The Economical Vegan


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September Salad Days . . . and Soup

It is always the greatest irony, that a wet August will give way to glorious sunshine in September, when the schools go back. Working in education means September is a very busy month for me, but it’s also a month when I feel energised and able to rise to new challenges. I love the crisp mornings, the scent of autumn in the air, the kiss of the sun, the light dancing through leaves. This is the opportunity for me to bring back my habit that dominates most of the year, of making soup to take to work for lunch. But it is also balanced with lovely salads.

Today’s salad is a much-loved favourite of mine. You can vary it with different things, such as different flavours of hummous, or different kinds of olives, different dressings and different veggies, but for me, in its simplest form, this salad is filling, delicious and incredibly satisfying. Serve it with wraps or flatbread and you can’t go wrong. Try to stick to organic veggies where you can.

Ingredients:

4 leaves of romaine lettuce

a large handful of spinach or baby spinach

2 spring onions

3 small sweet peppers or one large sweet pepper.

1 carrot, grated

fresh herbs

olives

hummous

smoked tofu

sweet tomato chutney or something similar

pumpkin seeds

To make the salad:

First, get a frying pan hot and toast the pumpkin seeds, then set aside.

Wash the leaves and shred with your hands into your salad bowl.

Sprinkle on the carrots and chopped peppers and spring onion.

Blob on some nice big spoonfuls of hummous

Toss in the olives

Blob on a few teaspoons of your chutney

Sprinkle on pumpkin seeds

Finely chop about half a block of smoked tofu and sprinkle that over the top.

Finely chop some fresh basil, parsley or coriander, if you have any.

DONE!

I love this salad. It’s crunchy, sweet, salty, creamy, tangy and piquant, all at the same time. And it’s filling. It’s a great balance of textures and flavours with plenty of protein to keep your energy up and keep you feeling full.

And now . . .  soup

If you are a regular reader, you will know I love soup. I like to vary it as well, as it makes for an interesting life. Having something warm and delicious in my soup flask for lunch helps keep me going but also allows me to slow down and enjoy my lunchtimes during the working day.

This soup is an oriental-inspired spicy soup full of fresh veggies. Rather than use expensive and exotic ingredients however, I use things I keep in my store cupboard, and I recommend you keep them in as well as it means quick and easy meals are only a few minutes away.

This soup CAN be made with noodles, but the version below uses spiralised carrots and courgettes instead. You can get a spiraliser for under £20 and they are fun!. Enjoy

Ingredients:

1 carrot, spiralised

1 courgette, spiralised

Fresh corn, off the cob

1 sweet pepper

4 spring onions

Finely shredded spinach, cabbage and/or Kale.

1 small white onion

A 1 inch cube of fresh ginger

3 garlic cloves

Vegetable stock cube or powder

Coconut milk or coconut milk powder (the powder is great to keep in the cupboard and is much cheaper than buying the tins)

1 lemon or 1 lime

1 tablespoon Miso (optional – I keep miso in the fridge but if you don’t have it, don’t worry).

Coconut oil

Toasted sesame oil

Soy sauce

Fresh coriander

Arrowroot to thicken (optional)

Chopped fresh chillies (to your own preference – I like my soup very spicy so I use a lot)

To make the soup:

In a large pan, heat the coconut oil. Peel, crush and chop the garlic, chillies and ginger and toss into the oil.

Chop the white onion finely, and add to the oil, stirring well.

Boil the kettle, and while it is boiling, toss in the green veggies, the pepper (finely sliced) and the sweetcorn, and give them a good stir. Then, add boiling water to the desired level, and add the spiralised carrot and courgette. Simmer for about five minutes, then add some lemon/lime zest and the juice of the fruit. Stir in the miso, vegetable stock and add the coconut milk or powder and a teaspoon of toasted sesame oil. Taste, and if necessary add soy sauce to your preference. If you want a thicker soup, add a little arrowroot or cornflour. Simmer for about 10  minutes.  Finally, just before serving, sprinkle on some fresh coriander and finely chopped spring onions.

