too good to bake too often

vegan chocolate brownies Emily MainquistHabits are interesting. Earlier this year I had got into a rhythm of writing a blog post a day. It was a tall order but there was so much I was discovering that I wanted to note for myself and to share. Even travelling did not upset the rhythm, but eventually general fatigue, severe laryngitis and neuralgia caught up with me. I know the majority of free-lancers and self-employed individuals will agree that our modus operandi is to say yes to every work opportunity as it arises. Sometimes this means we are burning the midnight oil to meet deadlines just in the nick of time and at other times looking at blank spaces in the diary hoping that seeds for new work are germinating from our business cards, mail shots, and networking. Having been in the first mode for several months, my health clearly paid the price.

All this being said, the vegan wagon rolls onwards and I haven’t lapsed into buttery toast or milky chocolate for comfort, I’ve eaten out with some success, and recipe trials have on the whole been well-received, notably an Asian tofu stir fry that has become a weekly staple, a sweet potato pancake batter adapted from Deliciously Ella is now  a weekend favourite, and some gooey chocolate brownies adapted from a recipe by Emily Mainquist (her book is Sweet Vegan) are too good to bake too often.

PEANUT BUTTER BROWNIES – 260g of plain flour, 340g of evaporated cane juice – that was almost a recipe stopper, because I have no idea where you get that, funnily enough though I had found something previously called Jaggery Goor which is concentrated cane juice so I gave that a go -it gave a sort of deep molasses flavour – you can use regular sugar. I also used less because it sounded way, way too sweet. I like brownies to be chocolatey more than sweet), 75g cocoa powder, 1 tsp baking powder, 1tsp salt, 240ml water, 240ml oil, 1.5tsp vanilla extract, 90g chocolate chips (my bag was 100g so I put the lot in). Peanut butter for the golden artwork on the top, except I used almond butter.

Oven at 180. Grease line a baking tray. Combine flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. Add water, oil and vanilla. Mix. Fold in chocolate chips (I will put some walnuts in next time too). Pour into baking tray. Blob on some peanut/almond butter and drag around to decorate. Cook for 20-25 mins. Check at 20, you want them to be a bit wet in the middle, they continue cooking in the tray before you tip them out. Cool for about 30mins. Ease out of tin and divide into squares. Voila!


Image via (I didn’t add the chocolate drizzle on mine)






recipe gripes

vintage cooking illustrationIt is a truth universally acknowledged (well if it isn’t, it should be) that a chef in possession of a good recipe must be in want of a good proof reader (apologies to Austen fans).  I am the first to admit that I have been known to make occasional baking errors especially when converting cups to grams, but when I follow a recipe to the letter and it says suddenly that I shouldn’t overstir the batter and what I am actually stirring is something that could be put to good use filling the potholes in my street, then something other than user error is at play. Happily, I baked the lot anyway and ended up with a kind of crunchy chocolate biscuit that broke nicely into squares, but not the gooey chocolate brownies we had hoped for.

This latest experience arose in my efforts to identify a few classic recipes that I can commit to memory and that will replace old favourites I used to rattle out without thinking like sponges, scones, and shortbread. Previously, I almost came a cropper with the odd behaviour of a chef switching measurement methods mid-recipe. I was OK with grams for all the dry ingredients and half teaspoons for baking powder and spices but then was pulled up short with tablespoons for vegan margarine. Why? Why not grams? It’s sold in grams, all the other ingredients are in grams? And do you mean level tablespoons? Or heaped? One woman’s tablespoon I am certain is not as accurate as her grams.

My last gripe concerns alternatives.  If you say vegan margarine and I don’t have it (which is usually the case as it is a poor, poor substitute for butter) can I use an oil instead?  If so, which and how much? If you say soy milk, can I replace it with almond, oat or coconut? And, as I am not gluten intolerant, but you say rice flour or buckwheat flour, should I abandon your recipe or would something else suffice?

Moan over, I shall now go on a mission to compare recipes for brownies and figure out the ratio of dry to wet ingredients so that the next effort has less industrial potential than the last.



Image via Google clipart search

cook & learn

chef on old fashioned tv setThere’s a lot of food on the telly, and a lot of it in prime time. Shows regularly spawn chefs who become household names and their books range from coffee-table art to handy manuals. It seems safe to deduce that people like to cook. Even the timelessly entertaining Come Dine With Me would seem to prove this, although with varying degrees of success.

