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french lentils with wild garlic

Serves 4
Prep time: 30 minutes

French lentils main pic

On my drive home from work I always pass a huge bank of wild garlic that wafts its smells into my car and makes me think, ‘Mmm.  Really must stop…’.  The trouble is I am usually rushing home to see the girls so I don’t want to hold myself up.  ‘Next time, next time…’

Anyway, last weekend I woke up, sat bolt upright in bed and cried, ‘Shit shit SHIT!  Wild garlic season is nearly over!’

Bundling the girls into the car we sped off to Castell Coch – an elaborate Victorian fantasy castle dreamed up by the eccentric Marquess of Bute – and in the surrounding woods foraged some ripe garlic greens, along with some slightly wilted but still intact flowers.  Having given them a thorough wash (it’s a popular dog walking area, I’m afraid), I shredded the leaves and forked them carefully through warm, freshly dressed Puy lentils.

Castell Coch

Castell Coch – showy, unhistorical, completely great

I feel sorry for omnis sometimes.  They miss out on the significance of a dish like this, that really shouldn’t be relegated to the status of a side but is, in fact, delightful and sufficient all on its own.

French lentils overhead pic

Ingredients

French style / Puy lentils, 250g, washed and rinsed
Celery, one stalk
One carrot
One small onion
One bay leaf
Fresh thyme, 1-2 sprigs
Wild garlic, 10 leaves, plus flowers if you have any
Fresh parsley, one handful, finely chopped

Mustard dressing:

Dijon mustard, 2 heaped tsp
White wine vinegar, 2 tbsp
Extra virgin olive oil, 6 tbsp
Salt and black pepper

Chop the celery stick and carrot into 3-4 large pieces.  Chop the onion in half.  Put the vegetables into a large saucepan along with the lentils, bay and thyme sprig.  Cover with cold water by about one inch, then put on to boil.  Let simmer for 20-25 minute until the lentils are done.  Check every so often to make sure it hasn’t boiled dry.

In the meantime, make the dressing.  Either whisk all ingredients in a small bowl until they emulsify, or put into a small jam jar and shake.  Taste to see if it needs more of anything.  It should be slightly tarter and saltier than you want it – once it’s on the lentils it will be perfect.

Prep the wild garlic leaves: give them a really good wash, then shred into thinnish ribbons.  Wash the flowers and pick them from the stalks.

When the lentils are done fish out all the bits of veg, herbs and bay.  Drain and pour back into the saucepan.  Pour over the dressing (you might not need all of it – add half and see how you get on) and add in the parsley.  Give it a good stir and taste.

Once you’re happy with the seasoning, gently fork in the shredded garlic greens.

Pile into bowls and dress with the wild garlic flowers.

French lentils again

porridge with walnuts and caramelised banana

Serves 1
Prep time: 10 minutes

Banana porridge main pic

You asked me if I’d do more breakfast ideas, so here we are.  Porridge topped with lovely stuff: a classic.  Agave caramelises beautifully in the pan to make little crunchy bits round the edge of your banana.  This is the kind of breakfast that will set you up for absolutely anything you want to do with your day, from scaling the Eiger to reading the paper cover to cover and working yourself into an rage about the Tories / Liberals / Libyans / hair on the head of Chris from Coldplay.

Banana porridge again

Ingredients
Porridge oats, 30g
Non-dairy milk, 110ml
Salt
One banana, peeled and sliced in half lengthwise
Knob of vegan margarine
Walnut pieces, one handful
Agave nectar, to taste

Combine the oats, milk and salt in a medium saucepan and heat gently, stirring occasionally.  When it comes to a boil turn the heat to low and continue to stir occasionally as the porridge takes form.

Meanwhile, in a smallish frying pan toast your walnuts over a lowish heat until browned and fragrant.  Set aside.

