocolate (with ginger)

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The Cypressa brand of this traditional Greek dessert definitely seems to be animal-free. I’ve just been informed that some halva contains albumin though  (which comes from egg), so I guess it’s one of those cases where you have to do a quick scan of the ingredients to be sure.

I’d never tried it before, but thought it was really delicious. It’s made from crushed sesame seeds (and a lot of sugar), so it’s almost like a sweet version of tahini. The ‘serving suggestion’ shows it cut into neat cubes, but my block just crumbled when I tried to cut it. It still tasted great though, especially combined with fresh red fruit. It also strikes me as the perfect alternative to meringue, as it has the same sweet, fairly dry, crumbly texture. For this reason, I think it would have been even better with a moister topping (e.g. some tinned fruit or a fruit compote) and would also be a great ingredient for an animal-free Eton mess, combined with some whipped coconut cream.

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Snacks

Vegan chocolate

Not much explanation needed, but it’s not a snack you can go far wrong with!