Sep 13, 2014

3 days of eating around Naples


Teaching a retreat for a week in Italy has the added benefit of a small food-tour for us. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that was at least partly a motivating factor for planning this particular retreat. Between discovering The Italian Farm shop in our new new neighbourhood this year and Theresa buying me a pasta machine for my birthday, I’ve been quite into Italian.

Our retreat took place at In Salento in the Puglia region, the heel of the boot that forms the shape of Italy. Further south than I’ve been before, the countryside and the cooking reflected the warmer climate, more rural living and poorer people.

First thing you notice from London is that stuff was growing everywhere. Ripe figs hanging off every tree; aubergines, tomatoes, zucchinis in every garden, as well as a variety of their speciality; the local greens we call escarole. Back home our tomatoes planted first thing in May, still haven’t ripened and our aubergine only got as far as producing a single flower.Here it feels abundant.

As I always say, cooking can only be as good as the produce you have access too and this is particularly true of Italian cuisine, relying as it does on very simple cooking to allow the quality of the ingredients centre stage. I’m surprised so many people are still growing; in the rural area we taught the retreat in they grew most of their food around their 35 hectares working farm.

Naples was a different story, however. We lost the peaceful and spacious feel of the countryside as soon as we got off the train at Naples station. Between the both of us, I would say we’ve visited a lot of the cities of Southern Europe, but nothing can prepare you for the chaos and energy of Naples.  Of course, the suburbs are large and I would assume quieter and more dignified, but the centre is brash, squalid, vibrant; a city where everyone seems to be on the street hussling. Most importantly there was loads and loads of street food immediately evident.

With Theresa at the helm of the camera, I’m not sure the photos really go far to show the craziness and the colour and interest of the place. But left to me we wouldn’t have any photos, and really, it was the character of the people that was really unique to the place. I cannot describe them without being a bit blunt; they were the most gypsy-like people I’ve ever seen on masse. Loud, demonstrative, dressed in clothes you couldn’t pick-better, quite friendly but you wouldn’t want to turn your back on them.  Again, I hasten to add, for any Neopolitan’s happening by chance to read this, that this was just my impression of the people in the  old-town centre.  There was certainly a middle-class present; but the centre was filled with a lot of fairly impoverished people living whole families to a couple of rooms literally piled on top of each other in the tiny, cramped streets.

However, we weren’t here to look around, but on a serious mission to try the pizza of Naples. Famous throughout the world as the birthplace of pizza, signs hang everywhere denoting the restaurants that conform to the rigid guidelines of what denotes a true D.O.P status Neopolitan pizza.  The rules are stringent and govern everything from what flour you use, to what tomatoes (they have to be San Marzano, of the region), what temperature the pizza is cooked at, how long, the list goes on.  The one important difference that is meant to lend Naples pizza that edge over pizza from anywhere else is the water and soil. In the shadow of Vesuvius, the volcanic ash lends a certain flavor to the water and anything grown in the soil – like the San Marzano tomatoes they use; the soil being most fertile due to the minerals present the ingredients are said to take on the best flavor here.

The main thing you notice, however, when you sit down for your first pizza here is  that it comes very ‘wet’. If you like your pizza with a thicker, crispy crust, you’ll be out of luck. Neopolitans produce a pizza that has a centre most other food-writers describe as ‘soupy’.  There is no way to eat it  without a knife an fork,  a little crust around the side provides a well for the tomatoes and cheese, but the centre Is almost spoonable. It doesn’t sound immediately a good thing, but this was really the fantastic thing about them. Even the people doing pretty good Neopolitan-style pizza in London now, fall short of achieving this texture.

A lot of research was done by us before coming to find the most well-known and best places for pizza in Naples, of which there were actually so many it made it difficult to decide which to go to without eating pizza at all meals for the whole of our trip. We opted for the no-frills Di-Machelle, famed for being the pizza place Julia Roberts goes to in Eat, Pray, Love.  Right choice for the pizza place I think, even though the rest of the film was a dramatically wrong choice from start to finish. It is widey agreed by most locals to be the overall winner. Of the other places of note, we went was Starita, known for their deep-fried pizza; a tradition unique to Naples and actually lighter than you might imagine. Not something you would eat often,  but interesting to try, and of course, how could that not be good.