In the same pan add a knob of vegan margarine and the two sides of banana, curved side down.  Fry over a medium heat for 3-4 minutes.  Flip the bananas onto the flat side, adding more margarine if the pan looks dry.  Drizzle a long line of agave down the back of each banana piece.  The agave will melt down the sides of the banana, mix with the melted butter and begin to caramelise.

After another 2-3 minutes the banana will be ready, and so, hopefully, will the porridge.  Take both off the heat.  You will probably want to add a few tsps of agave to the porridge itself too, to taste.

Pour your porridge into your breakfast bowl and top with the banana and toasted walnuts.

amazing seitan burgers

Makes 6 burgers
Prep time: 45 minutes

Seitan burger main picVeg*ns everywhere: if you ever had one of those shameful dreams about eating a greasy meat cheeseburger, and woke up feeling all dirty and wrong, then this recipe will ensure you never have to go there again.  They’re healthy, they’re chewy, the texture’s spot on, they’re amazingly tasty, and they’re animal-free to boot.  Hurrah!

I know that burger taste preference among veg*ns is an intensely personal thing.  It can become a bit of a sensitive area: I’ve seen several debates online where vegans have taken issue with the idea that veggie burgers should be judged by how well they resemble their meaty counterparts.  I get the politics of it, really I do.  Which is why I haven’t called this a veggie burger.  It’s not a veggie burger.  It’s a seitan burger.

(Incidentally, my personal favourite veggie burger is this one, by Angela Liddon at Oh She Glows.  It’s bloody lovely!)

I had the idea for these burgers when I made merguez sausages the other week, using the technique made famous by Isa Chandra Moskowitz, which is to roll pieces of seitan into tinfoil and steam them – the seitan expands in the heat and forms a satisfyingly uniform sausage shape.  I wondered if you could do the same kind of thing with patty shapes, to make similarly toothsome burgers.  Well, it turns out you can.

The technique is this: form your burgers, sandwich them between two baking trays lined with tinfoil, then bake in the oven.  When they emerge they are ready to be finished off however you prefer.  Frying or griddling works brilliantly.  I can’t wait to try them on the barbecue!

Seitan burger with accompaniments

How do you eat yours? With vegan cheese, ketchup, mayo, lettuce, red onion and avocado

The basic recipe is a complete rip-off of Isa‘s but I altered the flavourings to get that tinny, iron-rich taste.  You could change it however you wanted, adding harissa or chipotle for example, as long as you keep the basic ratio of dry and wet (don’t omit the oil though, unless you want your burgers tinfoil-plated).

The great thing about this recipe is that you get to control the thickness of the burgers, depending how heavy the topmost baking tray is.  The seitan has got so much body that, if you want, you can easily achieve ultra-thin patties that closely resemble those you can buy in certain popular fast food burger outlets that shall remain nameless 😉 without the slightest risk of them falling apart.

So, without further ado, here is my technique for amazing seitan burgers.  Just in time for summer too.

Seitan burger, side view

Amazing Seitan Burgers

Ingredients
Vital wheat gluten, 1 1/4 cups
Nutritional yeast, 1/4 cup
Vegetable stock, 1 cup
White beans such as cannellini, 1/2 cup
Tomato ketchup, 1 tbsp
Olive oil, 2 tbsp, plus extra for frying
Soy sauce, 2 tbsp
Capers, 1 heaped tbsp, finely chopped
Garlic, one large clove, crushed
Herbes de Provence, 1 tsp
Smoked paprika, 1/2 tsp
Black pepper

Preheat the oven to 200C.

Get out two big bowls.  Tip the beans into one bowl and mash with a fork until no whole ones are left.  Add the vegetable stock, ketchup, 2 tbsp of olive oil, soy sauce, capers and garlic.  Stir to combine.

Into the other bowl tip the vital wheat gluten, nutritional yeast, dried herbs, paprika and pepper.  Stir to combine.

Pour the wet into the dry and give it a good stir, then a good knead, for 1-2 minutes.  The dough will be quite wet and loose.

