National Vegetarian Week 2013 – Wrap-Up

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Well, it’s the end of National Vegetarian Week and I didn’t quite manage to meet my goal of posting seven new recipes, due to the utterly useless photos I took of the dessert from Wednesday’s dinner party. However, I think it has been a very useful exercise for me. I’ve been introduced to new ingredients: artichokes, silken tofu, bok choi. I’ve discovered that vegan cooking doesn’t have to involve a long list of things I’ve never heard of (the biggest thing that has put me off from trying out the vegan recipes I’ve come across in the past). And I’ve started to think about trying some more vegan food once I’ve got past exams, moving house, my summer job, and a project which I will be announcing tomorrow.

Already on my list of things to try are two vegan feta recipes, courgette pasta, dairy-free cheddar and vegan cheese and spinach pie. I’d also like to find ways to adapt my favourite recipes: some of them are already vegan, some could easily be if I avoided using butter as a cooking fat or used soya mince instead of Quorn, and some just need a bit of lateral thinking.

I don’t plan on becoming vegan, or at least not at once. For a start, it would make it more complicated for my parents when I went to visit. My entire family is vegetarian, other than my stepdad but he eats meat very rarely and selectively, but my mum and stepdad keep chickens and my dad and his partner are about to start keeping bees. I would rather eat home-collected eggs or honey than soya or agave syrup shipped from half way round the world.

In August, I’m hoping to attend a vegan cookery course. I haven’t yet heard back about whether or not I’ve got a place (they are, by all accounts, much in demand) but I am keeping my fingers crossed. For me, familiarity is the only thing that stops new ideas from being scary. The more times I realise that vegan cooking isn’t terrifying, the more likely I am to reduce and potentially ultimately eliminate animal products from my diet.

I know there are several vegans who have stumbled across my blog of late. Welcome! Do you have any simple vegan recipes you’d like to recommend?

National Vegetarian Week 2013 – Tomato Soup

Happy National Vegetarian Week! This year I’m setting myself the challenge of cooking seven new recipes, with a particular focus on vegan dishes. Each day I will post a photo, a summary of the recipe and my verdict on whether the meal will make its way into my repertoire.

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Surprisingly difficult to photograph well

I am not quite sure why I had never made tomato soup before. I’ve made various vegetable soups and I often buy the tinned tomato soup, but somehow it never occurred to me to make my own. However, I always have chopped tomatoes on hand, and I had some left-over cream as well as a mostly-unused packet of frozen basil. Time to experiment.

I ddin’t use a recipe for this, I just drew inspiration from various sources. First I chopped and gently fried an onion until it was soft. I’ve seen that instruction a hundred times: fry until soft, but I have never actually managed to be patient enough to achieve it. This time, because I was busy doing a dozen other things ready for the dinner party, I actually forgot to keep poking and prodding at my frying onion, and it caramelised beautifully. It’s not “real” caramelised onion, but it’s the closest I’ve ever come.

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Soft, golden onions

Then I put the onion, two cartons of chopped tomatoes and a bit of water (just enough to rinse out each carton to avoid wasting the tomato) into a pan and simmered it for ages. Again I was distracted by other things, and simply stirred it ever so often to stop anything sticking. Once it had reduced down to a thick puree I added about 100ml of single cream (to make this vegan, you could omit the cream entirely or simply use a dairy-free alternative) and a handful of basil. Then I blended everything for a while and divided it up into tubs for the freezer.

The puree was too thick to be considered soup, but this was part of the plan. When I wanted to eat a portion, I added more water (enough to almost fill the plastic tub, which I realise is an unhelpful measurement for anyone else – just add as much as is needed to get the consistency you want) while reheating. I like my soup thin and liquid, but I think it would have made quite a nice thicker soup as well. The flavour is strong, stronger than Heinz I think and not dissimilar to Sainsbury’s soup in a cup sachets, but without the acidic tang that puts me off that product. I’ll definitely make it again, and I’ve got three more portions in the freezer for future quick and easy lunches.

National Vegetarian Week 2013 – Mediterranean Salad

Happy National Vegetarian Week! This year I’m setting myself the challenge of cooking seven new recipes, with a particular focus on vegan dishes. Each day I will post a photo, a summary of the recipe and my verdict on whether the meal will make its way into my repertoire.

Part Greek, part Italian, all delicious

Part Greek, part Italian, all delicious

I have a confession to make: I didn’t bother checking the name of the cookbook from which the recipe that inspired this salad came. However, we veered so far away from the instructions that I’m not sure it really constitutes the same dish any more.

