Last night I got to stuff my face with the most delightful vegan street food treats at Jackie Kearney’s book launch.
For those who haven’t heard of Jackie, she was one of the Masterchef finalists in 2011 and is a committed vegetarian.
Her latest book is called My Vegan Travels. Jackie has travelled a lot in South East Asia and picked up a ton of great ideas for cooking vegetarian and vegan food. Her previous book Vegan Street Food was along a similar theme, but her new book is focussed on super simple, comfort food recipes.
I got to munch my way through: shitake mushroom croquettes, bombay veg sandwiches, beetroot and watercress samosas and artichoke torta. All rather lovely. But the icing on the cake for me as a greedy sugar fiend, were the chai doughnuts with raspberry jam and soft pecan cookie ice-cream sandwiches (with a vegan malted coconut and blueberry ice-cream). Scrumptious.
The book looks absolutely superb, so if you want to buy an original Christmas gift for a cooking enthusiast, My Vegan Travels is a great shout.
a) be so overflowing with vegetables and ingredients
b) that I would be quite so excited about unpacking the goodies
Jamie and I rummaged through the intriguing ingredients in the box which included kefir, dill, harrissa and beetroot, I wondered what they would all be for. I was particularly delighted about the kefir – I’ve heard a lot about the health benefits of kefir lately and was keen to try it.
Within the box there was a bag cooled with ice that contained the items for the fridge, and as well as the veg, there were little pots of spices measured out precisely for the recipes.
We didn’t waste anytime and cracked on with a recipe for our Thursday night dinner. Sweetcorn and leek fritters with tomato and onion relish and alfafa salad (see photo above). Easy to assemble and cook and a delicous combination of fresh flavours. This wasn’t any old average meal, it was exceptionally good.
Friday’s mealtime I would say was my favourite though, harissa falafels with spiced beetroot, kefir dressing and pittas. I’ve had falafels many times before but I often find them a little dry, but these were so moist, the beetroot mix was beautifully spicy and sweet and the kefir dressing was a lovely creamy herby addition.
Saturday lunchtime we cooked our final meal: chimichurri and roasted mushrooms with baked sweet potatoes and lentils. OMG I am now a convert to chimichurri (a spicy sauce made with parsley, chilli and garlic) – it was the perfect compliment to the veg and really lifted the dish.
What was noticeable about all these dishes was that they were so imaginative and well thought out. I’m quite a recipe snob and we eat a lot of excellent homecooked food, but the three meals were exotic and brilliantly flavoured. They were a real joy to prepare and then eat. The recipes cards were so easy to follow too.
I think these recipe boxes would be such a treat for people who love their food and want to eat healthy, inspiring and varied meals, but just don’t have the time to:
a) be looking up interesting recipes
b) sourcing ingredients
c) spending hours in the kitchen measuring out ingredients
Riverford have got it spot on!
Thanks to Riverford for providing the vegetarian recipe box. All opinions and words are my own.
As you may have gathered from reading my blog posts this year, I have a very sweet tooth that interferes with my desire to eat healthily. I have been very open about my ice-cream addiction and my attempts to curb my evening treat.
So a big theme for me this year has been finding a healthier alternative for dessert. And ‘healthy’ cakes have become a thing for me.
When I say healthy, I think it’s more accurate to say it contains a few more wholesome ingredients than the original. The recipes are still loaded with sugar and fat. And whether that’s in the form of maple syrup and coconut oil, too much of it still isn’t good for you.
But I do take great comfort in knowing that when I’m eating a healthier version of a cake, it might be doing me a little bit of good at the same time.
My favourite cookbook for these treats at the moment is Love, Bake, Nourish It was a birthday present back in May, and for the last two months I’ve cooked the sh*t out of it!
Unfortunately I was too lazy to take photos of all of my efforts, but let me tell you about my greedy cakey couple of months.
For starters I really enjoyed the following:
Courgette and apple
Orange, almond & pistachio
And pretty much unanimously, they’ve all been AWESOME.
And the four pictured below are my absolute faves:
Banana and cinnamon
Chocolate and chestnut
Spiced scented carrot cake with a crumble topping
Amber Rose the author tends to use spelt flour instead of refined flour, which is much more nutritious, she also uses honey, maple syrup or brown sugar instead of refined sugar. And the use of a lot of nuts, veg and fruit in her cakes bumps up the goodness levels.
I tell you what though, those ingredients may make the recipes healthier, but actually they seem to elevate the flavours. I’ve been really impressed with complex, interesting taste of the cakes. All of them were rich and indulgent and really satisfying. Most were quite pudding like in that they were quite dense and moist, and I was all over that.
