In Season: Beetroot

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We Brits love pickled beetroot but more recently our eyes have been opened to it’s versatility. Beetroot can be roasted, juiced, made into soups and gratins and even incorporated into delicious cakes. It’s natural sweetness means it is a foil for a myriad of flavours. It makes an excellent partner to rich meats like duck or oily fish such as salmon.

Rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals this root lays claim to many health benefits ranging from the ability to reduce cholesterol to increasing stamina when exercising. The Romans even used it as an aphrodisiac.

If there is one criticism that can be levied at beetroot it is that it can be rather messy and time consuming to prepare. It ‘bleeds’ readily leaving your hands stained magenta and can take an age before it becomes tender. Fortunately, you can buy ready cooked beetroot in most supermarkets which saves considerable time and hassle.

If you love this root then try some of these recipes from this blog:

Check out the recipe for Xanthe Clay’s Beetroot Cured Salmon in the September issue of Sussex Style Magazine.

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CÔTES DU RHÔNE 2012 ROMAIN DUVERNAY

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A few weeks ago I posted a few recipes taken from the Bloomsbury Cookbook. I thought I would share my thoughts on a wine that we drank with the Beouf en Daube which I was sent courtesy of Roberson Wines.

Despite its tender years this blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre graphs from the Côtes de Rhone was very smooth. Rich with black fruits it married well with the bold flavours of the casserole. It is a potentially dangerous wine – incredibly easy to drink with or without food – which means you could easily be tempted to open another bottle once one had been finished (sadly we only had the one).

For over 100 years the Duvernay family, who are based at Châteauneuf-du-Pape, have been supplying some of the finest producers in the Côtes de Rhone with base wine. However, a few years ago Romain Duvernay decided to produce wine under his own label. This means his name is not as well known as other wine producers in the UK and this keeps the price down. At under £10 a bottle it is excellent value for the quality.

Côtes de Rhone 2012 Romain Duvernay, £9.95 from Roberson Wines

Boeuf en Daube Low Res B

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A Bloomsbury Inspired Dinner

Food brings people together. This sentiment is admirably demonstrated in The Bloomsbury Cookbook by Jans Ondaatje Rolls a collection of recipes and culinary memories inspired by the literature, art, correspondence and notebooks of this famous set of early 20th century intellectuals.

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You can read a more in-depth review of this book on Historical Honey. As a recipe book it can be quite frustrating to cook from although not impossible as I will demonstrate in this post. The recipes are reproduced as they were originally written. This means imperial measurements (although there is a conversion chart at the back of the book) and incredibly brief instructions which is fine if you are a confident cook. Some are original recipes from members of the group themselves (like Frances Partridge) or their servants (such as Grace Higgins, the housekeeper at Charleston). Others are from popular contemporary food writers like Florence White or Ruth Lowinsky. Jans even includes a few interpretations of her own, one of which you will find below.

Whether you are a fan of the Bloomsbury Group and their work or not this is a great book to dip in and out of. Not only is it a cookbook but it also contains culinary memories taken from their diaries, correspondence and scrap books; details of their scandalous relationships and some beautiful pictures by the likes of Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell. Most of the recipes are in the traditional British vein with a bit of continental inspiration added for good measure. With a little deciphering you will find plenty of inspiration in this book for a Bloomsbury themed dinner.

All of the recipes below have been adapted from those I have found in the book with a few embellishments of my own which I have marked with an *. All of these can be prepared ahead.

Cucumber Vichyssoise (adapted from a recipe by Henrietta & David ‘Bunny’ Garnett)

Serves 3 – 4

Cucumber vichysoisse Low Res B

A lot of people are put off by the idea of eating cold soup but this one is really refreshing on a warm summers day.

