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.
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.
I bloody loved The Foodie Teen cookbook. Apologies Alessandra, but I didn’t anticipate a teenager coming up with such brilliant recipes. And they were all super healthy too.
The dishes weren’t just good, they were inventive and challenging. The cakes in particular (all made from non refined sugar) were exotic and had incredible depth of flavour. I would 100% cook from this book again. Although I have two very small complaints: 1) a lot of the dinner recipes don’t have carbs which you do need to feel full and 2) there are too many cake recipes in the book, and despite my obsession with cakes, I craved more dinner options. But overall, my goodness, what fabulous, flavourful recipes.
Here’s my rating on the recipes:
Spiced chocolate chilli with coriander spiked avocado. This was so rich and delicious. I might even go so far as to say it’s the best chilli I’ve eaten in my life. We ate it on a friday night and I enjoyed it so much I couldn’t wait to eat the leftovers for lunch the next day.
Pineapple carrot cake with passion fruit coconut frosting. This was an indulgent piece of tropical heaven. The coconut passion fruit topping was sweet and creamy and the cake was so moist.
Crunchy nut banana loaf. The pecan nut and coconut oil crumble on top of this banana bread made it a real treat.
Mexican burgers with all the toppings and raw beetroot-carrot slaw. I’m not sure how Alessandra did this, but the burgers were juicy and the slaw, salsa and guacomale were so fresh, the combination absolutely hit the spot.
Sweet potato vegetable pad thai with lime tahini and ginger dressing. I was sceptical about whether this would work until I shoved a mouthful in my mouth. The peanut dressing coating the vegetables was gorgeous.
Spiced chocolate chilli with coriander spiked avocado
The Also Very Goods
Spicy red thai curry soup with prawns. Exactly what it says on the tin, an excellent red thai curry soup, full of flavour and kick.
Pea and pepper beef curry. This was made with thai curry paste and was a fresh tasty curry.
Blueberry and almond crumble slices. Crunchy, crumbly and juicy with tart blueberries, they didn’t last very long in our house.
Egyptian dukkah crusted chicken fillets wth cauliflower taboulleh. The dukkah crust was a winner, providing a lot of spice and flavour to the chicken and the pomengrates in the taboulleh complimented the chicken beautifully.
As I said at the beginning, I bloody love this book. It’s bursting with imagination, colour and flavour and it’s all incrediby healthy. I always love a cookbook that will take me on a culinary adventure yet not leave me worrying about my arteries or my waistline. Well done Alessandra, I could just about cook at basic bolagnaise at your age, so hats off to you for being so clever!
I set myself the goal that I cook one recipe from each of my 69 cookbooks in 69 days. Taking the plunge got me out of my comfort zone and I gained more confidence in various cuisines like Thai/Indian/Chinese which I normally ran away from because of the obscure ingredients.
2. I became more comfortable in my own skin
Taking some time out after leaving my job of ten years gave me the chance to nurture myself and my creativity and reconnect with my values. It was a wonderful opportunity.
3. I developed a more mature and confident sense of style
Giving myself some creative space and going to art galleries, on writing and photography courses and exploring the cultural scene in Manchester fed my imagination and allowed me be more discerning and daring in how I dress myself and my house.
4. I’ve started to become rather addicted to taking creative risks
I think it’s good for the soul. These risks have involved baring my soul on my blog and talking about quite private matters, public speaking for the first time and even starting a YouTube channel. I’m no Zoella but I’m proud of giving it a crack.
5. As a freelancer and now self employed social media coach, I can justify spending a lot of time on social media
It can be a slippery slope. There were days last year when I’d get up at 7am and sit at my laptop until midday pouring over Pinterest and Instagram and not achieving much. This year I have a new rule, be washed and dressed and made up by 9am and have a to do list. As a result I’m way more productive.
6. It’s easy to be lonely if you are self employed and a blogger
There’s a potential to spend a lot of time on your tod. However I’ve started to collaborate more and more with freelancer friends and it’s been a blast!
7. Holidays are amazing
I was very lucky in 2016, I went on various holidays including to Goa and on a cruise around Italy. I’m quite a worrier and over the years have developed a self destructive habit of needing to be ‘doing something’ at all the times. This year I’ve learnt that holidays are for relaxing not doing. Spending time doing nothing and enjoying your surroundings is brilliantly rejeuvenating and is great for getting the creative juices going.
8. Being 40 rocks even if it’s made me feel a bit old
Despite increasingly creaky knees and more laughter lines, I feel like I care less what people think of me and am surer of my own opinions and more entitled to just bloody enjoy myself.