Often over-shadowed by the pizza, Naples is also famous for many other traditional foods. It is claimed Ice Cream was invented there; we tried it at the intriguingly named “Gay Odin”, said to be the best. Very good, but no better than other ice cream we tried on our trip. Always of a higher standard than most Ice Cream in the UK, these days there are a number of places in London serving ice cream to rival anything you’ll find in Italy; Gelupo and Ruby Violet beign our favourites.

Pastries also play a major part in this region. Like many cities in Europe, these constitute breakfast. Theresa, who likes proper and more substantial savoury breakfast, is never happy about this, though I quite like it. In Naples the speciality is Sfogliatelle , a shell-shaped croissant-like-thing stuffed with a variety of fillings, most typically ricotta, candied fruit and spices. The unusual quality of this pastry is it’s crispiness which nicely balances the creamy inside. One place near the train station that everyone recommends serves these hot out of huge ovens, so on the first morning we headed straight over.

But other than, this an amazing range of sweet goods are displayed from pretty much every café. We tried a number of others at recommended loctions like the Cannoli and the Rum Baba, so popular amongst the locals. Like so many things there is nothing in London to rival the freshness of the stuff we found here. Eating traditional Italian specialities in Italy is a different experience to doing it in London. Maybe it’s just the atmosphere , but it’s reason alone to visit even if you don’t always find the very best stuff.

With local Trattorias (think low-end restaurant) serving the basic and rustic “Cucina Povera” we didn‘t have so much luck. Literally cooking of the poor, denoting the simple, fresh and rustic diet of a mainly rural farming population, it is now not so easy to find due to restaurant competition and the cost-cutting that engenders. You either pay a lot more at a fancier Italian restaurant, or you go to one of the local places where it’s cheap and cheerful cooking, but, unfortunately, lacks the quality of produce which originally made this type of diet world famous.

Every street was littered with Trattorias in Naples.  We tried two of the most highly recommended but, although, indeed very cheap, they didn’t come up with the good on the taste front due to lack of quality ingredients,  but that is what you get when 2 people can eat for 12 euros at a sit down restaurant. Both did have a lot of the local colour and would be worth trying for the experience alone but, just make sure you clarify with them what is actually vegetarian. Many of the pastas for example are supplemented with small pieces of pancetta though only listed on the menu as different vegetable pastas. This was the case when we attempted to order the two pastas most well known in this area; Gnochi Sorrentina and Potata e Provola though this is not always the case but seems to rest on the particular whim of the cook that day.

a local coffee they make here with almond milk. Finally relaxing after a long day of research...
However, the main reason when we travel to a different place, is to get inspiration from seeing the different dishes and then trying to recreate them at home in a more healthy way and without the meat.  It’s more a time of research than a pilgrimage to eat in certain restaurants. We’re not into the restaurant experience; overpriced and impersonal, you never know with what care and how whayt you’ve ordered will be cooked, and generally it is not how you would like it. Then there is the whole wastage issue and supporting meat-serving places;  so in way, that whole industry too. It sounds a bit uptight when you write it down, but it’s been our experience over the years that we’re not usually satisfied when eating out and this trip was no excepetion. We definitely took a few blows on this trip to and are happy to be back with our own kitchen, yet a whole load of memories and ideas to influence our Italian menus for the months to come.

Aug 27, 2014

Apple Crumble - a master recipe

This recipe I've made I don't know how many times but never posted it. Whenever Theresa springs the request for a dessert on me and I don't know what to make it's something I can literally - excuse the pun- cobble together in a half an hour with any fruit I have on hand or in the freezer.

Such was the case on Sunday when we had planned to go out in the afternoon to one of our favourite cafe's in Soho for a coffee and cake but the rain just kept on coming down and it no longer seemed such worthwhile endeavour to get soaked just for a bit of dessert no matter how good. Oh, the beauty of an English summer's day.

