A few festive highlights

Having taken an awkwardly long break from blogging, I thought the best way back in might be a few festive highlights, some of which are hopefully still available in the shops if anyone feels in need of yet more food.

Sausage rolls 

These are incredibly easy to make, but you can also buy them ready to cook in Holland & Barrett. You only need two ingredients to make your own though- a pack of Jus’ Roll puff pastry (a sheet makes life even easier) and a  packet of vegan sausages. I really like the Vegetarians Choice brand (available predictably enough in Holland & Barrett), but it’s normally possible to find a vegan sausage option in the supermarket. Frozen sausages work fine for this- you just space them out on the pastry sheet, form them into rolls (more detailed description here) and bake them in the oven on gas 8 (230 C), for about 20-25 mins.

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Cream-free cheese

Not strictly a festive item but great on crackers as part of a Christmas tea. My favourite is the Tofutti brand, which comes in plain or herb/garlic flavour, and can be bought in health food shops. Other great items for an animal-free Christmas tea include mini spring rolls, nuts (unsurprisingly), crisps and dates. You can also buy lots of different types of vegan cheese, the Vegusto range being the nicest in my opinion. (Nessie the cat likes to warm her ears under the lamp and didn’t see any reason to move just because food was on the table.)

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Winter vegetable mash

This goes really well with a flan, pie or vegan sausages, and makes a nice change from mashed potato.

Ingredients (serves 3):

  • 4 shallots
  • 3 large carrots
  • 3 large parsnips
  • 2 potatoes
  • Cooking oil
  • Herbs e.g. parsley
  • Veggie stock

Method:

  1. Peel and dice the veg, keeping the shallots separate.
  2. Heat a good splash of oil in a large pan and add the shallots. Sautee gently until they go semi-transparent, stirring frequently, then add the veg and continue to sautee for a few more minutes.
  3. Add a generous splash of stock, plus the herbs.
  4. Simmer very gently, stirring frequently, until most of the stock has been absorbed and the veg forms a mash-like consistency. Add more stock if it starts to look dry at any point.
  5. When the veg is ready, mash as required and serve.

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Vegan Christmas cake

The brand is Lazy Days, and it’s available in Holland & Barrett. The slices are very petite (you need a few for a decent cake fix), but they have a nice spicy taste and a satisfyingly thick layer of icing. Christmas decorations optional!

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Hotel Chocolat Tiddly Penguins

Extremely cute and marked as suitable for vegans. Actually not so tiddly- the chocolate is nice and chunky.

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How to create an addictive salad

Breakfast

Muesli, soya milk, grapes

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Not all that creative but reasonably nutritious and very nice. Apologies for the slightly excessive amount of soya milk which rather ruins the picture!

Lunch

Hummus and cucumber sandwich, nuts, fruit, Nakd bar

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A bit more conventional than the previous day’s hummus and beetroot sandwich but it worked well. The green nuts are wasabi peanuts, which are seriously hot but very nice.

Dinner

Courgette and tomato croustade. Pear, watercress and walnut salad

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If you want to prepare a special meal with a minimal amount of effort then a croustade is a good choice. Despite the offputtingly fancy name, it’s actually reasonably fuss-free. The croustade base is essentially a veganized version of a Rose Elliot recipe (with a few extra changes), although the sauce is my own recipe (all three ingredients!) and I’ve used roasted veg to replace the asparagus topping in the original. The salad is seriously quick and pretty addictive (probably something to do with the very sweet walnuts).

I must admit, this isn’t a particularly cheap meal, although I’d imagine it’s much cheaper than e.g. creating a roast dinner for 4 people. Most of the options in this blog are pretty low-cost, but this is more of a special occasion type meal.

Ingredients for courgette and tomato croustade (serves 4):

– 4 large courgettes

– Olive oil

-100g white bread with the crusts removed

-100g ground almonds

– 3 cloves of garlic (crushed)

-100g vegan margarine

-100g pine nuts

– A generous handful of cherry tomatoes

For the lemon and tarragon sauce:

– 1-2 small cartons of soya cream

– A good sprinkle of dried tarragon

– Juice of one lemon, zest of 2

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to gas 7 (220). Slice the courgettes into rectangles, lay out on a baking tray and add a good drizzle of olive oil (mix in with your hands if possible). Roast until tender (around 30-40 mins), turning once and adding the cherry tomatoes about 10 mins before the end. When the veg is ready, remove from the oven and set aside. Turn the oven down to gas 6 (200).