Other options: you could add tofu, seitan or even some of the mock duck you can get in a tin, finely chopped, to give more body to your soup if you wish.

It’s a lovely, warming soup and so tasty and delicious. You can make it as mild or as spicy as you wish. I often take the soup AND a salad for lunch during September, and I am not afraid to admit that I often have them for breakfast as well as lunch. There’s nothing better. These amounts should make 2-4 servings, but you can make more volume and freeze the soup if you wish.

And finally . . . . a quick reminder of my quick, easy and very heartening soup for those with not enough time or resources to make such a complicated soup. A quick lentil and tomato soup is perfect and is done in 30 minutes.

1 tin tomatoes

A heaped handful of red lentils

1 onion

1 carrot

Veg stock cube.

Chop the onion and carrot roughly, and put in your soup pan with the other ingredients. Add water (fill your tomato tin once or twice), bring to the boil and simmer. After 20 minutes, blend with a stick blender, simmer a little more, and taste. Adjust seasoning if necessary. You can serve this with a drizzle of chilli oil if you like a spicy soup. And it doesn’t get much simpler than that!

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Wraps, Wraps, Wraps

I love soft flour or corn tortilla wraps. In fact, I love flatbreads in genera – chapattis, puris, pitta breads, anything I can stuff loads of goodies into and eat! One of my mainstay dishes has become vegan wraps, and I have a number of non-vegan friends who love my tofu wraps and will choose them over meat!
So, the key to the wraps, as with everything else, is to look at what you’ve got and what you can use. Key points relate to mixing flavour and texture. The mix of raw and cooked gives great texture and flavour combinations, particularly if you can include some fresh herbs. So here are a few recipes that have emerged ‘on the hoof’ from having wraps and from using whatever I have in the store cupboard and fridge.

Green Pepper and Spinach Wraps.
1 green pepper
3 large soft flour tortillas
Half a pack of baby spinach
A handful of chopped fresh coriander
Ground sea salt
Drizzle of sweet chilli sauce
Leftover bean chilli

Slice the pepper into slim lengthwise strips and share out over the three wraps, Add the spinach and coriander, and grind over a little sea salt. Add the bean chilli – about a tablespoon or two on each wrap, then drizzle on some sweet chilli sauce. Roll firmly into tight rolls, then cut on the diagonal before serving. These are really delicious.

Hummus and Avocado wraps
Two soft flour tortillas or chapattis
1 ripe avocado
Hummus
Fresh spinach
Freshly chopped chives
Chopped spring onion
Grated carrot
Lemon or lime juice
Chilli sauce (optional)

Cut the avocado in half lengthwise and twist to separate the two halves. Using a large knife, slap the blade into the seed and then twist to remove the seed. Use a spoon and separate the flesh from the skin, then slice the avocados on the diagonal. Share out between the two wraps. Add the other ingredients, spreading them out along the length of the filling. Fold the ends over, roll tightly and then cut in the middle on the diagonal to serve. If not serving immediately, leave as whole wraps. If storing for a few hours, wrap tightly in clingfilm or foil.

Alys’s Classic Tofu Wraps
These are just too nice for words, and are very popular.
Four Soft flour wraps
1 pack tofu
3 chopped spring onions
Plenty of Salad leaves or baby spinach
Fresh coriander, parsley and basil (or whatever of these you have)
3 Sliced red and yellow peppers
Garam masala
Garlic powder
Bouillion powder
Chilli powder
Vegan mayonnaise
Grated vegan hard cheese (optional)

First, slice the tofu and put in a frying pan on a medium heat, with a little oil, adding the garlic powder, chilli powder and garam masala immediately. Cook for about ten minutes, stirring regularly. Then add the bouillon powder, stir again and leave on a low heat. Combine all the other ingredients in the wraps, then share the tofu out evenly between the wraps. Fold over the ends, roll tightly, and serve. This is great for barbecues, buffets or picnics. You can vary the heat and spiciness depending on how much chilli powder you put in. You can also add fresh chillies or pickled jalapeno peppers if you like it hot!