Ingredients

  • 2 trimmed leeks, finely sliced
  • ½ medium onion, finely sliced
  • 2 medium baking potatoes, peeled and chopped into 2cm chunks
  • 500ml chicken or vegetable stock
  • ½ cucumber, roughly chopped
  • 150ml creme fraiche (or milk if you prefer a lighter soup)
  • Juice half a lemon*
  • 1-2 tbsp pernod or gin (optional)*
  • Salt & white pepper to season
  • Smoked salmon trimmings to garnish*

Method

  1. Put the leeks, onion, potato and stock into a saucepan. Bring to the boil then simmer until the potato is soft (about 15 – 20 minutes).
  2. Allow to cool a bit before blending the soup with the cucumber and creme fraiche or milk until smooth and flecked with green. Season with the lemon juice and some salt and white pepper. Stir in the pernod or gin (if using). Refrigerate until required.
  3. To serve pour the cold soup into bowls or cups. Sprinkle some pieces of smoked salmon and perhaps some fennel fronds or chopped chives.

Cucumber is in season at the moment so you may also like this recipe that I found for a pickle to with Char Sui Pork in a classic Bahn Mi sandwich.

Mildred’s Masterpiece – Boeuf en Daube (adapted from Jans Ondaatje Rolls recipe inspired by To The Lighthouse)

Serves 4

Boeuf en Daube Low Res B

Jans’ original recipe calls for 3kg of beef to serve six to eight people! This seems rather a lot in my book so I have reduced the meat to 800g for four people and halved the remaining ingredients. 

I think the addition of olives to this stew make it seem quite summery particularly if you serve it with a green salad and a few buttered new potatoes. You need to start this recipe a good three days before you plan to eat it.

Ingredients (for the marinade)

  • 1 fresh bouquet including 2 parsley sprigs, 1 thyme sprig and 1 bay leaf
  • 1 celery stick, sliced
  • 1 large strip of orange peel without the pith
  • ¼ tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 crushed clove
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 carrots, roughly chopped
  • About 1 dsp each of chopped fresh parsley and thyme
  • A good grating of fresh nutmeg
  • 40ml olive oil
  • 250ml full bodied red wine
  • 1½ tbsp brandy or cognac

Ingredients (for the stew)

  • 800g stewing beef, cut into 3cm cubes
  • 30g unsmoked back bacon (a decent sized rasher)
  • 1½ tbsp plain flour mixed with ½ tsp fine sea salt and ⅛ tsp ground black pepper
  • 75g salt cured ‘dry’ black olives, stones removed
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 250ml good quality beef stock
  • ½ tbsp tomato paste
  • ½ onion stuck with 1 clove
  • 2 small to medium tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 herb bouquet as above

Method

  1. Mix all of the ingredients for the marinade in a non metallic bowl. Add the beef and leave to marinate in the fridge for 24 hours (I actually left mine for 48 hours).
  2. The following day, remove the meat from the marinade and pat dry with some kitchen towel. Roll the meat in the seasoned flour. Heat the olive oil in a deep frying pan or casserole then brown the meat in batches. Remove the browned meat from the pan then cook the bacon. Add the tomato puree then the stock to deglaze the pan.
  3. Remove the peel and original herb bouquet from the marinade then add this wine and vegetable mixture to the pan along with the onion, fresh tomatoes, olives and a new herb bouquet. Gently bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes before adding the browned meat.
  4. At this point Jans cooks her casserole in an oven (preheated to 140℃) for 1½ hours. I transferred mine to the slow cooker for six hours on a low setting.
  5. Remove from the oven (or slow cooker) and cool. Take out the bouquet garni and the clover studded onion then refrigerate for a day or two.
  6. When ready to serve, skim any residual fat off the top then gently reheat (I placed the casserole in a low oven – around 140℃ – for about an hour. Alternatively you could reheat it on the stove top or in a microwave).

Syllabub Pudding (from Mrs Beeton’s Everyday Cookery published in 1936)

Serves 4

Syllabub Low Res B

Ingredients

  • 20 ratafia biscuits * (the original recipe calls for 5 macaroons but small ratafia biscuits work just as well)
  • 50g caster sugar
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • Finely grated zest of ¼ lemon
  • 2 tbsp madeira or sherry
  • Pinch of ground cinnamon
  • A drop or two of almond essence
  • 300ml whipping or double cream

Wine or cocktail glasses to serve.