So we stayed in and I sorted through thousands of photos we had of India on the computer. Mainly of food, cows and many of cats (this is a common refrain with Theresa!).  We happened to have apples on hand from this fantastic market we'd visited earlier in a part of town we'd wanted to explore. But I've substituted the apples for blackberries, blueberries, apricots, peaches, pretty much any fruit you want, even strawberries turns out pretty well. Also, try putting a little dried fruit cut up small in the mix as well, maybe a bit of rosewater if you're feeling adventurous, or, as a tahini obsessive, I sometimes add a little 1/4 cup if this magical nectar too..

Serves 6

for the fruit layer

4 apples (cored and cut into small chunks)
2 cups apple juice or water
1/4 cup raw cane sugar or alternative sweetener
Juice of half a lemon
1 tsp cinnamon

for the crumble topping

1 cup oats
1/2cup spelt flour
1/2 cup walnuts
1/3 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt

  1. preheat your oven to 350 degrees and greece a large baking tray.
  2. toast the walnuts for 8-10 minutes. set aside
  3. Mix the apples, or whatever fruit you choose to use, with all the other ingredients and line the bottom of your baking tin with an even layer of this mixture.
  4. Grind the oats into a smooth flour. Now add the flour and walnuts and pulse a couple more times to mix. Now add the rest of the ingredients and briefly pulse again. 
  5. Spoon the crumble layer evenly over the top of the fruit. Smooth down making sure there are no gaps left. Cover with tin-foil and place in the oven.
  6. Bake for 30 mins covered, the uncover and bake for a further 15 minutes or until the top is lightly browned.
  7. Take out and leave to rest of 10 minutes before serving with a vegan custard or cream.

Aug 19, 2014

Veganised Pastichio

It appears we still can't get the Greek inspiration out of our minds. I've said it before, but I'll say it again, it really made me realise how everything rests on the quality of produce you have access to. I think we've become completely unaware of the difference in taste proper fresh and seasonal produce yields. And why would we know? Unless we grow it ourselves, or live somewhere like Crete where it's readily available we just won't have come across the real taste of tomatoes for example..

These tomatoes were grown in our small garden with the minuscule amount of sun we've had this summer. So it just shows you it can be done. Honestly, we just brought nice varieties, stuck them in pots, fed them with tomato feed and watered regularly; so easy and more than worth it for the taste of these tomatoes over any 'organic' tomato I could purchase anywhere in London.

Perhaps our parting shot with the Greek recipe Lexicon this year is the Pastichio. Very much like a lasagne, but using penne or macaroni in a layer on top instead of noodle-sheets and the flavourings are slightly different, including cinnamon and clove. Somehow it added up to way more than the sum of it's parts and seemed like something we really hadn't had before.

Just in case you hadn't got the idea I've included a couple of extra pictures to show how the béchamel-pasta layer sets to create a firm and sliceable dish. Traditionally made with lamb or beef we've naturally deferred to the trusted soya-mince and lentil combination and also omitted the cheese as it was quite rich enough as it was. An easy dish to make, we had this with a salad and nothing more for a fantastic Sunday Lunch mediterranean style in our overcast garden. Still, we loved it. It's worth making a large dish or this, although we probably could've eaten the whole thing we ate half and froze the rest.

(serves 6)

For the mince layer
1/3 cup brown lentils (soaked for at least 4 hrs if possible)
1 1/4 cups soya mince
4 tbs olive oil
2 sticks celery
2 small carrots
1 small green pepper
2 tbs tomato paste
1 can whole tinned tomatoes
2 cups stock or water
2 tbs liquid smoke
2 tbs red wine vinegar
2 tsp oregano
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp thyme
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp cinammon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
salt and pepper

  1. Drain the lentils and place in a large saucepan with plenty of water. Bring to the boil, then cover and simmer of 30 mins. Drain and set aside.
  2. Rinse you soya mince a few ties in a sieve, squeezing as you do so to get rid of the 'soya taste'. Place in a bowl and cover with hot water. Set aside for 20 mins.
  3. Heat the olive oil in a heavy bottomed pan. Chop the celery, carrot and pepper finely and saute for 5 minutes until soft. Add the tomato paste and stir for another minute to cook.
  4. Now add all the rest of the ingredients, bring to the boil, then semi-cover and turn to a simmer. Cook for about 30 minutes until almost dry. Set aside whilst you make the béchamel.
For the béchamel
1/4 cup olive oil
5 tbs flour
4 cups dairy free milk
1/4 cup nutritional yeast flakes
2 bay leaves
good grind of nutmeg
salt and pepper