So – there are three examples of wraps for you. But you can combine many more ingredients. Try some salad, veg fried with garam masala, fresh mint and onion bahjis in a wrap with some vegan mayo, or maybe some vegan sausages with onions, salad and mustard! Or keep your wraps entirely raw and combine different veg and herbs for different tastes.


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A little Vegan Trip to Oxford – and a Recipe for a Moroccan Feast

A Little Vegan Trip to Oxford
I wanted to write about my recent variable experiences of being a vegan out and about and travelling. It seems that my ongoing adventures in the wider world continue to challenge my vegan sensibilities and clash with my desire for simple and pleasurable meals and holiday experiences.
I recently had to attend some meetings in Oxford, and was booked in to a Guest House for one overnight stay by the people I was meeting with. First, we met for lunch, in the Oxford Brookes University ‘Brookes Restaurant’, which was a fine dining restaurant which helps to train hospitality students. The staff had been warned in advance that one of the party were vegan and there was no problem at all. The service was excellent and the waitress offered me a choice of starters, only one option for main, and a choice for dessert. What was interesting was the fact that the starter was on the specials board, and it was a red pepper soup – which three of us in the party had – so that was already vegan, while the pudding I had consisted of two elements of two different desserts – strawberries usually served with cream, and the tropical fruit compote which was the accompaniment to a passion fruit brulee tart. It was all delicious, and it was lovely to be treated as just another diner, not have people acting as if I was being awkward and difficult. I think this makes a huge difference to the experience of eating out. It was also evident that the chefs in the kitchen were properly trained and therefore capable of identifying elements of a vegan meal and giving consideration. The main course was a vegetable timbale which was utterly delicious. I left feeling very satisfied.
After a long afternoon of intensive work, I returned to my hotel (where I had left my car) and at last gained access to the room. The usual plethora of dairy products were there, including a biscuit with milk in, and milk to go in tea and coffee. I had emailed the guest house the week before and asked if I could have soya milk for my tea, but obviously they didn’t think to put it in the room. I went out to a marvellous Indian restaurant on London Road, called the Mirabai, which had outstanding service, and the largest most interesting chutney tray I have ever had. The dahl soup for started was delicious, and the main was a spinach and chickpea curry with green chillies, with coconut rice, and it was delicious. I was also served a lovely bottle of Rioja which was well worth the price. The Mirabai allowed me to have a relaxing evening in a pleasant atmosphere.
I didn’t sleep very well in the guest house, and was up early. At breakfast I had mushrooms, beans, tomato (just a half) and toast with Vitalite. There was soya milk for my tea. There was also a vegan sausage, which was microwaved so much that it was absolutely rock hard – I could tell when I chipped the end off that it had been microwaved within an inch of its life. It was inedible. I suppose that I could have complained and asked for another one, but it didn’t seem worth the effort. It was a shame really. However, the overall experience wasn’t too negative. And it was nice to have vegan spread for my toast for a change. Unfortunately, despite warning them the previous week, there was no vegan food on the buffet following the meeting that day, and although someone offered to go to the canteen and see if they could get me a salad, again, I felt disappointed but I didn’t want to make a fuss because everyone else was already eating. Plus salad is generally not very filling – unless you load it