Method

  1. Place five roughly crushed ratafia biscuits in each glass or small bowl.
  2. Mix the sugar, lemon juice and zest, madeira or sherry, cinnamon and almond essence in a bowl and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Add the cream then beat with an electric whisk until floppy. Spoon over the ratafia biscuits and refrigerate for several hours (or ideally overnight) before serving. This is excellent when garnished with seasonal fresh berries.
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Brazil Nut Tart with Avocado and Lime Sorbet

So England are out of the World Cup. Despite our home team being rapidly ousted from the tournament my boys remain glued to the TV. Not sharing their passion for football I have retreated to the kitchen. I’ve taken inspiration from the host nation Brazil for this recipe. Apparently they are very fond of sweet things like dulce de leche (or caramel by any other name). They even eat avocados as a dessert (which isn’t as weird as it sounds as avocados are a fruit after all) and I’ve found they make a lovely sorbet.

Brazil Nut Tart Low Res

Ingredients (for the tart) – Make 1 x 23cm tart or 4 individual tarts

  • 300g brazil nuts
  • 150g plain flour
  • 100g cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 340g tin Carnation caramel or dulce de leche
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Method

  1. Place 100g of the brazil nuts in a food processor. Blitz until finely ground then add the flour, butter and eggs. Process until combined then add half an egg (which will be around 25 – 27g in weight if you want to be precise about it). Process again until a soft ball of dough is formed. Refrigerate for at least one hour before using.
  2. Preheat the oven to 200℃.
  3. Roll out the pastry and use it to line a 23 cm loose bottomed, deep flan tin or four individual loose bottomed flan tins (measuring about 12 cm in diameter). The nuts make this a very rich pastry which falls apart easily. If this happens just press it into the tin or repair any tears with the off cuts. Line the pastry case with baking paper and fill with ceramic or dried beans. Bake blind – five minutes for the individual tart cases or 10 minutes for the larger tart case. Remove the beans and paper and reduce the oven temperature to 180℃.
  4. To make the filling roughly chop 200g of the brazil nuts. Lightly beat 1½ eggs and mix with the caramel, vanilla extract and the chopped nuts. Pour into the part baked pastry case and bake for a further 20 minutes (individual tarts) or 25 – 30 minutes for the larger tarts. Allow to cool to room temperature before eating.

Ingredients (for the sorbet) Makes about 500-600ml

  • Zest and juice from 3 limes
  • 250ml coconut milk
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 2 very ripe avocados

Method

  1. Put the coconut milk, sugar and lime zest into a small saucepan. Gently bring to the boil ensuring the sugar has dissolved then leave to infuse until completely cool. You could do this the night before and refrigerate it until required.
  2. Put the avocados in a food processor or blender with the lime juice. Strain the infused coconut milk into the processor or blender. Blitz until completely smooth.
  3. Freeze in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturers instructions. It should take around 15 – 20 minutes. Transfer to a tub and freeze until required. If not using immediately you may want to remove it from the freezer a good 20 minutes or so before serving.
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FareShare Feast

Each time I read an article about how much food is wasted in this country my stomach churns. It’s sickening particularly as I know that as much as I try not to waste food, at times I am as guilty of this sin as the next person.

©Julia Claxton/BHFDF

©Julia Claxton/BHFDF

It’s particularly refreshing to hear that there are some people out there striving to make a difference. Last week I was invited to attend the FareShare Feast a collaboration between the Brighton & Hove Food & Drink Festival, City College Brighton and FareShare Brighton & Hove. If ever you needed proof that you can make something from virtually nothing then this event was it. Chefs from some of the city’s finest restaurants were taken to the FareShare warehouse a short time before the event to select their ingredients. What they produced from what otherwise would be considered ‘redundant’ food was nothing short of amazing. Sixty percent of the food on our plates that evening had been sourced from that warehouse – all of which could have wound up in landfill sites without FareShare’s intervention.

FareShare Brighton & Hove began in 2002 to support the services in the city that were feeding the homeless. Ian Chisholm from FareShare explained that supermarkets used to bleach out of date produce to make it inedible (presumably because of some messed up Health & Safety regulation). Although supermarkets are frequently criticised for their food wastage even they realised this destruction of perfectly edible food was nonsensical then and equally so now when so many people are living in food poverty. In 2013 FareShare Brighton & Hove distributed 455 tonnes of food to charitable organisations across the city. This equates to £1.65m per year but this is still a minute proportion of the £1billion worth food destroyed in the UK every year.

