It 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
Eating 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
Next week I am off on a short overseas work trip to of all places Russia. I am excited to be travelling to a new destination and to be working with some lovely people, but this trip raises one familiar challenge and one fresh. The first is winding down the contents of the fridge in such a way that I don’t need to buy any additional fruit and veg before Thursday. It looks like this will require some culinary inventiveness as the contents at the moment are: one butternut squash, the veg box cabbage and three carrots, a bunch of spring onions, some mushrooms, two shiny red romano peppers and a pomegranate. Oh and half a bunch of dill.
The second challenge is how to sustain the vegan momentum when faced with airline menus and Russian restaurants. My previous experience of slavic diets from trips to Serbia is animal-centric with plenty of cold meats, grilled meats and paprika infused fish stews. I will be catering for myself for breakfast and dinner so it is just lunch I have to navigate. With that in mind I am preparing to pack a survival kit of ingredients: miso soup sachets, porridge oats, a dried fruit, seed and nut mix. Then some short grain brown rice, nori sheets, and umeboshi paste – is it a bird? is it a plane? no it’s macrobiotic rice balls to the rescue.
Image via Food Everyday, Everyday Food
Every other week the veg box man arrives with a box of organic goodies. There is always a small bag of potatoes but otherwise it is a pot luck of fruit and veg. This week I am going to do something different with the contents. The tomatoes are not looking all that sweet and juicy so they will get roasted with herbs and then blitzed into a pasta sauce, maybe with some red pepper that I know is in the fridge. The tight ball of savoy cabbage I will divide between something hot with a balsamic dressing, and a fresh crunchy slaw. The carrots would work in that too although I fancy roasting them with lemon and cumin and then making a soup. The oranges and clementines, well if they are sweet I’d rather eat them fresh, if not I will poach them and use them for a vegan cake at the weekend
That leaves the potatoes, swede and bananas. For the first I fancy making a warm potato salad, maybe with rocket and capers (see Jamie Oliver), the second will go with lentils and coconut milk to make a daal, and the bananas?As the box comes with some recipe cards, the bananas will be rescued from their usual fate of being sliced into porridge and instead will experience the destiny that is Banana Pickle – a new idea on me.
1. Most common question from curious friends: “Don’t you get hungry?” I suspect when I say plant-based diet they think I am chewing the cud from dawn till dusk in an effort to keep up my calorie intake. I need to invite them to dinner.
2. Carbs, fats and sweet things can be vegan – so when nerves are raw and comfort eating is needed there is no need to feel stranded with a bag of leaves (see above). Vegans do eat cake.
3. Planning. Not just being sure of the basics in the cupboard, fridge and freezer, but browsing recipes in advance of shopping rather than half an hour before cooking, and getting ahead of myself with baking, sprouting and soaking cashews (more on that in another post).
4. Lapses are not the end of the world. They’re just old habits sitting in the exit lounge waiting for their plane out of here. They probably have a lot to tell me if I take a moment to sit down and enquire.
5. Best soup of the week: a sort of spicy parsnip combo. Basically, sweat till sweet some onion, add a teaspoon of curry paste, add chopped parsnips, stir to coat. Add stock and coconut milk. Simmer till parsnips are soft. Cool. Blitz. Bon appetit.