I can’t wait to crack on and cook everything in the book. Next on my list is the passion fruit and lime syrup cake. Mmm.
So why vegan? If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know that I’ve recently become a lot more curious about how I can make my own contribution to helping the environment – and going vegan would definitely be a good step – or eating more vegan food at least.
My other motivation is actually that I think it could be healthier – the more I read about the meat, fish and dairy industry, the more wary I am of what animals and fish are now eating (animals are fed antibiotics amongst other things and it sounds like all fish in the oceans are eating particles of plastic).
And my final reason is I’ve been increasingly inspired by the vegan food I’ve been eating lately. Having previously dismissed vegan food as dull and worthy, I’m enjoying the current explosion of exciting vegan restaurants, cookbooks and general noise around innovative vegan food. So I thought, why not give this cookery course a whirl and see if I can discover some interesting new food.
And as it turns out, my choice of cookery course was EXCELLENT!
Between 9.30am and 3.30pm we cooked 17 dishes. And not 17 versions of tofu and vegetable burger, but properly inspiring stuff: mayonnaise, meringues, meaty (but not meat of course) suet pudding, pizza, chocolate cake, paella, ackee and tofu stir fry, wonton dumpling soup, a vegetable pastry plait and a load of other stuff too.
Not only did everything we cooked taste delicious, but Alex, the chef and trainer, was such a font of knowledge and enthusiasm. We bombarded him with questions – about veganism and health (in particular vitamin B12!), about where to get ingredients, about the Vegetarian Society, and he generously shared his knowledge. He was a truly infectious teacher. And not only did we have a lovely snack break at midday (quesadillas, bruscetta, scrambled tofu and a crazy spicy tofu pate called Soloman Gundy), but we also got a second ‘full’ feast to dive into of everything else we cooked at 2.30pm. Eating all this food made me an extremely happy lady.
Whilst I don’t have any plans to go fully vegan, I’m very keen to try more vegan food, and this course has given me a confidence boost. In fact I can feel a new challenge coming on! How about I commit to cooking at least one delicious vegan meal a week? And obviously I’ll blog about my meals. Watch this space and please give me your favourite vegan recipes to try.
Well I’m pretty excited to tell you about what I’ve been eating this week. It’s been adventurous.
Let’s start on Tuesday when I went to the new healthy cafe that opened in Altrincham a few weeks ago. It’s called Common Ground and it’s run by three retired Olympians. That in itself makes it worth a visit. It’s a gorgeous venue – it’s utterly instagrammable with a beautiful minamalist interior and a lovely bright yard with colourful furniture. Oh and it’s got cute real life dogs. They specialise in great coffees and healthy cakes, although apparently they will be serving healthy food and (not so healthy) booze soon. I loved the vibe of the place, it was relaxed, friendly and inspiring. And the sugar free, gluten free pistachio and rose cake I ate was truly excellent.
And on Tuesday evening I embarked on my own healthy cake project. I’d been browsing through my Love Bake, Nourish cookbook and liked the look of the chesnut and chocolate cake. Instead of flour you use chestnut puree (500g of the stuff) and ground walnuts. I can confirm that it tastes as delicious as it looks. Very moist, sweet and fudgy. I will be baking this again as it’s one of my favourite cakes of 2017 and guilt free too.
Things got even more experimental on Wedsnesday. I have wanted to try deep fried courgette flowers for a long time as I’d heard they are rather exceptional. So as our abundant courgette plants were flowering this week I pounced on the opportunity. We used a Hugh Fearnely-Whittingstall recipe which involved stuffing the flowers with ricotta and fresh herbs, dipping them in a flour and sparkling water batter and deep frying them for a few minutes. We served these crispy delights on a plate of our own home grown nasturium leaves and flowers. We were pretty amazed at a) how good they looked and b) how incredibly tasty the were.
On Saturday we ventured into town to test out the newly opened Mayfield. Basically this is a bunch of lovely street food stalls hosted in the old Mayfield Railway Depot by Piccadilly station, featuring different cutting edge street stalls every week. Have a look at the photo of the top of the blog to give you a flavour. It was a fab friendly atmosphere, and whilst there weren’t a lot of stalls (perhaps six or seven in total), the food on offer was top notch. I opted for a healthy and delicious mung dahl with roasted cauliflower, Jamie also went vegan but junk food vegan! He chose a Vietnamese vegan hot dog and fries. I resisted the doughnut stall but when Jamie appeared with a cornflake and custard doughnut, I ended up scoffing an awful lot of Jamie’s!