2. Meanwhile, place the bread in a large mixing bowl and tear into small pieces. Add the almonds, garlic and margarine. Mix with a spoon/your hands to form a sticky dough, then mix in the pine nuts. It will feel implausibly buttery, but don’t worry- this is normal!

3. Lightly grease a flan tin (smallish size). Press the dough in so it’s fairly even and bake for around 20 mins until golden.

4. Meanwhile, place the soya cream in a pan and add the other ingredients. About 5 mins before you are ready to use it, heat it up gently. You may want to warm the veg up in a pan too.

5. When the croustade is ready, remove the side of the tin (don’t panic if it crumbles a little!) then top with the veg. Serve with the sauce.

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Ingredients for pear, watercress and walnut salad (serves 4):

– 1 medium sized pack of walnuts

– Maple syrup (agave syrup is a cheaper option which you can buy in the supermarket)

– 1 packet of watercress

– 1 tin of pears/ 3 ripe pears

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to gas 7 (220). Lay the walnuts out on a baking tray and drizzle some syrup over the top. Mix in with  your hands. Roast for about 5-10 minutes, keeping a very close eye on them to avoid a burnt walnut disaster (never fails to cause extreme annoyance!). Remove from the oven and set aside.

2. Place the watercress in a bowl, then add the pears and walnuts.

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Why you can never roast too much veg

Breakfast

Maple and pecan crisp cereal, soya milk, fruit

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I’ve eaten this cereal a few too many times lately, but it is seriously addictive.

Lunch

Roasted veg and hummus baguette, crisps, fruit, Nakd bar

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Hummus and roasted veg is a seriously delicious option for an animal-free sandwich. I always think it’s worth roasting some extra veg, then you’ll have a great sandwich filling ready and waiting in the fridge. I used a par-bake baguette, which is a really nice (if not wildly healthy) choice of sandwich bread. The vegetables were courgettes and cherry tomatoes, but aubergines and peppers also work well.

Dinner

Beetroot, sweetcorn and cucumber salad, toasted bagel

Lunch wasn’t eaten at a very conventional time (finished circa 4pm), so a cooked meal wasn’t really needed in the evening. The salad was just a combination of iceberg lettuce, chopped beetroot, sweetcorn and cucumber. I drizzled some vegan mayonnaise on top and added a sprinkling of garlic and herb type croutons. This is a really tasty salad which only takes about 5 mins to prepare. Unfortunately I’m still without a camera and my phone seems unreasonably prejudiced against vegan food. It tends to add a kind of dull hue to all my pictures which makes everything look decidedly insipid. Its representation of the vibrantly coloured salad was particularly harsh in my opinion!

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Dessert

Soya yogurt pot with crunchy topping

Despite eating more than enough sugary cereal at breakfast time, I thought my latest discovery would lend itself quite well to a yogurt based dessert. I just put a few spoonfuls of plain soya yogurt in a dessert pot, then added a sprinkle of maple sunrise cereal, followed by a little more yogurt, then more cereal. It worked well, although I think some very moist fruit (e.g. tinned pineapple) would have added the finishing touch.

How to help your guacamole look its best

Breakfast

Sesame seed bagel with peanut butter, banana

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This is always a nice breakfast if you feel in need of a good energy boost to start the day.

Lunch

Mini falafels, veg, hummus, wholegrain crackers

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This was essentially an extension of yesterday’s buffet type lunch, as the falafels and hummus needed finishing. Cauliflower is surprisingly nice  raw, and I’d say tastier than when it’s boiled. In fact, all kinds of raw veg go well for dipping in hummus. Whilst the plate may look a little spartan, it had several refills of crackers, veg etc.

Dessert

Grapes, flapjacks

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These were the last of the amazing black treacle flapjacks that my Nan baked. An amazing end to any meal!

Dinner

‘Super Green’ soup, guacamole, pitta breads, mini pretzels

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The ‘Super Green’ soup was reduced in Marks and Spencer. It’s not normally somewhere that I’d shop (out of my price range), but there’s a mini ‘M&S Food’ at Oxford Station so I thought I’d stop off on my way back to London to avoid hauling my luggage into the Co-op on the way home. My visit was well timed, as I arrived just as they were distributing the yellow ‘reduced’ labels, and the ‘Super Green’ soup was one of the chosen items. It featured various vegetables including leeks, peas and edamame beans, so should hopefully have provided a fairly comprehensive dose of goodness.