It is a very simple salad – courgette slices lightly fried, tomato slices, black olives and cubes of avocado. I didn’t take a photo of the pesto which Heidi made to go with this dish, as we kept it separate due to a guest’s nut allergy. In my view, the pesto was better suited to the Hearty Salad anyway!

I’m not really sure, in view of the courgette-frying, that this really is a salad so much as a vegetable dish, but it was a nice supporting note. The pesto was incredibly garlicy, as it was accidentally mixed in with the Hearty Salad dressing, with the result that it contained double the quantity of crushed garlic we had intended. It was very nice, though, and none of the guests need worry about vampire attack.

National Vegetarian Week 2013 – Hearty Salad

Happy National Vegetarian Week! This year I’m setting myself the challenge of cooking seven new recipes, with a particular focus on vegan dishes. Each day I will post a photo, a summary of the recipe and my verdict on whether the meal will make its way into my repertoire.

Lots of delicious greenery

Lots of delicious greenery

This was an adaptation of the Hearty Salad recipe from the Vegetarian Society’s Surprisingly Simple recipes. The red pepper was chopped in a bowl to be added individually as one of the guests is allergic, and I forgot to add the (very fancy) Pomodorino tomatoes. We also skipped the lemon zest, as the lemon I bought was waxed, and I have a suspicion that we didn’t add the soy sauce, due in part to the inherent difficulty of two people attempting to prepare the same dish at the same time. Instead of green beans, I chose purple sprouting broccoli, since the beans had travelled from Kenya and the broccoli from Kent.

I enjoyed this salad a lot. I’m a big fan of potatoes and an even bigger fan of avocado, so any salad that combined those two was going to be a winner. To be honest, I don’t think the tomatoes or red pepper would have added anything, particularly considering that the other side salad (a recipe will follow tomorrow!) was tomato-based. We provided a small bowl of home-made pesto, which was prepared by Heidi in an amazingly short time – yet another thing I have always been intimidated by, but will be trying for myself very soon – and it was delicious paired with this salad. Perhaps even more delicious with this than the salad for which it was intended!

This week’s challenge really has had an interesting effect on my view of vegan cooking. I have tried new recipes and used new ingredients and discovered that it is not so complicated after all. I’d love to hear from anyone who has also been trying new things for National Vegetarian Week; there’s still time!

National Vegetarian Week 2013 – Vegan Lasagne

Happy National Vegetarian Week! This year I’m setting myself the challenge of cooking seven new recipes, with a particular focus on vegan dishes. Each day I will post a photo, a summary of the recipe and my verdict on whether the meal will make its way into my repertoire.

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Vegan lasagne, packed with protein

This wasn’t the recipe I was planning on sharing with you tonight, but unfortunately the photos I took of the tomato soup were blurry to the point of being useless. My camera has all the disadvantages of a film camera (no screen on which to preview the photo) without the advantage of a viewfinder, so it really is a case of point, shoot and hope for the best. I’m amazed all the other photos have come out so well! I will have another attempt at photographing the soup when I eat some for lunch later in the week.

This was the main course for the vegan dinner party. The initial plan was to make cannelloni, but we concluded that the lasagne sheets were not really large enough to successfully roll so lasagne it was. I also managed to forget to buy spinach, so we substituted bok choi and purple sprouting broccoli. The “white sauce” is silken tofu combined with the green vegetables and whole stems of steamed asparagus were spread throughout the layers.

My friend Heidi did the majority of the work in assembling the dishes, while I chopped, steamed and otherwise prepared the vegetables and made the salads. The lasagne was very good – I particularly liked the chickpeas which were included on top for additional protein. I am a big fan of cheese in my lasagne but I didn’t feel that this recipe was missing anything at all. I shall definitely be using silken tofu again; I’ve always been intimidated by it before but this challenge is beginning to show me that vegan cooking is not as complex as it feels. I suspect a lack of familiarity is at the root of people’s aversion to vegetarian cooking too, but that can only be remedied by experimentation. Stay tuned, as I have a couple of experimentation projects planned once National Vegetarian Week is over!

Tomorrow and Friday I will share the side dishes for this meal. Sadly I didn’t manage to take a proper photo of the dessert either, so I will simply state that it was a rhubarb and mixed fruit strudel with some rather liquid vegan custard (I have yet to find a dairy-free milk which successfully thickens, suggestions would be very welcome) or oat-based vegan cream.

National Vegetarian Week 2013 – Jerry’s Curry

Happy National Vegetarian Week! This year I’m setting myself the challenge of cooking seven new recipes, with a particular focus on vegan dishes. Each day I will post a photo, a summary of the recipe and my verdict on whether the meal will make its way into my repertoire.