On our trip home from Mayfield’s because I hadn’t had a ‘full’ pudding having only had bites of Jamie’s doughnut, I felt I deserved a treat, so I nipped into the new Leon at Manchester Piccadilly and grabbed a gluten free brownie made with coffee, dark chocolate and orange zest. It was lovely!
That’s it for this week, if you have any tips on interesting foodie places to go in Manchester do comment below, I’m always looking for ideas.
I will set you straight right now. I failed to complete my week of veganism. I failed within the first half a day. By 12.30pm on Sunday I’d taken a big bite out of a courgette cake (full of butter and eggs). I hadn’t forgotten about my challenge, I just wanted the cake.
I thought because I love A LOT of vegan food (especially curries with coconut milk in) that not eating meat, butter, milk, eggs and fish for a week would be fine. But I was instantly bored and frustrated at the prospect. It felt like I was restricting and punishing myself, and I didn’t like it.
However, on a positive note, I did have a few delicious vegan meals and treats during my week, so I will celebrate those occasions with you:
Homemade vegan millionaire’s shortbread from the Foodie Teen cookbook. The shortbread was made with ground almonds and coconut oil, the ‘caramel’ from dates and peanut butter and the top layer was 85% cocoa chocolate. They were very delicious. And as they were ‘sort of’ healthy I decided they were also an appropriate breakfast item!
Dinner out at the new Cambodian restaurant Angkor Soul in Marple. On Sundays they do a vegan only menu. It’s a modest little venue, but the food is amazing. I ordered a noodle and tofu dish which was tasty, but not as incredible as Jamie’s ‘Cambodian kari’ – a curry made with lemongrass, sweet potatoes, peppers, peanuts, coconut milk, seitan and served with chilli fried rice. I was so envious that Jamie agreed to swap dinners with me. He is the best boyfriend.
Coconut dal with spring greens from my ‘Riverford’ Spring/Summer cookbook. The coconut milk made this dish so creamy and rich. I challenge any carnivore to crave meat after eating this for dinner.
Spicy spinach and chickpeas with rice. Not as more-ish as the coconut dal, but still a really nice dinner.
This time I had billionaire’s shortbread at Leon’s restaurant. They do a range of ‘healthy-ish’ snacks, but this was the only vegan one I could find. The description read a ‘date and polenta shortbread based top with date caramel and dark chocolate’. So pretty similar to my millionaire’s one and extremely melty and chocolately and amazing.
Despite not succeeding this week, I will continue to experiment with vegan recipes as there are some tremendously tasty and creative vegan food ideas out there. And the added bonus of vegan food being healthy and good for the planet gives it an extra feel good factor.
This week’s environmental challenge is to ‘shop locally and ethically’ by going to the Unicorn Grocery in Chorlton. I will also endeavour to chat to staff and find out a bit more about the shop’s values and how they operate. I’ll be back next week to fill you in.
As my fourth task of my environmental challenge I decided to take on foraging and to anyone who’s never given it a go, I’d highly recommend it.
We made elderflower cordial, nettle risotto and wild garlic pesto. I loved the process of foraging and the outcomes were tasty too.
The wild garlic pesto we made a few weeks ago as the leaves were bountiful back then. I picked it at Reddish Vale Country Park, gave it a good wash and whizzed up in a food processor with pine nuts, parmesan, oil and seasoning. It was by far better than any shop bought pesto I’ve every bought. Here’s the recipe if you’re interested.
On Thursday I headed back to Reddish in search of nettles and elderflower. It was a warm day and in my great wisdom I decided to go out in a dress that left my arms and legs bare. I’m not sure what I was thinking. I did however arm myself with rubber gloves though, so that was something. My friend and I had a lovely stroll around the park, hunting elderflower which was ALWAYS right next to a load of nettles. I got more stings pulling elderflower off trees than I did picking the nettles themselves.
The nettle risotto itself was pretty straight forward – it was a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe. It was lovely and flavourful and earthy but I suspect that had more to do with all the extra additions we made (mainly chill flakes and truffle oil), rather than the nettles themselves.
The elderflower cordial was more of a palava – we had to track down citric acid from the pharmacist to steep the elderflower in for 24 hours (along with sugar syrup and lemons). However we’ve just completed the cordial today by straining the syrup through a tea towel and a colander (more faff!), but the results are impressive, I’m sitting here right now sipping some cordial with sparkling water and it’s rather delicious. However we definitely don’t need three litres of the stuff, so we’ve palmed some off on our neighbours and some more we’ve made into ice cubes.
