The Economical Vegan


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An Economical Vegan Christmnas Part 4

It’s all about the vegetables today. I love Christmas food because it gives me a chance to really go to town on the veggies. So today I am sharing some of my tips for making the veggies extra nice.
To begin – the potatoes. Easy peasy roasties. Get some good potatoes, peel and cut to the required size. Parboil and then toss in well seasoned flour, and roast in hot oil in a hot oven, turning at least once, until golden brown and crispy. Always cut them on the diagonal to get long surfaces that turn nice and crispy in the pan.
I always serve mashed potatoes on Christmas day as well – I throw a goodly amount into the steamer along with the other steamed veg, skins on but well scrubbed, and mash them with salt, pepper, vegan marg and vegan soya cream (just a dash) and a teaspoon of mustard. Beat well with a large spoon in a large bowl until creamy and fluffy.
If you like new potatoes on your Christmas dinner, steam or boil them whole in their skins, then just before serving, toss in some melted margarine with sea salt and a little garlic puree, stirring well over a high heat for a couple of minutes. Mmmmmm!
Okay, the next thing is the parsnips. Cut into manageable sizes and blanch for about five minutes in boiling water. Roast in vegetable oil, with a good sprinkle of salt, until they start to brown well. Remove from the oven ten minutes before they are done, and drizzle on some agave syrup or, if you like it, some melted marmalade, tossing the parsnips well in this glaze. Return to a lower heat just for a few minutes. Alternatively, you could simply roast them.
Sweet potato is very easy. Peel, cut into large chunks and roast in vegetable oil. They don’t need anything else – they are so delicious on their own. Do the same for butternut squash – take out the seeds, cut into chunks, and drizzle liberally with chilli oil, before roasting until they are melting and falling apart, creamy with a caramel like sweetness but nicely spiced. You could sprinkle on some garam masala before roasting if you like.
I usually put a huge pile of other veg in the steamer – swede in the bottom, boiling away, then carrots, peas, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and green beans. Always save the water in the bottom for your gravy.
Now for the dreaded sprouts. I confess, I hate sprouts. The only time I eat them is when I have Christmas bubble and squeak. But I still make them. Here are some recipes that might tempt even the most fervent sprout hater to indulge. To begin with, there’s a Hugh Fearnley-Whittinstal tip. Blanch or steam the sprouts for seven minutes, then toss them whole in some melted butter with lightly fried garlic. Alternatively, cut the sprouts in half, and fry them, flat ends down, with chopped onion in some vegetable oil, adding white wine, garlic and black pepper with some boiling vegetable stock, just enough to half cover the sprouts. Braise over a medium heat, turning the sprouts once. Add some freshly cooked or vacuum packed fresh chestnuts, and reduce the cooking liquid right down. Make sure the sprouts are well tossed in the reduced sauce before serving. You can add some cranberry jelly just before serving, and stir it in well. A final alternative is a chiffonade of sprouds, sautéed with finely sliced red chillies.
I also like to serve braised red cabbage. Shred the red cabbage and toss into a deep frying pan with some oil, sautéing gently for about ten minutes. Add grated nutmeg, a dash of all spice, and some black pepper and salt, and stir well, then add half a pint of vegetable stock and two tablespoons of port. Toss in some fresh cranberries if you have them. Boil briskly for a few minutes until the liquid starts to reduce, stirring occasionally and then stir in some cranberry sauce if you like it sweet.
Other alternatives for vegetables include a celeriac mash (with mustard), or braised celery in white wine and vegetable stock with a dash of vegetable margarine. Try a minted pea puree for lushly green and fresh addition to your dinner plate – simply mash your peas with a teaspoon of mint sauce from a jar.
I am not a lover of the orange sauce and orange flavours people seem to associate with Christmas, but I do like to use lemon in some vegetable dishes. Try for example lemon and garlic with some braised broccoli spears. Another addition is one I found in the book Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Fry red onions and apple segments with a little salt, until soft. It makes a delicious addition to the dinner plate.