  1. heat the oil on a medium low and add the flour. Stir to make your roux then cook for 4-5 minutes until it darkens a shade and gives a nutty aroma.
  2. Remove from the heat and slowly add the milk whisking all the time.
  3. Now place back over a medium-low heat and keep whisking to prevent lumps from forming. After a few minutes. when smooth, add the rest of the ingredients and change to content stirring with a wooden spoon.
  4. Stir over a medium low heat for another 10 minutes until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon.
To assemble

200g pasta (either penne or macaroni)
  1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. 
  2. Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Add a generous amount of salt and cook your pasta as per instructions on the packet. 
  3. As soon as it is done, drain it and mix it into the pot with the béchamel.
  4. Now spread the mince filling over a large pyrex baking tray and top with the pasta-bechamel layer.
  5. Cover with tin-foil and bake for 45 minutes, then uncover and bake for a further 15 minutes to brown the top. Let stand a good 15 minutes before serving to firm up and allow the flavours to mingle. 

Aug 12, 2014

Stuffed Tomatoes and Fava Greek Style

Chania, the picturesque tourist capital of Crete is Idyllic in the way only an island in the Med' tends to be. The pace of life is so relaxed and everything just feels so soft and gentle that you really do get the feeling that nothing is wrong with the world when you're in Chania.

Then there is the food. Anyone that has followed our blog at all knows how harsh a critic I am of most food we eat out. I think we're down to literally one or two places now in London where we're happy to go. However, you can more or less pick any place in this town and receive quite a decent vegetarian offering, touristy or otherwise. 

Of course, the places off the general tourist track out of the centre of the town where the locals go are even that much better. For some reason on our first visit we didn't come across this section of town just back from the old town, but  when we returned we stumbled upon this whole neighbourhood of cafes and restaurants all run by young people re-invigorating the traditional Cretan food and placing importance on sourcing top-quality produce.

Theresa was happy, but then she's always happy when allowed loads of cheese - which doesn't happen often at home. I think we had at least on Greek Salad every day amongst a variety of other dishes; the other popular choices being Fava  - a spread made of split peas and olive oil, rather like hummus - and Stuffed Tomatoes, as pictured below.

Of course, as soon as we got home I was determined to try recreating some of these dished myself. For our first proper meal at the weekend I made Fava, Dakos , Chard Fritters (recipes in previous posts) and a Tsatsiki without the garlic (I know, sacrilege to many..). The only thing I couldn't recreate was the weather. Unfortunately, it was the normal English Crap-weather one should associate with late Autumn, but that often arrives in early August..

 Greek Fava Recipe again, apologies to traditionalists for leaving out the garlic an onions. And yes, I know it isn't really Fava then so no need to write me a snarky comment. Secondly, if you don't like the quantity of olive oil, simply reduce it, that will work fine too.

(seves 6 as a meze)

1 cup of yellow split peas (soaked overnight or for at least 4 hours)
1/3 cup olive oil
1 tbs nutritional yeast flakes
1/2 tsp thyme, oregano
1 1/2 tsp salt
Juice of 1 lemon

  1. Rinse and drain the split peas and places in a heavy pan with 6 cups of water. Bring to the boil, semi-cover, then turn down to simmer for 1 hour, or until soft.
  2. Drain any excess water that's left in the peas by turning up the heat and stirring constantly until almost dry. Set aside to cool.
  3. When the split peas are cool (do not blend them hot, this can cause a nasty accident - as has happened to me before with steam bursting the lid off!) empty them into a blender with the rest of the ingredients. Blend thoroughly until smooth. 
  4. Place in the fridge for at least an hour to thicken. take out and allow to come to room temp before serving. If at this point you want to thin it slightly, simply blend again with a couple of tablespoons of water.