In honesty despite some of the hassle involved in all this foraging lark, I’ve totally loved it. It’s brought me closer to nature and to the food chain. And it’s wonderfully exciting and educational to go outdoors, pick your own food then work out how to cook it. And the smugness factor when you eat your own tasty foraged dinner is huge.
Next week’s environmental challenge was meant to be vegan week. But because I’ve got a busy week involving travel I’ve decided to have a ‘mainly vegan’ week. And we’re well and truly embracing veganism this afternoon as we’re off to Marple’s new Cambodian restaurant Angkor Soul which has a vegan only menu on sundays.
It’s been a very sad and unsettling time with the atrocities in Manchester, it still all feels unbelievable to me. I’m very proud of the attitude of the people of Manchester, who refuse to live in fear and have really pulled together to show their support. As an adopted Mancunian, I continue to be grateful for and thoroughly impressed by the warmth and spirit of this city.
It feels a little at odds with this week’s events to be talking in a celebratory way about what I’ve been eating, but I think it’s important to stay positive and share some joy.
A couple of weeks ago we headed to The Drop in Chorlton to meet friends for a Caribbean Sunday roast. It’s a gorgeous colourful Caribbean bar cafe with gorgeous colourful food! Everyone apart from me went for the Reggae Roast with jerk chicken, macaroni cheese and rice n’ peas, I diverged and went for the vegan Rasta Roast, which was pretty similar but with roasted pumpkin, fried plantain and feta cheese in place of the meat.
We virtuously cycled back from Drop Cafe to Hazel Grove along the River Mersey as it was glorious weather, and committed to continue with the healthy theme by baking a date, walnut and pecan loaf from my new healthy cake cookbook: Love Bake Nourish by Amber Rose. It was definitely a bread rather than a cake, as it was quite dry and not very sweet, but it was very nice none the less, especially with a good slathering of peanut butter.
Last week I attended a Guardian Masterclass on food photography and styling. What a cracking course. It made me rethink my current photography style and the thing that stood out to me is I’m so bored of taking overhead shots of food on my dining room table. As soon as I got home from a long day in London I demanded that we photograph our tea in the garden with Jamie as a model to get some real life atmosphere. I was rather pleased with the results. It was a chopped salad with bacon, sweetcorn and avocado and the deliciously fresh ingredients were from our Riverford veg box and the recipe was from Riverford’s Spring/Summer cookbook.
There does seem to be a bit of an obsession in our household with banana based cakes lately. Our next banana conquest was a cinnamon and banana cake with a generous dose of rum, also from Love Bake Nourish. It was supposedly a healthy cake as it used wholemeal spelt flour and maple syrup – not sure how healthy rum is though? But my goodness it tasted indulgent. Sweet and moist and rummy. Even better with a scoop of frozen yoghurt.
Proscuitto, grilled lettuce, cucumber and white bean salad (so good)
Spinach and ricotta gnocchi in lemon broth (yum)
Pork cheek, parsley potato cake with lardo and rosemary (how I adored that potato cake)
Lemon posset with almond shortbread (divine)
Gray’s is a lovely venue and it was a superb evening – excellent food and service and a very buzzy atmosphere.
On Tuesday I was in London again for a course and I treated myself to a Leon’s lunch. What a fabulous little chain Leon’s is – healthy food with imagination and flair. And if you don’t know already, now Manchester has a Leon restaurant at the Trafford Centre and another is due to open at Piccadilly station. I had the tasty Thai green chicken curry and I thoroughly enjoyed staring at all the healthy cakey treats at the counter, however I still went off to Amorino the artisanal gelato shop on Goodge Street for a decadent scoop of chocolate hazelnut and another of amarena cherry gelato, delizioso!
Leon’s Thai chicken curry
Thursday I combined business with pleasure by going to Wine and Wallop in Didsbury for a meeting and a sharing board. Everyone needs to try their platters! On ours we had Scotch eggs, pork pies, mackeral pate and posh cheese and ham – all so fresh and beautifully presented.
So lucky me, I’ve been eating superb food yet again. I’ll be back next week with more foodie updates on what I’ve been eating. Please let me know if you have any tips on great venues in Manchester to try.
Can I just say I LOVE READY STEADY COOKING! Everyone should do it. It’s fun, it’s creative and I got an enormous sense of satisfaction (combined with intense smugness) as the packets in my cupboards dissolved away and I ate a steady stream of amazing food.