©Julia Claxton/BHFDF

©Julia Claxton/BHFDF

I’ve long been a fan of Terre a Terre and their chef Matty Bowling didn’t disappoint with his egg noodle laksa with a smoked slow cooked egg served with oolong pickled lotus root (OK this particular item wasn’t found in the FareShare warehouse), buckwheat crumb, fresh coconut and coriander. As with all of their dishes the execution was highly accomplished and spicing spot on with the smokiness of the egg still discernible through the punchy laksa sauce.

©Julia Claxton/BHFDF

©Julia Claxton/BHFDF

The asian theme continued through to the main produced by Michael Bremner of 64 degrees. This time we were treated to a moist fillet of pork with rogan josh carrot, roast tomato and coconut. The simplicity of the description belied the complexity of the sweet (from the roasted tomatoes) and savoury flavours on the palate.

©Julia Claxton/BHFDF

©Julia Claxton/BHFDF

In between each course a palate cleansing sorbet were served produced by Seb Cole of Boho Gelato. Seb had just returned from the Nivarata Festival of granita in Sicily as part of the Brighton & Hove Food Festival’s International Chef Exchange. His mojito sorbet served between the starter and the main was amazing – forget the traditional cocktail I’d be all for eating this on a hot summer’s night. I can’t say as was as fond of the tea granita between the main and dessert but then I’m not really a tea fan so there’s no surprise there.

©Julia Claxton/BHFDF

©Julia Claxton/BHFDF

For texture and presentation David Edward of Seattle’s coffee mousse with a chocolate base (crushed up Kit Kats – brilliant!) and jasmine sorbet gets full marks. The generous portion of mousse was ridiculously light but there was something about the flavour (perhaps it was the mention of Coffee Mate) that didn’t quite do it for me. I should add, in David’s defence, that dessert is generally my least favourite course and that it was still an amazing accomplishment considering the limited repertoire of ingredients he had available.

It costs something like £150,000 per year to run the FareShare project in Brighton & Hove. Frankly, that is money well spent if it prevents people from starving. So if like me you know that perhaps you do (however inadvertently) contribute to food waste you could do worse than support this charity. Enough said.

Many thanks to the wonderful Julia Claxton for the use of her superior photography for this post!

©Julia Claxton/BHFDF

©Julia Claxton/BHFDF

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Favamole

Serves  4 – 6

Broad beans are also known as fava beans and can easily be turned into delicious dips. I’ve adapted my favourite guacamole recipe from Lourdes Nichols The Complete Mexican Cookbook for this great seasonal alternative. As well as tasting great it’s a much better behaved dip than guacamole as it won’t discolour!

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Ingredients

  • 300g broad beans (the frozen variety is fine here)
  • 2 ripe tomatoes
  • 3 sprigs fresh coriander, finely chopped
  • 2 spring onions, finely chopped
  • 1 green chilli, finely chopped
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • ¼ – ½ tsp fine sea salt
  • ¼ tsp ground black pepper
  • ½ tsp sugar
  • 1 – 2 tbsp creme fraiche

Method

  1. Boil the broad beans in lightly salted water for five minutes. Drain and refresh with cold water. Allow to cool then pop the bright green beans from their jackets.
  2. Mean while mix all the other ingredients together except the creme fraiche and leave for between 30 minutes to two hours to allow the flavours to meld together.
  3. Place the cooked beans into a food processor with the creme fraiche. Blitz until you have a smoothish purée. Stir the bean purée into the tomato mix. Serve with tortilla chips or crudités.
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Taking things for granted

You could say I’ve had a bit of week. It began quite well with a bank holiday but ended shrouded in gloom. Two particular incidents have scarred the past seven days. The first was being on a train that hit some unfortunate soul who decided to jump or was pushed (depending on which social media platform you were looking at) onto the line at Horley. The second was our cat, Dino, dying suddenly. Yes, I know he was only a cat but it caused a fair amount of distress in the Bilton household. It’s the first time (although definitely not the last) my children have had to confront the finality of death. There were many tears and my eldest son was inconsolable for much of Friday.