with interesting veggies, seeds and nuts or grains. I ate some fruit (grapes, a strawberry and half a very green apple) but knew that such food would not sustain me for long. I had a two and a half hour car journey ahead of me. Luckily, I had made myself some salad sandwiches the previous day and had some left over in my picnic basket, along with a flapjack and a bottle of water, and these kept me going until I went home. They were rather sad and limp however, having spent 24 hours in a warm car, and were less than appetising. I had been assured I would be ‘looked after’ with the lunch, but in my experience, unless you prepare in advance and ensure that clear instructions are given about what kind of food you would like, the ability to respond to a vegan diet is poor. I know it’s an issue for a lot of people but your average person either doesn’t understand what vegans eat, or doesn’t really get how hard it can be to find vegan food. I refer back to my recent experience with a large chain hotel in Birmingham, where, at a conference, their idea of a vegan alternative was a plate of lettuce with a few slivers of tomato and pepper (cut so thin I could see through them). There was no dressing, no protein, no carbohydrate. The ‘normal’ people were having wraps, with chicken and vegetables, or seafood. I couldn’t understand why they couldn’t have grilled me some vegetables with a little seasoning, and stuck them in a wrap.
Overall it seems that wherever I go, there is a kind of ‘pot luck’ about food and service. I have realised that I am so accustomed to poor availability, and poor food choices, as well as poor service, that when I get a good experience it seems almost too good. I get excited and far too grateful that someone has the ability to provide for me. It also reminds me that there seem to be large numbers of people who don’t know how to cater for anything other than standard meals and expectations. It seems that everyone, whatever their dietary needs, is stuck in some kind of rut, afraid to try new things and afraid to deviate from some kind of middle of the road standard. It also seems that there is a generation of ‘chefs’ who do not actually understand how to cook! I am amazed at the limitations in people’s knowledge, and their lack of ability to respond to difference. To me, this borders on a kind of enforced conformity, limiting the scope to be an individual and to want something a little different. Having said that, I also know that there are some very good vegan and vegetarian restaurants who are profitable, and some which are less than effective in delivering good food to their specialist public. It would seem, overall, that the biggest challenge for the vegan travelling or eating out would be to find a variety of choice, and to secure a nutritious meal. As lovely as the lunch was in the restaurant, there was no focus on ensuring that the meal was high in protein. There was plenty of rice in the timbale, however, and the food was filling and very, very tasty.
I am also amazed at the way that people perceive vegan food. They seem to think that all we eat is salad. This is quite strange. When we talk about people eating meat, we don’t assume that all they eat is a lump of beef on their plate. I feel that people need educating, including those providing food service and hospitality. People need to learn about food in general, I suppose, and about variety in particular.
A final note – this is what I cooked tonight.
Moroccan chickpea stew – sautee onions and leeks with garlic, garam masala, mixed spice, and fresh chilli, as well as some dried chilli. Add water, vegetable stock, sweet chilli sauce, tomato puree, a tin of chickpeas, lemon juice, and stew slowly. Adjust seasoning and spice to taste.
Couscous – easy peasy.
Roasted vegetables: carrots and parsnip cooked in garlic oil and salt. Purple potatoes and sweet potato cooked with mixed spice and salt, and curry oil.
Beetroot salad with walnuts, dressed with balsamic vinegar and lemon juice.
It was very, very nice.