Stuffed Tomatoes Greek Style (serves 4 allowing 1 tomato per person)

4 large beefsteak tomatoes
1 cup white rice 
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup water
2 sticks celery (chopped in very fine dice)
2 tbs tomato puree
1 tbs sugar
1 tsp oregano, thyme, dill, parsley
1/2 tsp mint
2 bay leaves
1 tsp salt, pepper
juice of 1 lemon

  1. Rinse the rice well in lots of cold water, drain and set aside. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and get a medium sized baking tray ready (one deep enough to hold the tomatoes and cover with foil).
  2. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and sauté the celery for five or so minutes. Add the tomato puree, sugar, herbs and 2 tablespoons of your water.Stir over medium-low heat for 2 minutes to cook the puree. 
  3. Now add the rice, another 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and sauté for another minute to coat the rice well in the herb-mixture.
  4. Add the rest of the water, bring to the boil, cover, then turn to the lowest setting and let the rice cook for 7-8 minutes. Turn off and set aside to steam for another five minutes whilst you prepare your tomatoes.
  5. With a sharp, serrated knife cut the tops of the tomatoes about 3/4 the way up to create little hats. Scoop out the flesh and dice it roughly.
  6. Drizzle 2 more tablespoons olive oil over the bottom of your baking dish and place the hollowed-out tomatoes inside. Now mix the rice mixture with the tomato flesh and lemon-juce and stuff each tomato, allowing for enough room that you can then cover them with their tops.
  7. Drizzle over the remaining olive oil and just a splash of water an bake, covered in the oven for 45 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature accompanied by a good vegan greek-yoghurt choice.

Aug 3, 2014

Summer Holidays; Crete 2014

Summer in the UK and this is our harvest. Admittedly, it was our first year and we need to work on improving the soil a lot. I think we do have some tomatoes too. I'll let you know when we get back tomorrow from our holiday.

Here in Crete though it's a different story. Never a cloud in the sky from morning to night everything grows here bountifully. Including some of the best tomatoes we've ever had and an incredible range of wild herbs picked fresh from the mountainsides. They even grow avocados and bananas here, the weather is so good year-round. Unfortunately, I think it will take a while to adapt back to the tomatoes, aubergines and greens  we can get back in the UK now..

With this quality of ingredients recipes are very simple, but quite impossible to re-create at  home for that reason. We haven't had a bad meal out yet. A lot of to rests on the quality of the olive oil, which, being from an Island, has a taste particular to these locations. Always my favourite oils they are fruity with a deep olive-taste but in no way bitter or too peppery. Salads of the best tomatoes dressed simply, or stewed aubergines are a meal enough in themselves with the locally baked bread. It must be easy to be a chef here as you hardly even have to do anything to create spectacular dishes with one or two vegetables, oil and salt.

If you didn't get to any of the Greek islands this summer you can always find a little of Greece in London now. Try Ergon, a Greek Deli and Cafe in central London or Opso in Paddington, so recently opened we haven't yet visited. So if you get there before us, let us know what you think..

Jul 8, 2014

Peach Parfait and our Summer Garden

When we came back from India last February and London was still in the grips of winter it wasn't so high on our priorities as it had been when we left last Autumn to find a new apartment with a garden. However, in the end we did exactly that, and the garden has been a real source of enjoyment to us both.

We've spent a lot of time and effort working on it as it was left overgrown by the last tenants and I don't think it's ever been planted up. So we dug all the weeds out and about 6 huge bags of rubble, fertilised it, and planted the bak with veg, while in the front we landscaped and planted some shrubs and flowers.

Pictures to follow this post, but I had to include a recipe..

A classic dessert although peaches are not exactly local to the UK, or our garden. It is kind of seasonal. That is if we get any sun here to make us feel like sumer has arrived. 

Again show-casing the many wonders of silken tofu as a much more healthy alternative to regular cream, hence you can eat a lot more of it. I have done exactly this over the last two days and don't feel any the worse for it as an alternative breakfast option.

