The key to stress-free flan making

Breakfast

Soya yogurt topped with crunchy cereal and grapes

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Knowing that lunch was going to be both early and a main meal, I opted for a reasonably light breakfast. The yogurt was the Alpro lemon and lime variety (not one I’d tried before) and the cereal was the satisfyingly sugary maple and pecan crisp. I find this is quite a good morning snack, but probably not the kind of thing that would sustain any kind of physical exercise.

Lunch

Aubergine, pomegranate and pine nut flan, roasted sweet potatoes with orange and pecans

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I wouldn’t normally make anything with quite so many ingredients but a family visit gave me the perfect excuse. Although this isn’t an everyday meal, it doesn’t require you to spend hours in the kitchen- you really just need to be around to put things in the oven and take them out again. The sweet potato recipe is a version of one by Yotam Ottolenghi, who can also be credited with the aubergine-pomegranate-pine nut combination (and the aubergine cooking method). Jus’ Roll puff pastry is one of those great accidentally vegan ingredients, and I find it takes any stress out of the pie/tart/flan/ making process.

If you’re making the flan and potatoes together, I would suggest:

  1. Roast the aubergines in advance
  2. Roast the potatoes
  3. Move the potatoes to a lower rung while the flan base cooks

Ingredients for aubergine, pomegranate and pine nut flan:

  • 3 medium aubergines
  • Vegan margarine (e.g. ‘Pure’)
  • 1 packet of Jus’ Roll puff pastry
  • 3 lemons
  • 1 carton soya cream
  • Dried herbs
  • Seeds of 1 pomegranate
  • 1 packet of pine nuts (roasted if possible)

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. Meanwhile, lightly grease a flan tin with the vegan margarine, roll out the pastry and place it in the tin. If you let the pastry hang over the edges you’ll end up with a thicker crust for your flan. Put the flan case in the fridge.

4. When the aubergines are ready, remove from the oven and set aside. Place the flan in the oven and bake until it’s golden and puffy (around 25 mins). The sides will collapse and it will rise to look like a pie but don’t panic- this is supposed to happen!

5.  While the pastry case is cooking, cut the aubergines 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 might want to cut up some of the larger pieces (kitchen scissors are useful for this).

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6. Place the aubergine flesh in a saucepan, along with a splash of soya cream, a sprinkle of dried herbs and the zest of a lemon. You can make a sauce for the flan by placing the rest of the soya cream in a separate pan, along with the zest of the other two lemons and some more dried herbs. About 5 mins before the pastry is ready to come out of the oven, gently heat the aubergine mixture (and the sauce if you’re making it).

7. When the pastry is golden and puffy, remove from the oven, deflate the centre (run a knife around it) and fill it with the aubergine mixture. Top with the pine nuts and pomegranates, then serve.

Ingredients for roasted sweet potatoes with orange and pecans (serves 4):

  • 4 medium sweet potatoes
  • 1 orange
  • Olive oil
  • Maple syrup
  • A generous handful of sultanas
  • 1/2 packet pecan nuts (roasted if possible)

Method:

1. Peel and cube the potatoes. Preheat the oven to gas 6 (200 C).

2. Drizzle the potatoes with olive oil, mix this in and roast until tender (around 30 mins).

3. Meanwhile, cut the orange and squeeze the juice into a bowl, then add a splash of olive oil and maple syrup. Mix well with a whisk or spoon.

4. When the potatoes are ready, remove from the oven and stir in the sauce, along with the pecans and sultanas.

Dessert

‘Pudology’ dessert

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If you want to splash out on a high quality instant dessert, you might want to consider the Pudology range which you can buy from some Waitrose or Sainsbury’s stores (list of stockists available here).  They come in tiny tubs, but they’re also extremely rich and generally very delicious.

Tea

Falafel sandwich, nuts, mini carrots and hummus

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Falafel is a good hearty sandwich filling, although I don’t find it travels very well in packed lunches as it has a bit of a tendency to fall out of the bread. I also think it works best to add some chutney or vegan mayo (which I didn’t tonight) and this helps to ensure a nice moist filling.

Dessert

Pomegranate seeds, chocolate square

The chocolate square was one of the Lazy Days range which you can buy in the free-from section of Sainsbury’s (next to all the gluten-free products). They come in a variety of flavours (ginger, tiffin, caramel etc.) and are great for a sugar boost.

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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.

When not to do what it says on the packet

Breakfast

Weetabix type cereal, grapes, soya milk

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The weetabix type cereal was the Sainsbury’s economy version. Although they’re very nice, they’re also tiny and I found that you needed about three for a decent breakfast! The great thing about using sweetened soya milk is that you don’t need to add sugar to this kind of cereal (which at least feels healthier).

Lunch

Salad, ciabatta bread, peanuts, apple

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The salad was the same as the one I made yesterday- just leaves, a tomato and some cucumber, sprinkled with pumpkin seeds and drizzled with olive oil. This went really well with the olive ciabatta from yesterday and I couldn’t resist a few coconut peanuts either.