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It got me thinking about how much we take for granted. The electricity that powers our homes. Wifi. Supermarkets. The water we drink and the food we eat. The people (and animals) in our lives. Do we ever really stop to think about how these things come to be at the tips of our fingers?

It also reminded me of two books I was prompted to read recently after hearing the authors speak at the Book Lover’s Supper ClubThe Secret Intensity of Everyday Life by William Nicholson and Millions Like Us by Virginia Nicholson. The former explores the everyday ‘dramas’ of several protagonists – like a woman’s search for the perfect dress for Glyndebourne or a teenagers turmoil over a prank that goes wrong. It struck me that we are all so cocooned in the web of our own lives – our work, home life, keeping fit and so forth – that we loose sight of the really important things (support of our nearest and dearest, memories of our departed loved ones). It’s only when a catastrophic event occurs like a World War that perhaps we gain a bit of perspective. This is glaringly obvious when you read Virginia’s non fiction book on the experiences of the millions of women left behind to physically and emotionally support the war effort in the 1940s. Many of these ladies had a certain joie de vivre for life despite the atrocious consequences of war. They took nothing for granted.

One thing which I do believe we take for granted is our culinary heritage. A lot of people, myself included, bang on about how we no longer know how to cook. But there are still many people who throw dinner together without the aid of a cookery book or microwaved ready meal. These ‘recipes’ may be ones they have devised themselves although quite often they are things they have picked up from their parents or grandparents. They don’t have to be complicated (they usually aren’t) but they are part of our culinary heritage and will be lost if we don’t pass them on.

I rejoice when I do see evidence of this knowledge being put to good use as I did at the Book Lover’s Supper Club in March. The book element is organised by Melanie Whitehouse. The club, a group of people who share a love of literature and food, meets every six to eight weeks in Ditchling with different authors reading from their works. Supper  is provided by Oz of Sultan’s Delights. Think Middle Eastern meze with goats cheese and butternut squash tarts, pomegranate studded couscous, minty stuffed vine leaves and the impossibly moreish roasted almond tarator sauce. It was the latter that really grabbed my attention partly because it tasted so good (rich, nutty with a pleasant garlicky punch) but also the story of it’s origin, in Oz’s life at least, which illustrates the point I am making here. She told me that it was just something her grandmother would whip up for her husband as part of a meze to eat while he played cards and drank raki.

“Since my dad and my grandad loved raki so much, my earliest cooking memories all about meze making,” explains Oz. “We used to sit on a big table and share all these tasty dishes with a lot of laughter.”

It is the essence of her childhood and a delicious one at that. These are the recipes and memories we should treasure and share with those we love. Fortunately, Oz has generously allowed me to share her family recipe for tarator with you. You’ll never crave shop bought hummus again after eating this.

If you enjoy a good read and fancy a chin wag with other bibliophiles over a great plate of food and a glass of wine then you’ll love The Book Lover’s Supper Club. Melanie always finds fascinating authors to speak at the evenings. The next event is on 18 June with Crime Novelist of the Year 2013 Sophie Hannah and Sarah Hilary discussing their books. Tickets are £20 and can be purchased from the Brighton Dome ticket office. Don’t forget to like the Book Lover’s Supper Club Facebook page for the latest updates.

If you can’t make The Book Lover’s Supper Club but love the sound of Oz’s food you can find her at Street Diner on Wednesdays at Hove Town Hall and Friday in the Brighthelm Centre Gardens a stones throw from Brighton Station.

Roasted Almond Tarator Sauce

Adapted from a recipe by Oz from Sultan’s Delights

Serves around 6 people

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Ingredients

  • 100g walnuts or blanched almonds
  • 2-3 slice of white stale bread crust removed (I used Pain de Campagne)
  • 1- 2 cloves of garlic or more if you like a stronger flavour
  • 150ml-ish olive oil
  • juice of half to a whole lemon according to taste
  • ½ tsp salt
  • White pepper and cayenne to season

 

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 200℃. Place the almonds or walnuts onto a baking tray with the garlic and roast for 5 – 10 minutes until the garlic is soft and the nuts golden brown.
  2. Meanwhile soak the bread in water then squeeze out most of the moisture.
  3. Squeeze the garlic into a food processor. Blitz with the roasted nuts then add the remaining ingredients and process again until well combined. Season with white pepper and cayenne to taste adding more garlic and lemon juice if you like. If it’s too thick add more olive oil to loosen up. (Oz’s Mum used to add some water instead when she was watching her waist line!). This sauce should keep for at least a week in the fridge in a sealed container – if it lasts that long! Afiyet Olsun / Enjoy!

