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.



vegan to go

vegan energy barsEating on the move is problematical. At home, I am organised with a good supply of vegan ingredients to keep our diet nutritious, colourful and tasty, but having been caught up in an unstoppable parade of work and extra family responsibilities, I find that vegan snacks and lunches-to-go are as rare as hens at the dentist: sandwich choices are few and far between, salad pots are impossible to eat in the car, and you can have just so many muesli bars, energy balls and green juice before you realise it’s just another sugar hit.

While there is less ink on my diary pages in the next month or two I have time to dig into this problem and mine the recipe books and blogs for non-sweet snacks, sandwich fillings and portable food that if necessary I can bite into while driving (not good practice, I know). Then it will be a question of pre-planning which might be a good food strategy all round as the “it seems ages since breakfast, what shall I eat?” approach is no longer workable.

As I reflect on this, it strikes me that individuals with food intolerances and those making dietary choices based on conscience or funds are having to be more mindful about eating in general. Standing back, looking up from a path well trodden always offers perspective, and, in my book, to be free even for a moment from conditioning has to be a good thing.


Image for coconut and lime energy balls via bitofthegoodstuff blog


chickpeas and charcoal

burnt chickpeasUsually I don’t follow recipes when cooking lunch or dinner. Meals are a question of how much time there is to prepare and cook, what ingredients are in the house and then making choices based on experience. With this shift to a plant-based diet, however, I have been making forays into new recipe books and blogs to expand my understanding of nutrition and flavours, with a fair degree of success and a few mishaps along the way.

The latest mishap relates to my oven. Cooking is not just a question of having the right ingredients in the right proportions at the right time but once they are brought together they are nothing until the alchemical agent of heat is applied, unless of course you are making salads or doing fridge-bakes. Stove-top meals are no problem as I am usually in attendance to the pots and can adjust heat from boil to simmer or sweat to fry as necessary but, as the charcoal encrusted results of my experiment with “Spicy Roasted Chickpeas” tell me, my oven’s 180 degrees is clearly way hotter than Deliciously Ella’s. The small beads of protein nuttiness, that I had sprinkled with a rich blend of dark red paprika, grey-green cumin and a shy spoonful of chilli flakes, that I had drizzled with honey and lemon juice, were ruined 10 minutes before they were meant to be just right.

They did smell so good before the singeing though, that I am undeterred and will try again but sadly this batch is unfit even for the garden birds. As for my burnt baking tray, will it see another bake? Who knows.

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.

rethinking risotto

risotto riceWhen is a risotto not a rice pudding? I found myself pondering this imponderable after trying a recipe form one of the new cookbooks. I had all the ingredients apart from a random splash of white wine which was offered up to deglaze the pan but I planned to use a glug of ginger ale instead. Since there was plenty of minced ginger in the recipe itself, I didn’t think it was too mad a thing to do. I like a bowl of steamy, creamy risotto and a favourite, now of the past,  is made with butter softened, bright green leeks and a generous handful of Grana Padano cheese shavings stirred in just before dishing up. I also like a mushroom and tarragon combination, cooking them separately and only adding when the rice is nearly ready so the risotto doesn’t turn the colour of wet pavements.

This new recipe was a shift towards something spicier with ginger, garlic and chilli flakes at the beginning of cooking, cranberries, nutmeg, cinnamon and some pre-roasted squash towards the end, and finally lime juice and coconut milk. On eating, the first flavour hit was piquant and savoury, this then became the back-story as something sweet and vaguely reminiscent of hot cross buns took over, until in the final chews there was the tangy lime. It was tasty, but if I am honest a bit odd and I was left wondering if I just ate pudding instead of dinner.  I will give it another go, but tinker with those cinnamon and nutmeg measures I must.


Recipe: Acorn Squash Risotto with Cranberries, from Isa Does It

cook books (i)

I must admit I don0106 Cookbooks‘t have that many cook books.  I am essentially a simple cook, or maybe I am just in a safe, read boring, culinary rut? I can hazard a good guess about what flavours might go together: tarragon and mushrooms, sage and pumpkin, cumin seeds and carrots, but I think this year is an opportunity to experiment.

To this end, I have bought two reasonably priced vegan cook books, one with pictures and one without, which seems a strange approach in contemporary media and also received a birthday gift, a colourful offering from Isa Chandra Moskowitz. There weren’t too many vegan books to choose from in the shop (yes, I like to buy my books in a shop), although I was tempted by some gorgeous looking, but expensive tomes by Yotam Ottolenghi, who although not a vegetarian was persuaded by his agent to take up the offer to write the now well-known column for the Guardian newspaper: The New Vegetarian. He wasn’t too keen, but it was a great opportunity for him and turned out well for veggies needing new inspiration. He said:

“I forgot the word ‘vegetarian’. I did wonderful food, I just omitted the meat and fish. It’s not about not having something in a dish. It’s not about what you omit or include, it’s just about celebrating vegetables as they are.”

That’s the spirit!