9. I’ve started to let go of my obsessiveness around penny pinching
In my twenties I got into a lot of debt, in my thirties I got sensible and was really careful with my money. However as Jamie taught me, tightness is at times a hindrance and I end up buying cheap rubbish that doesn’t last. Or I’ll cycle in minus 4 degrees to save money and get a cold. So this year I’ve learnt to loosen my grip. I’ve also allowed myself to be indulged.
Jamie treated me to a fabulous dinner at 2 michelin star restaurant L’Enclume in the Lake District for my 40th (and the head chef photo bombed the picture)
10. Being visually expressive is important to me
I’ve always been drawn to quirky beautiful clothes and been interested in design and art. I discovered this year that by expressing myself through photography, colourful clothes and quirky house interiors, that I’m a better and happier version of myself.
Ottolenghi’s Plenty has been an absolute pleasure to review. This man makes you fall in love with vegetables. He serves them in unexpected and delightful ways. Cooking from Plenty made me very happy. And at no point did I feel that there was anything missing due to lack of meat or fish.
So here’s my run through of the eight recipes we tried out, starting with the favourites.
Aubergine and lemon risotto. Ottolenghi may cook with vegetables but that doesn’t mean his dishes are low calorie. This dish had a lot of butter in, but it tasted so good. Incredibly rich and creamy as you scoop out the goo of a charred aubergine to mix in with the risotto rice.
Courgette and hazelnut salad. Admittedly we deviated from the vegetable theme here and ate it with roast chicken, but hey we would have been hungry without a bit of protein. Griddled courgettes combined with roasted hazelnuts, parmesan, basil leaves tastes superb.
Tomato, semolina and coriander soup. So semolina is a rather fascinating addition to this dish. It thickened the soup and even provided it with a few accidental potatoey like dumplings. Tasty.
Mee goreng. Apparently this is a really famous Malaysian dish, but I’d never had it before. I am now an official fan. Stir fried tofu, pak choi, french beans, noodles and a chilli and soy sauce. Salty and interesting.
Crunchy parpadelle. A lovely creamy pasta dish made with double cream, sprouting brocolli, mushrooms and an exciting topping of crunchy panko breadcrumbs and lemon zest. I really loved this one!
Also very goods
Mixed beans with many spices. Jamie chose this and I thought it sounded a bit boring. I was wrong. Beans can be very delicious in the right spicy sauce. So tasty that I had two enormous plates full of the stuff.
Butterbeans friend with feta, sorrel and sumac. Jamie wasn’t such a fan of this dish, but I love butter beans and feta and dill so I was happy as larry! It was lovely and creamy and comforting with the dill and feta adding a bit of intrigue.
Soba noodles with aubergine and mango. An unusual and enjoyable dish. The mango gave it an interesting sweet and sour flavour.
I loved cooking from Plenty. Ottenlenghi is a creative genius – the dishes are so colourful and imaginative – they really lit up our evening meals. Although sometimes there’s a lot of butter and cream in his recipes, I think they cancel themselves out because all the vegetables and other ingredients are so healthy. I will definitely be returning to this book for more vegetable worship.
On my return from France, because I was so fired up about French food I was desperate to review a French cookery book. But, alas none of my 80 cookbooks are French. Luckily my friend Katy came to the rescue with Rachel Khoo’s ‘The Little Paris Kitchen’.
I hadn’t personally been a fan of the tv programme – I found Rachel a bit smug with her glamourous outfits and her adorable Paris life and her perfect food. Or more accurately I was probably jealous. However I am now eating humble pie. Rachel Khoo – I apologise for misjudging you – I’m converted – your food is ace.
I wouldn’t recommend this book if you’re on a diet – there’s a lot of cream and cheese, although I did try and select the marginally more healthy options. But I must confess I did like cooking with naughty ingredients. It made a refreshing change from my comfort zone of reviewing healthy cookbooks.
The dishes were so good I’ve even had to invent new categories for grading the dishes we tested. Firstly we’ve got the ‘Off The Scale’ category, followed by ‘Excellent’, finishing with ‘Really Good’.
I’ll talk you through them:
Off The Scale
Cauliflower bake with hazelnut crunch. Cauliflower cheese is a comfort food dish, but this is a glammed up version. The crunchy breadcrumbs and hazelnuts on top were a lovely addition. I regret that I over steamed the cauliflower. Next time I will aspire to crunchier cauliflower.
Bouillabaisse or fish stew. This was our new year’s eve dinner. I loved the exotic blend of herbs and spices – star anise, orange zest, fennel seeds, thyme and saffron threads – I’ve never eaten seafood with that kind of citrussy base before. We tried to make the ‘rouille’ to go with it – a saffrony homemade mayonnaise. Two attempts but no success – I think more thorough guidance from Khoo would have been useful, but the stew was still exceptional without it.