2 ripe peaches
1 cup silken tofu
1/2 cup soya milk
2 tbs maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp agar flakes
pinch of salt
1 cup granola
1 tbs coconut oil
4-6 dates

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line a small baking swish with parchment.
  2. combine the soya milk and agar in a small saucepan and place over low heat. Whisk continuously for 5 minutes or until the flakes are fully dissolved and can no longer be seen.
  3. In the meantime skin and remove stones from the peaches. Place one of the peaches, silken tofu , maple syrup, vanilla and salt in a blender and blend until smooth. Add the soya milk-agar mixture and blend again. Empty into a small and set aside.
  4. Wipe out the blender and then blend the granola with the dates and coconut oil. Spread this over the bottom of the parchment and press down firmly. Place in the oven for 15 minutes.
  5. Remove granola base from the oven and pour over the reserved peach-tofu. Place in the fridge for at least 2 hours to firm up. Preferably overnight. 
  6. Serve chilled, garnished with slices of the reserved peach.

Front garden landscaped and we even just added a bench, which, being in London we've had to chain and padlock to the fence..

Doing this landscaping completely did my back in with hours upon hours of shovelling and digging. My yoga-students I reckon suffered at least a week of less attention as I shuffled around. But I'm sure if they see these pictures they'd agree it was worth the neglect. Maybe. Guess it depends how much they like gardens.

Tomatoes in pots have been less than effulgent with their fruit, but it is coming with the few days of sun we've had so far.

First time ever for a cucumber. We grew one in Vancouver actually; but then a rat or something came and ate half of it just before we were planning to pick it. Don't think that will happen here. But we do have a local fox prowling around that I see when I do my yoga practice before dawn each morning.

Here lie our broad beans. About 4 of them. Between our whole harvest I think we have enough for one plate of noveau-cuisine.

On the other hand we've had no trouble growing the kale. I think this stuff would survive a nuclear holocaust. I mean, I think our soil has zero-nutrient content and we've had no sun, but still, the stuff just keeps growing and growing.

With the herbs and lettuces at the front, we're quite pleased with what we've done so far. Incredible to have any garden space in London and we've enjoyed mucking around in it so much. In the autumn we're going to try developing the soil quality a lot more as our veg (apart from the kale that is!) has been low-yielding. But it's still been fun and you learn from your mistakes as you go along, the important thing, in whatever sphere, is just to to something and then you get the enthusiasm going and start to gather direct experience as you go along. Keep up for the next dispatch..

Jun 30, 2014

Victoria Sponge

I know I'm always banging on about summer, but it still amazes me we don't really get one in this country; even after 35 yrs of living here.  Last weekend it rained over both Saturday and Sunday. We had the heating on. This morning when one of my (yoga) students came into class and asked me if I had a good weekend I almost errupted; 'why bother calling this season summer at all!' Weather isn't everything but when its summer and you make summer plans it gets tedious being rained-out constantly.  

A great cake, just don't wait for summer to eat it. Light as a regular sponge but without the eggs and butter it's healthy enough you can afford a decent sized chunk like the one I dished up... You could, of course, find a slightly more luxurious recipe with a thicker cream made of coconut-milk, but I find that even richer than regular cream, though it is thicker and does resemble cream a little more.

So this is my summer-cake and Theresa posing with a piece in our garden trying not to look too cold. God knows where the strawberries grew as this is the sum-total of what our plants have produced with the zero-quotient of sun here this year (it's true we do have to improves soil quality in our garden too - it's our first year).

For the sponge

dry ingredients:
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt

Wet ingredients:
2 cups soya/non dairy milk
1/4 cup raw cane sugar
2 tbs coconut oil (melted)
1 tbs vanilla essence
1 tbs cider vinegar

For the tofu cream
1/4 cup non dairy milk
1 tbs agar flakes
1 1/2 ups silken tofu
1/4 cup raw cane sugar
2 tbs coconut oil
1 tbs vanilla essence
pinch of salt

strawberry Jam (we use St Dalfours which uses apple-concentrate rather than sugar)
fresh strawberries

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and grease or line a small baking tin with baking parchment.
  2. Sift all the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. 
  3. Blend all the wet ingredients together and then add to the dry. Mix until just incorporated (do not over-mix as this will stop it rising well).
  4. Spoon into your baking tin and bake for 25-30 mins until lightly browned and well risen. 
  5. Remove from oven and allow to cool on a rack before slicing horizontally into two.