When I arrived back in London, the avocado that I’d left behind was really soft, so guacamole seemed like the obvious solution. I literally just mashed the inside with a fork and sprinkled with seeds, but this does seem like quite a nice way to serve it. The mini pretzels weren’t strictly necessary, but I had a few that needed finishing in the interests of creating space in the cupboard.

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Dessert

Banana, apricots, chocolate

The chocolate was a lovely Fairtrade bar that was included in the amazing goody bag that my grandparents brought over when they came to Sunday lunch last week. It really was delicious, and clearly kind to people as well as animals.

Snacks

Nakd cocoa orange bar, nectarine, dried fruit/nuts

It’s nice to take advantage of the odd piece of summer fruit while it’s in season, and once nectarines have finally ripened they really are delicious.

How to disguise some fruit

Breakfast

Weetabix type cereal (Sainsbury’s economy version) with strawberries, soya milk

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Strawberries and weetabix are definitely a classic combination and give a great boost for starting the day.

Lunch

Watercress, roasted pepper and butternut squash salad, pitta, grapes, a couple of oaty biscuits

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The salad sounds a lot fancier than it actually was. I had some roasted veg left over from last night and just added it to a bowl full of watercress with some olive oil drizzled over the top. The whole thing only took a few minutes to prepare, including pitta  toasting time. It made a really satisfying lunch but wasn’t too heavy for a midday meal. If you’re roasting some veg, I would definitely recommend doing double quantities (oven space allowing). That way, you have a great resource for salads and something to make a hummus sandwich really special.

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Dinner

Lentil and veg soup, focaccia, a few coconut peanuts

Dessert: Grape, strawberry and chocolate pot

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After a fairly hearty lunch,  tonight’s dinner was only going to consist of a sandwich. As so often happens though, I was hungrier than expected so opted for soup and bread as a compromise. Making soups is one of my favourite kitchen based activities, as they’re so quick, tasty and nutritious. Unfortunately though, a blender is a fairly essential piece of equipment for soup making and not something that I have with me in London. In actual fact though, there’s no shortage of animal free soups in supermarkets, although there is still a bit of a tendency to add cream to those that could otherwise join the purely plant based range.

I have to admit that the bought soup I resigned myself to was actually pretty nice. I opted for a lentil and veg one from Waitrose (the essentials range) and found some rosemary focaccia to go with it. I’d never really shopped in Waitrose before but I have to admit that they seen fairly vegan friendly and the ‘essentials’ range isn’t too far beyond all purchasing possibility. The focaccia was nowhere near as good as its Italian counterpart but was still a nice bread in its own right, especially dipped in the soup.

Dessert  is where the disguised fruit comes in. I wasn’t going to photograph tonight’s pudding, as I thought it just looked like a bowl of chocolate sauce and no one would see the grapes (and lone but fairly large strawberry) underneath. But then I had second thoughts, as I realised that this could be a positive thing- a way to eat some healthy fruit without even seeing it. In fact, what initially appears an indulgent dessert is actually a pretty healthy one. Fruit is presumably still good for you even if it has a sweet topping, and the chocolate sauce is an Alpro Soya dessert, so completely free from cholesterol. Kind to animals and kind to your health, just maybe not so kind to your teeth!

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Snacks

Pears, piece of flapjack

Pears seem to make quite a good snack as they’re really sweet and you feel like you’ve had a good sugar boost after eating one.

An emergency couscous

Breakfast

Cereal (combination of maple & pecan crisp and muesli), soya milk, grapes

Different combinations of cereal can go really well together. Useful if you don’t have enough of one type to make up a decent bowl full!

Lunch

Bagel with peanut butter, grapes and celery, mini pretzels, apple, flapjack

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Peanut butter bagels are really nice topped with a little fruit and veg. The sweetness of grapes goes really well with the salty peanut butter, and the crunchy celery is a nice addition too. Mini pretzels are another nice crisp alternative (although I’m not sure they’re actually any healthier). Most of the Blackfriars flapjack range are vegan, and I’d say they’re the next best thing to home made.