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An Economical Christmas Part 3

Well it’s only a week to the big day. Today’s post will be about gravy! I know that some people dismiss gravy as inconsequential, and indeed there is nothing wrong with not liking gravy, but for me it is essential to a Christmas dinner. A good, rich, taste-bud teasing gravy really makes a meal special. I like mine thick and full of deep flavours. So I am going to share my gravy recipes with you, and hopefully one of them will suit your style and time frame.
The first recipe is my two day Christmas gravy. This is a rich sauce that goes with almost any dish. Start the day before you want it, and give yourself plenty of time. First, peel 3 carrots, 3 parsnips and two onions, and chop into large, rough chunks. Add a couple of stalks of celery, and a couple of leeks roughly chunked as well. Spread in a roasting tin and liberally douse with vegetable oil. Add some whole garlic cloves in their skins, some fresh or dried rosemary, and if you have it, a bay leaf and some dried mixed herbs. Season well with plenty of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Roast in a medium to hot oven for about an hour, until the vegetables start to caramelise. Then remove and put over a medium heat. Add about two pints of boiling water and a vegetable stock cube, and simmer and stir, along with about a cup of red wine and a cup of sherry or port. Add half a teaspoon of yeast extractIf you prefer a lighter sauce, use white wine instead. Simmer and stir, making sure you stir in all the sticky juices from the roasting pan. Once the liquid has reduced by about a third, take off the heat and allow to cool a little. Pass through a sieve, collecting the stock in a large jug or bowl, and squashing the soft vegetables as much as possible. Set the veg pulp aside to be used in your nut loaf or one of your Christmas stuffings, or add it to a rich vegetable soup.
Put the stock in the fridge once cool, covered in some clingfilm, or in a jar with a lid. That’s the first day done. Next day, bring the stock to the boil and add the water from any vegetables you have boiled or steamed. Make a roux of plain flour and vegetable oil, and gradually whisk this in, briskly, simmering, until you have the consistency you require. Add some gravy browning to the required colour, and then taste the gravy and add more seasoning if necessary. Serve piping hot.
Now, I know not everyone will want to spend two days making gravy. It is, after all, quite an effort. Another alternative is to simply fry off finely chopped onions and celery with some vegetable oil, add a roux, pepper and a veg stock cube, pour on boiling water and whisk well. Blend with a hand blender before serving. You can add other things to spice up your gravy, such as fresh herbs, dried herbs, or a teaspoon of mustard. If you want to bail out and use instant gravy granules, then fry some onions, add boiling water, and stir in some mustard before adding your gravy granules, or add a teaspoon of port while you simmer your gravy. Alcohol always makes gravy better! If you are serving veggy sausages with your dinner, fry some chopped apple with the onions for your gravy, and add some mustard to offset the sweetness.
Other flavourings you can add to your gravy to make it taste rich include: mushroom ketchup; tomato puree; garam masala; wholegrain mustard. Experiment. But most of all, don’t be afraid to indulge in making your gravy awesome to complement the beautiful vegetables on your festive dinner plate. Enjoy!


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An Economical Vegan Christmas – Part 2