  6. Now to make the tofu cream heat over a low heat the non-dairy milk and agar flakes, whisking for around five-minutes until they've fully dissolved. 
  7. Blend the rest of the ingredients for your tofu-cream together well, then add the agar-mixture. If you have time place in the fridge to set for around 2hrs. Then blend again. This will make it lighter and fluffier.
  8. Spread a layer of strawberry jam over the bottom half of the cake, topped with a generous layer of the tofu-cream. 
  9. Sandwich the top-half of the cake over this and spread the cream over the top. decorate with strawberries. Refirigerate again for about an hour if you have time to set the tofu-cream icing a little. 

Jun 24, 2014

Gluten-Free Coconut-Apricot Crumble Slice

Not in my top-ten photos' unfortunately, but what can you do when you're stuck with this overcast English-weather for most of the year. Got to make a light-box to photo my stuff in. No excuses.

So like every time, I'm stuck trying to convince you that it's a really good recipe. Well, it is; I often make something like this at the start of the week and then we can slice it and eat it as handy snack to have on-the-go during the week as it actually seems to get better after a couple of days and lasts at least 4-5.

For the cake-base

1 cup oats
1/2 cup gluten free flour
2 tbs ground flax meal
1 tbs cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/3 cup non-dairy milk
2 tbs rice syrup
1 tbs molasses
1 small banana
1 tsp cider vinegar
1 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt

Coconut Crumble Topping

1 cup flaked coconut
1 tbs non-refined sugar
1 tablespoon non-dairy milk

Apricot Filling

1 cup apricots
1cup water

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line a loaf-tin with baking parchment.
  2. Whisk all the ingredients down to an including the baking powder in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Blend the rest of the ingredients for the base and set aside until you're ready to assemble. 
  4. Toast the coconut for 5 minutes in your preheated oven until lightly browned. Remove to a food processor and lightly pulse with the rest of the ingredients for the topping. 
  5. Make the Apricot filling by simmering the apricots in the water for 10 minutes, then blending until smooth.
  6. Now you're ready to assemble the slice. Lightly combine the dry and wet cake-base ingredients you've got ready then spread in one layer on the baking parchment, taking care to reach the sides evenly. Follow this with a layer of apricot-sauce and then finish by sprinkling the coconut crumble over the whole thing.
  7. Bake for 25 minutes and let cool completely before slicing.

Jun 16, 2014

First Vegan BBQ

This was our first BBQ attempt. Not having a garden before, it's not something we were ever able to do. Now the garden opens up so many more possibilities for leisure time; not least, spending shed-loads of money on plants at Garden Centres. Our new hobby..

I think I have hazy memories of barbecuing as a student. As I desperately tried to get the charcoal to ignite I started remembering that I'd done this somewhere before, but at that time, somewhat more relaxed, due to the wonderful advantage of relaxation that comes with beer drinking. Sadly a thing of the past; I now have to find my own relaxation, and at first this certainly was not the case (see photo of me fanning the BBQ below).

But in the end, it all worked out and our Tempeh went on the grill and not in the waiting oven we'd switched on as our coals smoked and sizzled out the first few attempts at lighting them.

marinated tempeh eagerly awaiting the grill

me tirelessly fanning the flames of very mini Weber BBQ

On the grill the stellar line-up of our tempeh, pineapple rings and polenta slices. The latter don't obviously fit into this meal, but I just wanted to give this a go, and, I'd have to say, it was the best way I've ever eaten polenta. Grilling it like this really gives it a flavour I'd always found it lacking. Next BBQ post I'll be posting a recipe for this.

As seen in the previous pictures, our BBQ is pretty small but fine for 4 people I would say. Also, once the coals do finally light they seem to last forever. I found fanning them really helped to make them combust quicker, but I would say start the whole thing at least an hour before you want to eat. By the time we sat down, as you can see below, I was pretty happy to be eating. It was easily 4.30pm and we had planned this as a lunch.