Last year, a study commissioned by an organic dairy firm sampling 2000 Brits, concluded that 58% of those polled preferred to cook than dine out and most spend an average of 49 minutes on 5 nights out of 7 in preparing an evening meal. 21% cook every night, which would include me with varying degrees of success as in CDWM above, about which I am often less entertained! There are lots of other interesting conclusions from the research (see here) but essentially it seems there are a lot of confident cooks nationwide who are willing to experiment with ingredients and to cook without a recipe.

Importantly, over 60% of those polled say they are influenced by TV chefs and inspired by their use of new ingredients and techniques. So, I am surprised that for example, of the 178 recipes turned up in a BBC Masterchef search there are only 10 vegetarian and only one of those could be called vegan, while the “disruptive force” that is Jamie Oliver (rated first in a poll to find the nation’s favourite TV chef) has 149 vegetarian recipes and 39 vegan on his site – I do make an allowance for this guy as he is on a laudable mission to shift people away from fast food feasting to healthy home cooking, and all for removing food and agriculture from the dreaded TTIP.

I realise there is an art to cooking fancy animal cuts and exotic sea creatures, although if memory serves me well more than half the experience is in the seasonings and accessory veg, so wouldn’t it be exciting to give professional and amateur chefs a meaningful challenge, take them right outside their comfort zone now and again and get them to dream up some vegan dishes? Do some vegan Bake-Offs? And show the TV-foodies in the UK what I already know from the local chefs who have pop-up restaurants in my locale that creating tasty, exciting and nutritious vegan meals is right on point.


kitchen marathon

runnersWhile thousands of runners made their way round the streets of Cambridge until they reached a half marathon number of steps, I seem to have been pacing my kitchen wearing out a track between my fridge and the oven. Admittedly I like to make the most of putting on the oven and as there was veg needing attention before the new Box arrives on Tuesday I was soon in my stride, beginning with:

  • roasted red peppers and tomatoes with thyme – ready for either soup or pasta sauce,
  • roasted beetroots, peeled, chopped and mixed with coconut milk, lemon juice and dill, then added to nutty buckwheat for a bright pink kind of risotto (served with sunflower seeds, poppy seed crackers and broccoli)
  • roasted butternut squash – ready to add to quinoa or barley for salads, with plenty available for a curry later in the week.

Then not forgetting my sweet craving (I am weaning myself of the white-stuff, see my blog post about Lustig’s book):

  • chocolate and nut butter cupcakes,
  • so-called ‘energy balls’ – this time using pre-soaked Hunza apricots, dates, coconut butter, and chopped nuts.

And finally, a supply of small onigiri, nori covered rice balls, with a hidden blob of pink umeboshi paste to munch alongside miso soup when I need a quick lunch.

Done now, and although I haven’t got aching muscles, me, my oven and my fully stacked out dishwasher have certainly gone the extra mile today.

the ripple effect

Ms Cupcake book coverEight weeks in and our household appears to be undergoing a sea change. We may soon be a one diet family. Teenage reproofs have suddenly and unexpectedly turned into enquiry and action. Cookbooks are being thumbed through with accompanying gasps of “this sounds good” and the mouth watering variety of vegan eating is realised through the fantastic food photography and ingredients lists.

Today the lure of baking has tipped the balance and I have been exiled from the kitchen to savour from an armchair the aroma of sweet vegan cake making; think chocolate, nut butter and vanilla all warming together in a moderately hot oven. I owe thanks to the cool and funky “The Naughtiest Cup Cakes in Town“, by Ms Cupcake for being too tempting for a teenager to resist trying. And further thanks to the inspiring Deliciously Ella as I’ve been promised a shopping list for recipe try-outs.

I am not sure what the exact motivation for this change is, I am just happy to feel it happening, and anyway whatever the reason it’s one more ripple in the pond of social and environmental change.



cups, grams and ounces

Salted Chocolate CupcakesI only had one vegan cake in my baking repertoire that is a sort of upside down orange cake flavoured with vanilla. It is delicious but sometimes seems a bit wet, rather than moist, so I need to fiddle with the recipe. Part of the problem is that the original recipe is in US Cups and I have discovered that improvising by using one of my British teacups is not the most accurate conversion unit. When I learnt to cook it was all in pounds and ounces so I even struggle with the metric leap to grams and millilitres.

Today I have baked Salted Chocolate Cupcakes with an Almond Butter Frosting because I do get a sweet chocolate kind of craving from time to time and am not quite organised enough to totally quit refined sugar. I found a proper cook’s ingredients conversion chart and the resulting cakes are very light and fluffy with the frosting packing in a rich, creamy, nutty sweetness.

The original recipe is here. I just changed the frosting as I only had almond or cashew butter in the cupboard.