Dinner

Roasted polenta with aubergine, salad

Dessert: apple, cranberry and cinnamon pot

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This is a really delicious meal that only takes a minimal amount of effort to prepare (although it takes a while to cook itself in the oven).  Polenta is another fabulous Italian food that doesn’t get as much publicity as pizza and pasta. For this recipe you need the kind of polenta that looks like a block of cheese, not the one that looks like a packet of flour. It can (hopefully) be found near the dried pasta in supermarkets.

Ingredients for roasted polenta with aubergine (serves 2):

– 2 medium aubergines

– A packet of polenta

– A little olive oil

– Zest of 2 lemons

– A little lemon thyme

– A good splash of soya cream

Method:

I’ve included the aubergine cooking method (and pictures) from the Aubergine Roulade with Lemon and Tarragon Sauce which is inspired by Ottolenghi but simplified a bit. Today I did it in a different oven and found that the aubergines took longer and I had to finish them off in a saucepan. To be fair though, I did start off cooking them on gas 6 rather than 7 and this particular oven is rather idiosyncratic with the flames at the bottom and not the back.

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 only have about half an hour left, slice the polenta, brush with a little olive oil and place on a baking tray on a lower rung of the oven. You’ll probably want to turn them once. When I made this meal I was only cooking one aubergine so put the polenta slices alongside it on the baking tray. They should cook fine on a lower rung though and you could always temporarily swap rungs with the aubergines if you felt they needed an extra boost of crispiness.

4. 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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5. Place the aubergine flesh in a pan and add the lemon zest, lemon thyme and a good splash of soya cream. This is where we rebel against the packet, as the one enclosing Sainsbury’s lemon thyme says it’s ‘perfect with poultry fabulous with fish’. I can think of some much kinder ways to use it though, including this one. Heat gently for around five minutes until piping hot, stirring constantly.

6. Remove the polenta from the oven, arrange the slices on plates and top with the aubergines.

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The dessert was really lovely, although it did feel a little to Christmassy to be eating in a warm (or at least not freezing) garden. To make it for one person, you just need an apple (chopped), a good handful of dried cranberries (or sultanas) and a good sprinkle of cinnamon and brown sugar.

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Snacks

Morning: A couple of oaty biscuits

Evening: Diet coke and an apple

As promised, the new inclusion of snacks.

How to make a stunning dish with just two ingredients

Breakfast

Maple & pecan crisp cereal, soya milk, grapes

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Lunch

Vegan cheese and chutney sandwich, crisps, sesame snaps, apple

I’ve recently discovered a vegan cheese that they’ve started selling in Tesco. It’s great in sandwiches and next week I’m hoping to branch out into vegan macaroni cheese.

Dinner

Aubergine roulade with lemon & tarragon sauce, asparagus salad. Dessert: mini chocolate and ginger muffins

To make a roulade which serves 4, you just need 3 large aubergines and  a pack of Jus’ Roll puff pastry (such a discovery when I found out this was vegan)! It looks and tastes really impressive, so you’d never know about the miniscule ingredients list. The dish takes a while to cook but minimal effort to prepare, so it’s great if you’re at home but busy. The lemon and tarragon sauce is a nice accompaniment, but the roulade is quite moist anyway. The aubergine cooking method is inspired by Ottolenghi but simplified a bit.

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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. Roll out the pastry and place the aubergine in the centre, leaving a bit of a margin.

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5. It would probably work fine to bake  it like this and make an aubergine tart. If you’re feeling brave though, you could try and roll it up. It would be dishonest to pretend that this is easy to do, but it gets easier with practice and even if it looks messy it will still taste great. Start at the short edge and roll up fairly rapidly.

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The main challenge is ensuring that the pastry doesn’t stick to the work surface, so maybe try scattering this with a little flour. I tried using grease proof paper but I don’t think it was all that helpful. The filling may well squidge out of the side a little, but just push it back in with a spoon- no one will know!

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6. Bake in the oven until golden and puffy. I found it took about 15 mins on gas 7 ( 220 C) followed by 10 mins on gas 6 (220 C).

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Ingredients for lemon and tarragon sauce:

– 1 carton of soya cream

– Zest of 3 lemons

– A generous sprinkle of fresh or dried tarragon

Method:

Just add it all to a pan and simmer gently for about 5 mins.

The asparagus salad just needs two packs of asparagus, some lettuce and a good handful of salted almonds. Simply cook the asparagus, drain and run some cold water over them. Serve them on a ‘bed’ of lettuce and top with the salted almonds.

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The mini muffins are extremely light, and you can easily get through about three in a single sitting! They’re also quick to throw together if you have limited time for home baking.

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Ingredients for mini chocolate and ginger muffins (makes 12):

– 115 g plain flour

– 1 tbsp baking powder

– A sprinkle of mixed spice

– 50 g sugar

– 3 pieces of stem ginger in syrup

– 25 g vegan margarine

– 75 ml sweetened soya milk

– 70 g dark chocolate (but not too bitter)

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to gas 5 (190 C)

2. Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder and mixed spice into a bowl. Grate  one piece of stem ginger and stir in. You may need to use your fingers to rub it in as though making pastry.

3. Add the margarine and soya milk and beat until just combined.

4. Chop the chocolate into small chunks and stir in.

5. Spoon the mixture into cases and bake until a cake tester comes out clean (about 15-20 mins).

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You can garnish with the rest of the stem ginger. Just grate and use it to decorate the muffins. The hen plate is optional!