 

 

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Going Vegan – The Verdict

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My vegan experiment ended yesterday. So how did I find it?

Going meat free was a bit like discovering a pair of comfortable but forgotten shoes in the back of the wardrobe. I slipped back into this regime with ease and in all honesty didn’t miss meat at all.

Dairy was another matter. Yes, I can live without milk. Black coffee (so long as it isn’t instant) is bearable but I’m afraid I love my flat whites. I’m not going to lie. The first white coffee of the day went down a treat this morning. I also missed yoghurt and most of all cheese. What was it Brillat-Savarin said? “A dessert without cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye.” I can see where he is coming from although cheese most certainly has a larger place in my life than dessert.

Where I live in Sussex it is possible to find good vegan food when you are out and about. I went to the Food Rocks South show at Ardingly yesterday and some lovely vegan tostadas from La Choza. It’s also good to see some supermarkets like M&S and Sainsbury’s being proactive in the labelling of wine and other products so that you can easily tell whether something it suitable for vegans or not.

What I have come to appreciate is that I really should eat less meat. With a bit of effort it’s so easy to conjure up delicious vegan recipes (even without my beloved fromage). I’m not sure I could go vegan on a permanent basis (which my family will be relieved to hear) but I’m going to make a concerted effort to eat more vegetarian and vegan food in the future.

Thanks to everyone who helped me in my quest! If you missed any of my posts this week you can click on the links below to read them.

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The Big Breakfast Dilemma

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“How do you like your eggs in the morning?” was one of the first questions Billy asked me. Clearly it wasn’t the very first thing he said to me otherwise I would have sent him packing with a tirade of four letter expletives ringing in his ear.

To clarify the situation, I had been invited to a New Year’s Eve party by a couple of friends. They had arranged for us to crash at their friend Billy’s house (who I had met briefly a few weeks previously and had apparently made quite an impression). Billy, in what I assume was an attempt to reinforce his status as a congenial host, had been telling me how he had stocked up on bacon, sausages and eggs so that he could provide his guests with a full English the following day. I had to burst his bubble by informing him that I was a vegetarian. I assume the “how do you like your eggs in the morning” question was blurted out in an attempt to save face. Unlike our friends I didn’t take this as a lewd proposal but more as an desperate attempt to impress. It must have worked because here we are some 14 years later with two children.

Smoked Salmon Scrambled Eggs

I do love eggs. Scrambled with smoked salmon is my preference but I’ll happily eat them boiled, poached or fried. Eggs are my go to breakfast when I’m super hungry or hungover. Unfortunately, as a vegan they are out of bounds. I also love yoghurt with granola and fresh fruit but with all dairy products outlawed this week this breakfast was also out of the question. So what could I eat?

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Well, breakfast hasn’t been as troublesome as I thought it would be this week. My savoury fix has been half an avocado mashed with some lime or lemon juice and plenty of salt and pepper on sourdough toast. Today, being the weekend, I made Banana-Walnut-Waffles from the Veganomicon cookbook which were truly lovely, especially with some sliced strawberries and blueberries and a bit of maple syrup.

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Porridge is always a great if you are planning to exercise. I made the dairy free recipe below a couple of times this week and can thoroughly recommend it.