So the season moves on swiftly and the BIG DAY is rapidly approaching. Whatever you are celebrating this Christmas, I expect that you are also planning a celebratory meal of some kind. For those of us who, harking back to childhood, wish to have the ‘traditional’ Christmas dinner might be struggling with making it completely vegan or with getting the flavour and the smells of Christmas just right.
So today I am going to share some of my tips for getting those Christmas dinners up to standard, and filling your house with a true smell of Christmas. In this blog, I will share some of my stuffing recipes. These can be either baked in a tray or loaf tin and sliced, or rolled into stuffing balls and roasted, or used as a stuffing for vegetables.
The first obviously is sage and onion. Now, this is an economical vegan blog, so this is all about the best possible taste for the best possible price. There are two ways to make your sage and onion stuffing cheaply. The first is to buy the very cheap supermarket smartprice stuffing mix. I do buy these. At 15 pence each, they provide a really good basis for making other stuffings and with a little extra love, work perfectly well on their own. So if you do use this cheap option, always add some extra flavour in the form of a heaped teaspoon of vegetable margarine, and some extra sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
The other option, one I also use, is to visit the supermarkets at the point when they are discounting the fresh fruit and vegetables. This is the time you will find discounted fresh herbs. You can do this at any time of the year. So pick up the reduced sage (I got a pack the other day for 10p), bring it home, finely chop and toss into some melted margarine in a frying pan. Cook very briefly then put into a small container and freeze ready for making your stuffing.
The next thing is the breadcrumb component. Again, in the weeks leading up to the festive season, save any stale bread you might have, and freeze it. When you defrost it, either whizz it into breadcrumbs or use a grater to make your fresh breadcrumbs. Again, reduced bread at the supermarket can be used for this – I got a pack of wholemeal rolls the other day for 10p. You can always make the breadcrumbs first and then freeze in bags – which means you have them ready for your Christmas stuffings.
The last component is plenty of onion. Very finely chopped onion goes into most of my Christmas stuffing recipes. Use a food processer to chop them finely and keep in a covered container until ready to add to the recipe.
So: fresh sage and onion stuffing. Sautee finely chopped onions in some vegetable oil with a little salt. Add fresh sage, finely chopped, about two tablespoons to about 2 onions, and a teaspoon of dried sage. Stir well whilst still frying, then add some freshly ground black pepper. Transfer to a mixing bowl and add breadcrumbs, stirring well. Add a little hot vegetable stock to moisten the mixture and stir vigorously. Add a little self raising flour and again, stir vigorously, which helps bind the mixture. Press into a baking tray or loaf tin, stuff whatever you want.
The next recipe is one I developed myself one year and which has proved a firm favourite. This is a mushroom, chestnut and port stuffing. Sautee chopped onions or shallots, and a couple of cloves of garlic (also chopped), in a tablespoon of vegetable oil, until the onions are translucent. Add some roughly chopped mushrooms, and fry until these start to soften, then add some freshly cooked or vacuum packed chestnuts, roughly chopped, and a little nutmeg and about a quarter of a teaspoon of garam masala. Fry for about five minutes then add two tablespoons of port and a vegetable stock cube. Stir well and simmer for about fifteen minutes. Transfer to a mixing bowl, and add in as many breadcrumbs as needed to make a good mix, alongside a tablespoon of plain flour, and mix well. Taste, and then season if necessary. This one can be packed into large flat mushrooms for roasting if you wish.
Another favourite of mine is apple, thyme and pine nut stuffing. This uses freshly chopped apples fried with the onions, fresh and dried thyme, and toasted pine nuts with the breadcrumbs and a little mixed spice. Add some cranberries or other red berries for colour.
The other classic Christmas stuffing which I ALWAYS make is the sausagemeat and chestnut stuffing. I can’t do Christmas without it. This is my cheating way. One pack of vegan sausage mix made up ready for cooking, one pack of cheap sage and onion stuffing mix, a tin of chestnut puree, and some extra breadcrumbs and flour. Simply make up the stuffing mix, mix all ingredients together, and if the stuffing is too loose, add extra breadcrumbs/flour to the required consistency. Yum yum yum.
One final tip – you can make a nice range of stuffings just by varying the ingredients you use with your breadcrumbs and onions. Try, for example, apple and ginger, cranberry and orange, almond and apricot (mmmm!), sundried tomato and basil – it’s all good! Be inventive. The most I have ever made at one Christmas meal is nine different types. We will probably have around six this year. And they are great with pickles and chutneys as well.


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An Economical Vegan Christmas – Part 1

Well it’s the festive period and at this time of celebration, I know that many vegans may feel particularly challenged. The shops are brimming with festive goodies, the television full of tantalising recipes, treats and goods for sale, and very, very few, if any, are vegan. It can be very expensive at Christmas to be a vegan, because buying in all the foods you associate with luxury, festive dinners can cost an absolute fortune. So I am going to give you a few tips for enjoying Christmas, or whatever you celebrate in the depth of winter, with the overall aim of sharing my experience of making Christmas vegan.
Firstly there is the age old issue of the Turkey. People make mock turkey, or buy in meat substitutes. A large Tofurkey can be very expensive. I do have a few cheaper ideas that you could try. One is a granovita or nuttolene nut roast in a tin, rolled in pastry that has been spread with my home made cranberry relish, and baked to make a nut wellington. Or make your own nut roast centre for the wellington. Another option is to make a chestnut roulade, which can be sliced and served. Both are good cold with pickles as well.
I would also recommend perhaps that you make a vegetable terrine as a replacement for the ‘centrepiece’ of your Christmas dinner. I have blogged about that recipe in the past – you can use whatever layers you like, but one layer can be a chestnut layer using minced onions, mushrooms, port, garlic and seasoning, and mixing in chestnut puree or chestnut paste and some breadcrumbs. This makes a good base layer. Finely grated carrots and parsnips with ginger, salt and flour could be the next, followed by a layer of fresh spinach leaves, followed by a layer of mashed potato and parsnip. This is cooked in a loaf tin with a weight on the top to press the terrine down.
Another option is good old fashioned tvp – make either a mock haggis with well seasoned tvp, crushed barley, breadcrumbs, finely chopped onions and plenty of herbs, or make tvp rissoles which can be slowly roasted. Use your imagination.
The cranberry relish is a very simple recipe. I made mine today. Kept chilled in a screw top jar in the fridge it will last weeks. Finely chop two large onions and sautee in a deep saucepan with some vegetable oil. Once the onions are translucent, add the flesh of four finely chopped red apples (skin left on). Add a teaspoon of salt, four tablespoons of sugar, and a teaspoon of mixed spice. Add a quarter of a teaspoon of allspice. Add two tablespoons of red wine and two of vinegar, and about 3-4 cups of fresh cranberries. Cook on a low heat, stirring regularly, for about 20 minutes, until you get a thick, red, gloopy and utterly delicious relish.
It is a good idea to make things in advance if you possibly can, because this takes the pressure off. So make the relish early on and keep it in the fridge until you are ready to use it. Serve with your main meal, and or with soya cheese and pickles, or with veggie sausages. It can also be used with canapés – put into mini pastry cases on top of a nutmeat filling or served with a vegetable pate.
I will write more about good Christmas recipes in my next post – which will be all about the stuffings!