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Diet Diet Diet

Diet, Diet, Diet
I had a call from my sister last night, and yet again she was struggling with a family legacy of obsession with weight, body size, and diet. As a health care professional, and someone who teaches human biology (one of my multiple work roles), I am still amazed at the overbearing ignorance of many people in relation to diet and its effects on health.
So, let me first make my position clear. I am that rare thing, a fat vegan. I have always been overweight, from childhood onwards, and have variously struggled with and ignored my weight. Teenage years saw me develop an eating disorder as a direct result of family obsessions with weight and years of being denied foods others were allowed to enjoy. Prior to teenage years, I ate no more than my other siblings – and often a lot less, being refused food they enjoyed because I was ‘fat’. Looking at the pictures of my childhood, I was a slightly plump child, by no means obese. Obesity only came in late adolescence after years of dieting.
As an adult, my body size varied depending on my lifestyle. Whilst working a very physically active job and cycling 13 miles a day to and from work, I became much slimmer and very fit, despite eating the worst diet and the highest amount of calories ever (a typical ‘snack’ was a baguette spread thickly with garlic butter and filled with chips fresh from the fryer at work). On starting nurse training, I was ‘put’ on a diet by occupational health because my BMI was unhealthy (I was size 14 and incredibly fit, could run up a flight of stairs carrying a sack of potatoes on my shoulder, and was cycling 13 mile a day and swimming four times a week. I was also lighter than I had been since childhood). I then proceeded to gain weight throughout my training because I was no longer physically active, spending 6-8 hours a day in a classroom or standing in a ward area, and cycling only 4 miles a day, and eventually not cycling at all as I had to drive to placements, despite the fact that I was constantly restricting my calorie intake! I learned that food was an issue with psychological sequelae for me, and decided to ignore weight and size and focus on being emotionally healthy.
Over the years since I have learned some key facts about diet and body size. One is that body size is not simply determined by calories in and calories out. I could starve myself for years but my body is stocky in shape, with broad shoulders, and large breasts, and even at my thinnest my chest was still disproportionately large. I have learned that BMI is fundamentally flawed yet crucial healthcare decisions are consistently based upon it. And I have learned the key fact, that it’s not fat that makes you fat. It’s sugar. It’s a very simple relationship. The laying down of body fat is ruled by insulin. If you take in sugar, in any form (any kind of carbohydrate), your body releases insulin. Insulin causes the uptake of sugar and its conversion to body fat. In the absence of insulin, your body does not lay down fat. This is the basis of the high protein diet which is so often misrepresented in the media (including the Atkins diet). It makes perfect sense. But no one can just live on fat and protein in our society, and a varied diet is vital.
So this leads me to the persistent ignorance of my family, and of many others, including the government, health professionals, and even fellow vegans and friends. One person who I no longer call friend, some years ago, said to me, “good god, you must really put it away to be so fat.” And I was shocked, because it was clear that she judged me negatively. My sister has been struggling with the same issue with family who care nothing for how successful either of us are, emotionally, professionally, socially, or as parents, and only care whether or not we are ‘thin.’ And for some years I endured utter disbelief from people who couldn’t believe that I was a black belt in karate/kickboxing because obviously someone my size couldn’t be!
I have a few theories about why it is that after two years as a strict vegan, I have not magically turned into the willowy, waif-like stereotype of the vegan, as anticipated by colleagues and friends. One theory is that I focus on ensuring a healthy diet, and that means eating plenty of protein, vegetables, grains, fruits and the like. I am eating quite a lot of carbohydrates, and that means my body is not going to be eating up its own fat stores. Another issue is that I eat out a lot more than I used to, because my partner loves us to go out for meals. However, most places where we eat, my only option for food is chips and salad, which is a high carbohydrate meal. I like chips and salad, especially if there are peas too, but it’s not ideal. Also, my lifestyle is not active enough, as I work in a job which is predominantly sedentary and I commute two hours a day in a car. Options for alternative transport are not possible, and so I have to try to fill more of my leisure time with physical activity.
I just find it ironic now that people look at me negatively, and assume I must have a horribly unhealthy diet and that I overeat. My biggest issue is the need to get more physically active. My diet is amazing, because I pay attention to it, much more than many people who are ‘thin’ do. I want to feel physically strong, and that means not restricting calorie intake. I still believe that much of the modern day focus on making women skinny is so that they are too weak to run away or fight back. Strong, big women who take up plenty of space and can’t be knocked down or intimidated are not wanted, and a false association with ‘health’ legitimises this negative discourse. I am not stating that people are not unhealthy when they are fat – I know that many, many people are. But I know that you can never find a one size fits all approach to understanding people’s health and wellbeing. Most people don’t understand that the diet industry is just that, a multi-billion dollar industry which is based on failure. Diets make you fat. Restricting calories severely cannot be sustained, and once the body has been starved, it is more inclined to lay down fat again against future starvation. Low fat diets cause cholecystitis (gall stones). Doctors have known these facts for decades. Fashion is designed to only look good on women with no lumps and bumps, women without a female body shape. It is the greatest irony that surrounded by all this plenty, we in the Western world are told to starve our bodies, whilst millions of women and children in other countries starve for the lack of decent food.
So my conclusion is this. I love my life, and I honour nature, and all my animal brothers and sisters, and the trees and the plants that give me life. I honour the body that grew from nature, and I feed it lovingly and take pleasure in nature’s largesse. I enjoy the pleasures of preparing food and feeding my family. And I reject thoroughly the social norm of defining people by their physical appearance. It makes no sense to me that as a vegan I should still be fat, if it were indeed the case that diet defines my body size. So perhaps people should start looking around them and thinking that there are many other reasons for body shape and size. If I wanted to be thin, I could spend three hours a day in the gym, but I would still be a stocky, five feet tall woman with big boobs and large arms, and I wouldn’t want myself any other way!
Oh, and I just had the most amazing fresh strawberry and hemp powder smoothie made with freshly juiced oranges, grapefruit and lemons! Mmmmm! I feel like I could conquer the world!