Coconut Cinnamon Porridge with Star Anise Poached Pineapple

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • ½ medium pineapple
  • 1 tbsp agave nectar plus more to sweeten
  • 2 tbsp water
  • ½ star anise
  • 60g porridge oats
  • 50g creamed coconut, roughly chopped (Bart package their creamed coconut in handy 50g sachets)
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 400ml water

Method

  1. Remove the skin from pineapple and cut out the tough core. Roughly chop the flesh into segments.
  2. Put the pineapple into a saucepan with the agave nectar, water and star anise. Bring to the boil then gently simmer for 5 – 10 minutes until the fruit is tender but not mushy. Remove the star anise and transfer to a bowl while you make the porridge.
  3. Put the oats, creamed coconut, cinnamon and water into the saucepan (use the same one one you cooked the pineapple in). Bring to the boil then simmer for 4 – 5 minutes. Sweeten the porridge with a little agave nectar to taste. Serve the porridge with the poached pineapple spooned over the top.
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Sweet Little Mystery

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Hurrah! The weekend is here! This means I can indulge myself with a bit of cake and glass or two of wine. But if you’re a vegan it seems life isn’t quite as simple as this. Suddenly the weekend looks like it’s going to be a very sober and healthy one.

So let’s deal with the wine issue first. At the start of the week I was thinking that wine, being made from grapes, would be free from animal products. It seems I was wrong. Apparently there isn’t a market for cloudy wine so all wine is filtered through a ‘fining agent’ and quite often these can be products derived from animals. The PETA website provides the following definition:

“Popular animal-derived fining agents used in the production of wine include blood and bone marrow, casein (milk protein), chitin (fiber from crustacean shells), egg albumen (derived from egg whites), fish oil, gelatin (protein from boiling animal parts), and isinglass (gelatin from fish bladder membranes).

Read more: http://www.peta.org/about-peta/faq/is-wine-vegan/#ixzz32ZHzz3Nk

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Fortunately, if you Google vegan wines from a particular supermarket you can get a list from veggiewines.co.uk or you can visit barnivore.com for a listing of vegan beer and wine. A lot of the supermarkets are good at labelling the suitability of their wines for vegetarians or vegans. I paid a quick trip to M&S and bought myself a bottle of the pink stuff so that was the wine crisis averted. Now all I had to do was figure out how to fit cake into my vegan diet.

Luckily help was hand in the form of Jojo from Operation Icing. Operation Icing is a non-profit making vegan bakery based in the North Laine area of Brighton. All of the profit they make is donated to animal charities. They produce some amazing flavours like Peanut Butter Bombshell and Matcha Green Tea. Unfortunately, I haven’t got time this week to make a trip to Brighton so I need to rely on some home baked goodies.

Initially, this didn’t bother me too much. Logically you can replace butter in any baking recipe with the same quantity of vegan margarine (blocks are a safer bet than spreads as the latter sometimes contains buttermilk, but you need to check the ingredients to be sure). What I really wanted to know is how to get a light and fluffy cake without eggs?

“A light and fluffy cake without eggs involves a little trial and error,” explains Jojo. “I use a splash of apple cider vinegar in with my soya milk to make a buttermilk which helps and then egg substitutes such as applesauce or mashed banana help too.”

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I trawled through my vegetarian cookbooks to see if could find some recipes that I could easily veganise. As luck would have it I came across one for an Apple & Pear Cake in Leith’s Vegetarian Bible which contains no eggs. All I needed to do was replace the butter with marg. The recipe intro states that it is a “close textured cake” and the final result is more akin to a malt loaf than a sponge, but that’s fine by me.

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Jojo also recommends the Post Punk Kitchen website for vegan baking recipes. As I had been lent a copy of Isa and Terry’s book Veganomicon I decided to try their Chocolate-Chocolate Chip-Walnut cookies. At this point I should say that chocolate seems to be a bit of a grey area in the vegan world. Although dark chocolate shouldn’t contain any milk it may have been produced in a plant where milk is used for other products. Therefore, a lot of dark chocolate isn’t labelled as being suitable for vegans. It’s similar to products that are produced in the same factory where nuts are used and are are labelled with “may contain traces of nuts”. If you are a strict vegan you may want to avoid all chocolate accept those that are labelled as being suitable for vegans. I bought the dark chocolate for this recipe from Big Life Organics so I’m happy that it is vegan enough for my requirements. Anyway, the cookies are lovely and I don’t think anyone would suspect that butter and eggs are absent from the ingredients.

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So, with both problems solved I can look forward to an indulgent vegan weekend after all.

 

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