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Party Time

I am sorry to have been absent from the Blogosphere for so long – blame my wedding amongst other things! Today has been a busy day and I have a hundred and one recipes and ideas to share with you, but for now I will make do with some party food ideas. Tonight my choir are giving a concern, and so we are having a little ‘after show party’ with food and nibbles. It all has to be finger foods and easy for me to transport to the venue. I wanted to deliver plenty of taste in small packages.
I am working at home today, and this meant I had to fit all of this lovely cooking into my ‘lunch hour’. I always play to my strengths when I don’t have a lot of time. I had some frozen vol au vent cases left over from the wedding, and half a block of frozen shortcrust pastry, so I first put the cases in to cook during the morning, then when lunchtime came around, started with a mushroom filling. This involved finely chopped onion, garlic and mushrooms, sautéed, with black pepper and salt. I stirred in some plain flour, then added a couple of tablespoons of red wine and stirred well, adding a little hot water. I cooked this down to a smooth sauce and left it to cool. While it was cooking I soaked vegan sausage mix, and rolled out half my pastry and made vegan sausage rolls, which went straight into the oven.
Next I started one of the fillings for soft tortilla wraps. These make a great party food. I peeled some carrots and cut them lengthwise into thin stalks. I put these in a medium hot pan with some olive oil and Turkish mixed spices, adding celery stalks cut to the same sort of size and shape. I added some salt and then cooked these for about 20 minutes, before adding a teaspoon of chipotle paste, and a tin of drained red kidney beans. I cooked this for another ten minutes, stirring frequently. Whilst this was cooking made a simple sweet potato and chickpea curry, using half an onion and a garlic clove, a tablespoon of curry paste, a diced sweet potato, and a teaspoon of coriander paste. I added water and simmered until the potato was soft, stirring in a little vegetable stock powder at the end. It became a very dry curry. I made this into little curry parcels with the rest of my pastry.
While the curry was cooking I filled the mushroom vol au vents and made an olive tapenade. The tapenade was made by filling my mini chopper with black and green olives (without the stones), with a few sundried tomatoes and a tablespoon of olive oil, one raw garlic clove, and a tablespoon of red wine. I whizzed it to a fine texture. There were a few leftover vol au vent cases so I filled these with the tapenade and put the rest in a pot to take as a dip.
The wraps were made with mixed leaves and thinly sliced stalks of raw yellow pepper, onto which were placed a few stalks of carrot and celery and some of the red beans. Each was folded over at each end, rolled, and then cut in half on the diagonal with a very sharp knife. The colours looked great on the cut ends. I arranged these cut ends up on a large platter, filling half of it. Then I made another wrap filling. This time I simply put a pack of vegan ‘fake chicken’ pieces into a pan, added half a tube of tomato puree, a generous dollop of hot chilli sauce, salt, mixed herbs, and a little vegetable stock. I simmered this for about ten minutes. The second lot of wraps had more leaves, the soya filling, and about a tablespoon of red pepper and smoked paprika chutney on top. Again, these were rolled tightly and sliced in half on the diagonal, and arranged on the other side of the platter. I filled a second large platter with the vol au vents, sausage rolls and pasties, and my work was done. All in all, including clearing up and washing up, it took an hour and a half. I would recommend these for party foods because they are delicious, have a great texture, and are full of intense flavours. I hope my fellow singers enjoy them as much as I will.