Chocolate lava cakes with salted caramel filling. It was a triumphant moment at our table when Jamie and I tucked into these beauties. Hot molten chocolate with salted caramel in the middle. A definite moment of pudding heaven for me.
Smoky fish pie. A good way to use up the leftovers from the christmas cheeseboard and random old veg in our fridge. This was made with smoked haddock, bechamel sauce and veg of your choice. It was a lovely warming wintery dish.
Puy lentil salad with goat’s cheese, beetroot and a dill vinaigrette. The perfect post christmas health kick dinner with the dill sauce adding a nice fresh, tart note.
Chicken and mushrooms in a white wine sauce. Chicken and mushrooms with cream and wine is always a winner and the aniseedy tarragon on top really made it for me.
Mushroom terrine. Basically a mushroom quiche without a pastry. Simple and tasty.
Carrot salad and celeriac and apple salad. I too often forget how good salads can taste with a bit of love and imagination. We were particularly taken with the celeriac and apple salad – the mustard and white wine vinegar giving it some pep.
I was rather sorry when we cooked the final recipe from ‘The Little Paris Kitchen’. It had been a lot of fun – I had enjoyed the feeling of extending my french holiday by continuing to learn about French cooking and eating French food. I also did really like the excuse to cook with fattening ingredients – the French know what they are doing with cream and butter. Thanks Rachel, your cookbook is colourful, inspiring and you make it easy for readers to get impressive results.
Guardian food writer Felicity Cloake has written a lovely cookbook called ‘Perfect Too’ which is a compilation of her weekly Guardian feature/recipe where she seeks to the make the perfect XXXX – this could be a croque monsieur, a jam doughnut, gingerbread. Generally some kind of classic or well known dish.
My main obstacle with navigating this book was Felicity’s tendency towards red meat, heavy carbs and puddings. I wasn’t sure how I’d survive the eight dishes we planned to test without my waistline and energy levels suffering.
However I managed to do a reasonable job of finding the most healthy numbers in the book including – dal, spaghetti vongole and nut roast.
I’ll talk you through my favourites and my ‘also goods’, as there were no failures here – everything turned out well, although there were four clear triumphs for me:
Macaroni cheese. Definitely at the top of my list. I’m not a massive fan of mac n’ cheese, but nutmeg in the sauce and a crunchy breadcrumb and parmesan topping breathed new life into this dish. Sweet, creamy comfort food.
Spaghetti alla vongole. Easy peasy to make – ready in just ten mins (apart from soaking the clams for two hours to get the dirt off them). A superb dish – salty, lemony and it tasted of the seaside. It felt sophisticated and looked rather rustic and beautiful.
Nut roast. Another unexpected hit. I choose this more for nutrition reasons than from real interest in the dish. But it was quite spectacular. The sage, chestnuts and parsnips gave it a lovely earthy flavour and the stilton was a lovely tangy creamy twist.
Potato salad. I didn’t realise potato salad could taste this good. Felicity’s version included capers, anchovies, fresh chives, mint and parsley, dijon and wholegrain mustard, spring onions and lashings of mayonnaise. Creamy herby, salty heaven!
The Also Goods
Aubergine parmigiana. This nearly fell into ‘favourites’ as it was gorgeous. It didn’t make it because it wasn’t as much of a revelation as the top four dishes. It was smoky, meaty (yet vegetarian), moist and delicious. The inclusion of two balls of mozzarella gave the dish a lovely creaminess and chewiness. Warning: pretty laborious to make and involved boiling a lot of aubergines!
Meatballs. Made from pork and mince beef molded together with onions, fennel seeds and breadcrumbs soaked in milk. Felicity used the pork to make them more juicy, fatty and flavoursome – and it paid off – they were much more interesting than normal meatballs and the fennel seeds were a tasty, fragrant flavour addition.
Dal. A very virtuous dinner – this must have had hardly any calories in it and was full of healthy lentils. It was tasty but I think eating it with a couple of curries would have been the ideal way to eat it – it was a bit uninspiring just by itself.
Cullen skink. A creamy smoked haddock and potato soup. A hearty, tasty and again healthy dinner.
Whilst Felicity’s recipes were a bit stodgy for me and this might not end up being my go to cook book, I ate some great meals. And there is something magical about the way Felicity takes classic recipes – be it macaroni cheese, meatballs or parmigiana, amalgamates the best techniques from a variety of chefs and makes them REALLY REALLY well. Sometimes it involved a bit of extra faff and effort, but it was worth it for the excellent outcomes.