So this was week two of Ready Steady Cook, and for those who haven’t been following, as part of my environmental challenge I committed to using up as many leftover ingredients in my cupboards as possible. I only initially signed up to this for a week, but I was enjoying myself so much, I decided to see how much more of my stocks I could use up if I continued.
On Wednesday night we used up all our paella rice, some chicken and broad beans from the freezer and a bit of pepper from our weekly veg box. We only needed to buy a tin of tomatoes. The recipe was super simple and we found it on the tesco website (we used chicken in place of chickpeas). And it was spot on.
Thursday night was a roast veg platter with carrot top pesto and red carmague rice. Admittedly all the veg were from our veg box, so hardly leftovers, but I loved that we used the carrot tops in the pesto, I thought that was genius and very environmental. I was also delighted that we used up the camargue rice that had literally been in the cupboard for five years. And it tasted perfectly fine.
Finally, perhaps my proudest result this week – my choc chip cookies. I was desperate to use up a packet of semolina as it seemed like a pretty redundant ingredient. So I googled around and found a Mary Berry cookie recipe. I had all the ingredients in my cupboards and took great joy in using up some very random bits of chocolate that had been knocking around in the fridge for months. The biscuits were superb – the semolina providing a wonderful extra crunchiness.
I will definitely take some valuable lessons from these two weeks of cooking so resourcefully – it’s boosted my confidence to realise that you can make very delicious food without going to the shop and stocking up on expensive ingredients. Experimental and brilliant cooking is possible with limited supplies. I hope to continue cooking more frugally and more sustainably from now on.
Next week, as part of my environmental challenge I will be foraging and making some recipes with whatever I find. I’m thinking nettle risotto, wild garlic pesto and elderflower gin. I will fill you in on how I get on next week.
As part my series of food challenges to be kinder to the environment, this week we’ve been playing ‘Ready Steady Cook’ in an attempt to use up the leftovers in our cupboards. Normally I’d choose a recipe, buy a shed load of ingredients and sadly be left with creme fraiche/yoghurt/herbs/celery or something or other that would end up rotting in the fridge. Not this week though, this week we would be food waste heroes.
I grabbed the various packets languishing in our cupboards and plonked them on the kitchen top so I could assess what we needed to get through. Here’s a little sample of what we had: an abundance of lentils, several kilograms of chickpea flour and rye flour, rye grains, black beans, bulgar wheat, pearl barley, various pastas, noodles, spirulina and a load of other weird stuff. Not altogether inspiring really.
The rules of this week were not so strict that I couldn’t buy additional food items, but I wanted to try and choose some recipes that would start using these bits and pieces up.
My proudest meal was definitely the first. We made potato curry and chickpea flatbreads and we only had to buy coriander and tumeric. It was insanely good and it felt exotic and fancy too. I found both recipes by googling around.
Potato curry and chickpea flatbreads
We chipped away at the rye flour reserves by making a delicious rye bread from The Green Kitchen cookbook. We undercooked it slightly, but nothing a bit grilling couldn’t sort out.
Another tasty inspired number was Turkish barley and lentil salad with tahini dressing from Molly Brown’s Grains cookbook – we had to buy tahini and rocket, but we made a signifiant dent in the barley and lentil stocks. I honestly thought this sounded unbelievably boring – lentils and pearl barley and some carrots – how dull can you get? How wrong I was – it was in fact the very best Middle Eastern spice party in your mouth.
On Thursday our Riverford vegetable box arrived – not very Ready Steady Cook, but it’s good for the environment so I decided to incorporate it. We got clever with the butternut squash we received, we baked it and then stuffed it with leftover Turkish barley and lentil salad from the night before – it looked and tasted superb.
Turkish barley and lentil salad with tahini dressing
Finally Friday saw us making a quinoa, chicken and black bean number from the Grain cookbook – I got a bit cocky and decided to use bulgur wheat instead of quinoa and completely demolished our black bean supply. What a victory – bulgur wheat worked, the dinner was ace and our shelves were feeling positively minimalist compared to the beginning of the week.
Ready Steady Cook-ing our recipes has been a revelation to me. It’s made me approach cooking in such an inventive way. I’ve started looking on ingredient packaging for cooking ideas and scouring cookbooks by the pulse, grain or vegetable I have to hand, not just picking the meal I fancy. I would argue that it’s a much more creative process than just deciding on any old recipe and buying the ingredients because you have to be so much more resourceful and imaginative. In fact I’ve enjoyed it so much I’m going to carry on for another week – I’m feeling a bit addicted to concocting amazing dinners with weird looking lentils and flours.