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Veggie Burgers!!!!!

Ah, the humble veggie burger. The instant fall back position of every pub, restaurant and food chain completely nonplussed about feeding those awkward vegetarians and vegans. Unfortunately, this humble and useful food item is something I rarely make myself any more – not just because there are good alternatives available in the supermarket, but because it seems that it is the only thing to eat when I am out and about.
However, the veggie burger is a very useful food to have in the freezer for quick meals – as a traditional burger in a bun with onions, or slice in half and put in a wrap with salad and jalapenos (yum yum!), or even as a quick protein shot on a Sunday dinner, as a change to nut roast. When I first became vegetarian at age 13, I found that veggie burger mix was a vital part of my diet, as it allowed me to make a quick option for myself to go with the vegetables on a dinner. My mother, bless her, refused to cook for me, only allowing me the vegetables but also refusing to roast the potatoes in anything other than lard or dripping, leaving me with a plate of dry veggies. So burgers were a good option to add flavour.
I don’t often make veggie burgers, but I think this much maligned foodstuff should be celebrated by vegans, because they provide a useful addition, and can even be put in sandwiches with some pickle for an easy lunch at work. Today we are going to be watching the rugby, and, harking back to my childhood days, I thought I would resurrect the family tradition of big fat burgers in big rolls topped with fried onions – essential match-watching fare. So I have made some wholemeal flour and mixed seeds bread rolls, which are baking and smelling delicious as I write, and I have made some veggie burger mix for frying later.
This is how I make my veggie burger mix. Like all my recipes there are no weights and measures, and it is very flexible – you can change things about as much as you like. I just used what I had in. First, I used my mini whizzy chopper to finely chop half a fresh onion and three cloves of pickled garlic. Then I did the same with a carrot, two large broccoli florets (broken off from the main bunch), and half a stick of celery. These were placed in my mixing bowl with about half a cup of finely chopped peanuts, again done in the chopper. I then boiled the kettle and to about two tablespoons of dried TVP, added half a teaspoon of yeast extract over which I poured enough boiling water to soak and mix the tvp. This adds moisture, flavour, and a different, looser texture to the burgers. I do not like burgers that come out like bricks, and using the tvp not only takes me back to childhood, but gives a lighter texture.
I added the tvp, one powdered veggie stock cube, and a tin of cooked, drained black eyed peas to the bowl. I would use any type of reasonably soft bean in my burger mix; it helps to bind the mix as well as adding flavour. I also added a couple of tablespoons of breadcrumbs that a friend gave me the other day. To this add freshly ground black pepper, a few dashes of hot chilli sauce and some tomato puree or tomato ketchup. I then turned the mixer on, and whilst it was mixing, added gram flour gradually until it achieved the right sticky texture, thick enough to hold together for shaping and frying, but not so thick as to turn them too stodgy.
So I will fry these in large patties in a little hot oil, allowing the one side to crisp and firm before flipping them, and serve them in freshly baked seeded rolls topped with fried onions and some English mustard. Mmmmmm. The rest of the burgers will be frozen singly ready for when I want quick snack or quick addition to a meal. Yummy.
And by the way – the bread smells heavenly now! .


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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.