Jerry's Curry with potatoes, tomatoes, peas and mushrooms

Colourful and delicious!

Today’s recipe is Jerry’s Curry, also from the Vegetarian Society’s Surprisingly Simple recipes, although I tweaked it – I didn’t feel that it had enough vegetables, so I doubled the quantity of peas and added about 100g of mushrooms, and some cherry tomatoes which were sitting in my fridge about to go out of date. However, I didn’t add any tomato puree, apple or spinach, because I didn’t have any. Oddly the photo on the recipe page shows tomatoes (or pepper) and red onion, which weren’t included in the list of ingredients. I took this as a sign that I should adapt to suit my tastes – which indeed should be a line included on every recipe.

Oh, my goodness. This curry was amazing. It was not only the best curry I have ever made, I think it might well be the best curry I have ever eaten. I’ll caveat that with the warning that I have only eaten curry a few times (and that my tastes are quite inauthentic and mild), but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try this recipe if you like your curry hot – just add spice as you see fit. My curry powder is out of date, which might well have impacted the strength of the flavour too.

The cooking process took me longer than the recipe said, which I was expecting. In total I spent almost an hour in the kitchen, which isn’t too bad. Thanks to the “intelligent” design of my uni halls kitchen, I had to get up every seven minutes to press a button to stop the stove turning itself off, so I just took along a magazine to read while the curry simmered.

I’ll definitely be making this again, probably with more or different vegetables and some more spice – I have some chilli powder or some paprika which might add a bit of a zing. Next time I’ll serve it with rice, but I used up the last of my rice a few weeks ago. I also forgot until I’d already started eating that I had some poppadums in the cupboard; they would have been a nice side but never mind.

One last point to note – this recipe is vegan, but my execution of it turned out not to be, as I discovered that the Bouillon powder I used for vegetable stock contains lactose. If you have another type of vegetable stock, then it would be vegan. Once this tub is used up I shall get some vegan stock powder, because it is silly to ruin a vegan recipe with something so minor!

Menu Planning Monday 20th May 2013

Well, Monday is close to over but I’ve just got in on time!

Meal Planning Monday

This week, as regular readers can’t help but be aware, is National Vegetarian Week and I’ve set myself a challenge to try out and blog about a new recipe each day. I have cheated a little, in that I cooked one of the recipes last week (the plan was to make two things last week, but I didn’t feel like cooking on Saturday so shifted things around a little), and four of them will be cooked on the same day, but it’s still got me cooking!

Monday – Jerry’s Curry, carried over from last week. The recipe will be up tomorrow, but here’s a spoiler: it was amazing.

Tuesday – tomato soup. It is hard to believe that I have never made tomato soup before, but there we have it! This will be Wednesday’s post. I was trying to think of what on earth I could make that was new to me, and didn’t require any ingredients I don’t already have. The inspiration, oddly enough, was the small amount of single cream sitting in the fridge. Thanks to the cream, this won’t be vegan (unless the cream’s gone off, I guess).

Wednesday – vegan dinner party! The menu has been decided: two types of salad (one with red peppers, one with pine nuts. The guests include one person with a pepper allergy, one with a nut allergy, so we thought we’d cater for both!), vegan spinach and asparagus cannelloni, and rhubarb filo roll. I’m very glad to have a friend who has far more cooking experience than me helping out, because it sounds quite elaborate.

Thursday – Quorn, leek and mushroom pie with spinach and new potatoes (I’m hoping to have some left-over veg after Wednesday’s dinner).

Friday – spinach and mushroom lasagne

Saturday – pea and mushroom omlette, plus whatever other vegetables I have around.

Next week, I’m planning a no-shopping week. I have exams on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday so I’ll pull most meals out of the freezer, and I’ve got enough bread, milk and cereal to last (I hope).

After exams are over, I am planning on taking part in the Live Below The Line challenge. I’m sure everyone has already heard of this but the challenge is to live on £1 per day for five days, with the total budget of £5 covering the full packets of food (so you can’t simply buy a £2 bag of pasta but claim to only have used 5p worth).

The challenge ends on June 30th and for a few horrible minutes I didn’t think that I had five consecutive days on which I was not attending a ball, a wedding, a garden party or some other form of decidedly-more-than-£1-a-day meal. I have managed to find five days, from June 23rd – 27th, sandwiched between a friend’s wedding and my graduation dinner. Realising just how much money will be spent on feeding me next month made me twice as determined to participate, and also made me feel slightly guilty.