Dinner

Vegetable couscous, salad

Dessert: Alpro soya dessert, grapes

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This is where the emergency couscous comes in. I came back to London fairly late (after a weekend back  home in Oxford) and knew my ingredients would be slightly limited. This was a bit of a case of just using up anything in the fridge, but it turned out quite well. It may just be my mushroom prejudices surfacing again but I’d be tempted to leave them out and replace with something like olives or peppers. To be honest though, the basic concept works with almost any veg. Just cook the couscous in this nice way and add whatever you feel like.

Ingredients (serves 2):

– 150g couscous

– Around 350 ml veggie stock

– Juice and zest of one lemon

– Olive oil

– 1 small onion

– 1 clove of garlic

(Optional but nice) a few fennel seeds

– One courgette

– Another vegetable of your choice e.g. a pepper or some oilves

– A good handful of nuts

Method:

1. Place the couscous in a saucepan and add the veggie stock along with the lemon zest and juice. Cover up and leave for around 10 mins, until the water has been absorbed. Meanwhile, chop the veg.

2. Heat a splash of oil in the saucepan and add the onion. Saute until semi-transparent, stirring almost constantly. Add the courgette (and pepper if using) along with the garlic and fennel seeds. Continue to brown, stirring very frequently for about another 10 mins. You may need to add the odd splash of water, just to help stop the veg from burning.

3. When the couscous is ready, fluff it up with a fork, then add the veg and nuts, along with a drizzle of olive oil if you like.

I seem to always photograph things out of their packet and then provide a detailed description of where to find them. For once I thought I’d just photograph this soya dessert in its packet, as this may be more informative if you’re trying to find them in a supermarket. They go very well with fruit, as does anything chocolaty I suppose.

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How to turn a cooking disaster into a triumph

Breakfast

Maple & pecan crisp cereal, soya milk, apple

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Lunch

Celery and sultana bagel, crisps, fruit, peanut bar

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Celery and sultana is a great filling for a sesame bagel. I doubt it would travel that well, but it’s great for a home lunch with a toasted bagel. The peanut bars can be bought from AMT coffee and are basically just bars of peanut brittle. It’s great to know you can get something animal free and satisfyingly sticky to go with your coffee.

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Dinner

Sweet potato and carrot crumble with lemon and basil sauce, asparagus salad, nuts. Dessert: watermelon and biscuits

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The plan for tonight was to do a parsnip flan. Tesco slightly spoiled this idea though by failing to provide any parsnips. Having decided that sweet potatoes and carrots would do much the same job, I put the base of the flan in the oven and prepared the topping. When I removed the base from the oven though, reality dawned and I realised that it would simply crumble when I tried to cut it. If that was the case, I thought it may as well get on with it and turned the dish into a crumble. This new version was actually a great success, so I’ve included the recipe below. It goes really well with lemon and basil sauce, so the recipe’s there for that too.

Ingredients for sweet potato and carrot crumble (serves 3):

– 3 packs of oatcakes (i.e. 3 of the individually wrapped packets)

– 2 tbsp sunflower oil

– 3 medium sweet potatoes

– 4 large carrots

– 400 ml veggie stock

– A good handful of parsley

– 1tbsp brown sugar

Ingredients for lemon and basil sauce:

– 1 small carton of soya cream

– A good handful of basil

– Zest of 3 lemons

Method:

1.Crush the oatcakes (put them in a bowl and use a rolling pin) then stir in 2 tbsp oil and 2 tbsp water. Set aside.

2. Peel and slice the veg. Place in a pan with the water, stock and parsley. The veg won’t be covered, but it cooks nicely like this and develops a great flavour.

3. Simmer the veg until tender (about 20 mins) with the lid on. Stir regularly.

4. Meanwhile, spread the oatcake mixture out in a dish and bake on gas 6 (200 C)  for about 15 mins.

6. If preparing the sauce, pour the soya cream into a pan. Add a good handful of chopped basil along with the lemon zest, but don’t heat it up yet.

5. When the veg is nearly ready, stir in the sugar and put the sauce on to simmer for about 5 mins.

6. When the veg is cooked, place in a dish and top with the oaty crumble. Garnish with some parsley.

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Digestive biscuits don’t seem like the most natural partner for watermelon but they go surprisingly well together. Just take care not to get the biscuit too near the melon or it will turn offputtingly soggy!

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