We had the sandwiches with a coleslaw and sweetcorn-relish. I think next time we'd have BBQ potato wedges too. I would really recommend these accompaniments. Also,  make sure you add the pineapple to the sandwich, it takes it to another level. I wasn't convinced at first; I don't generally like to try new things being a Taurus, however, as usual Theresa pretty much made me and I have to say, as usual, I don't begrudge the little bit of force she necessarily exerted upon my being. It works perfectly.

finally happy. Theresa asked not to be photo'd (she's grilling my food here!)
BBQ Tempeh Sandwiches (makes 4 )

For the BBQ Sauce

1 lb (454g) Tempeh cut horizontally, then into 4 slices (you should end up with 8 pieces)

1/3 cup tomato paste
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup agave nectar
1/4 cup tamari
4 tbs cider vinegar
1 tbs dijon mustard
2 tsp dried basil
1 tsp chipotle powder
salt and pepper

For the Sandwiches

1 small pineapple, peeled and cut into rings
grated strong cheddar-cheese or vegan cheese
Veganaise or other vegan mayonnaise
4 pita breads or other roll

  1. Place the tempeh in a deep baking dish large enough to contain it all in more or less one-layer only.
  2. Blend all the ingredients for the bbq sauce and pour over the tempeh. If you have time, leave overnight to marinate (it soaks up a lot of the marinate, really absorbing the flavour).
  3. When ready place Tempeh on a hot griddle an grill on each side for 3-5 minutes until nice griddle-lines appear over the Tempeh and the sauce has dried out and crusted the strips.
  4. Allow 2 strips of Tempeh for each sandwich, top with a generous helping of Veganaise, the pineapple rings and grated cheese.

Jun 10, 2014

A Dairy-Free Millionaires Shortbread

These always remind me of my early-yoga days when I made the abrupt, and retrospectively rash, decision to ditch academia and dive-head first into yoga I quit my degree and thought it more honest to simply go and work in the administrative office at the University instead. 

Crazy times and I used to get one of these and a coffee on the way into work everyday.  Of course, it was just a regular butter and sugar affair and I had a lot to learn about honing my diet. But, hey, I was just making my way out of the student-years of smoking a pack of Malboro a day and starting the morning with a pint of Guinness. So it was a big change for me.

I made this healthy and added nuts for extra taste and sustenance as nowadays I often have one of these with a coffee (of course) as a post-teaching snack. So we've come a full-circle. But like every time you notice this happening in life, it doesn't feel like that much of a change somehow and gives me a strange sentimental feeling.

For the biscuit base

1/2 cups flour
1/3 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup ground almonds
1/4 cup unrefined sugar
2-4 tbs non-dairy milk
1/4 tsp salt

For the caramel-nut layer

1/2 cup mixed nuts chopped roughly
1/2 cup non-dairy milk
1/4 cup creamed coconut
1/4 cup unrefined sugar
1 tbs vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt

For the chocolate topping

1/3 cup cocoa
1/4 cup non-dairy milk
2 tbs sugar
1 tbs coconut oil

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and toast your nuts on a baking sheet for 10 minutes or until golden. Set aside to cool.
  2. In the meantime, in a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, salt and almonds and then rub in the coconut oil until you have a texture similar to fine breadcrumbs. 
  3. Add the milk a tablespoon at a time until you can start to gather the mixture into a loose-dough. 
  4. Line a baking tin with parchment (roughly 4"-10") and pat the biscuit base into the bottom. Making sure it's pretty firmly pressed in. Bake for 20-25 minutes at 350 until it starts to slightly colour. Set aside whilst you make the caramel.
  5. To make the caramel, heat all the ingredients (apart from the nuts) over a medium-low heat until, stirring constantly with a small whisk. As it starts to simmer it should also start thickening. When it has reached the a consistency that will stick to the back of a spoon, stir in the nuts and immediately spread over the biscuit base with a greased spatula (to prevent it sticking). 
  6. In another pan, whisk the rest of the ingredients for the chocolate topping over a low heat.  It should be a smooth, lump-free mixture that gradually starts thickening. Reduce for 5 minutes, whisking constantly over a low heat until very thick. With the same (greased) spatula, spread over the caramel layer.
  7. Place in the fridge for at least an hour to set before slicing into squares. This will keep up to a week in a sealed container.