Tip onto a chopping board and cut in half, then cut each half into thirds, so you have six equal pieces.

Take your first baking tray and lay a sheet of tinfoil on it.  Take a piece of seitan and roll it into a ball.  Lay it on the tinfoil and squash it slightly – remember that it will flatten and expand considerably during cooking, so don’t overdo it, especially if you’re going to be using something heavy on top.

Do the same for another two pieces, so you have three on the tray with plenty of space between them.  Don’t be tempted to crowd more on otherwise they will all join up during cooking and you will end up with one big rectangular burger.

Lay another piece of tinfoil over the burgers, then gently lay your second baking tray on top.  If you want thin burgers, use something cast iron.  If you want thicker ones then use a light aluminium tray or sheet.

If you have a million baking trays hanging around your kitchen you may be able to bake all six at the same time.  Personally I only own two baking trays, so I cooked mine in two batches.  You could try adding a second layer of burgers on top of tray two, so you’d only need one extra tray, but bear in mind that it all adds to the weight and you may get thinner burgers on the bottom layer than you bargained for.

Gently slide your tray sandwich into the oven and bake for 20 minutes.  When the burgers emerge they may have stuck to the tinfoil – that’s fine, just wait until they’ve cooled a bit and they should come away smoothly.

You can freeze these as they are, or you can get on with finishing them off in your chosen fashion – I used a cast iron griddle as you can see from the pics.

All you need to do is fry them in a small amount of olive oil over a medium heat for 3-4 minutes each side, until crispy and totally gorgeous.  This will give you the exact texture you are looking for, I promise.

Serve in a fluffy bun with all your favourite accompaniments.

Seitan burger, bitten

24 hours on raw

Figs and Coconut Cashew Cream

This week I decided to have one day of all-raw eating.  The decision was made on Monday which, being a British Bank Holiday, was also a hangover day.  I decided to make Tuesday, my first day back at work after the hols, a raw one.

Perhaps that was where I went wrong.

Not that the food wasn’t a success – everything I ate, I really enjoyed – but the day itself was a difficult one.  Emerging from alcohol abuse into the world of work (and one very difficult meeting) would have been challenging at any time, so in hindsight the added strangeness of the diet change was probably what tipped the whole thing over into the realm of the rather unpleasant.

I think I wasn’t prepared for how different I’d feel.  I spent the whole day wandering in a strange hinterland between empty and full.  Why is that?  I don’t quite understand it.  I had plenty of energy, I ate until I didn’t want any more, but there was never any bellyful feeling.  Very odd.  Perhaps that’s where the liberation of raw food lies – freedom from the up-and-down cycle of so-called ‘food addiction’.  Ho hum.  I am obviously a long way from even admitting I have a problem with food.  I really missed the feeling of fullness.  But I could see how, with time, it might become one of those things you used to love, and then don’t miss any more, and eventually dislike actively, like the taste of butter to a vegan.

Something I did enjoy, though, was the feeling of ultra-health – not just the goody-goody smugness of the borderline orthorexic, but the understanding that actually, my body really wanted all this good stuff.  I could feel it in my marrow, you know?  My raddled old corpus was crying out in welcome.  So the food itself was easy – a big green smoothie for breakfast (not a million miles from what I have most mornings anyway), an enormous mixed salad lunch with olives and lemon oil, and for dinner, raw houmous with delicious crackers.  Not to mention generous amounts of chocolatey things whenever the need arose.  No, in terms of the food itself, I had a great time.

I tell you what I did miss though – tea.  Hot, sweet, milky tea.  I did allow myself green tea but it ain’t the same! – especially first thing in the morning.

More figs

I think one of the main areas where I went wrong is not eating lunch until nearly 3pm.  That wasn’t by choice – the difficult meeting ran over – and it took ages to get back to the office.  I wasn’t hungry by that point, having obviously passed over into fasting mode, so that was probably why, by the time I got home and fed the kids, I experienced a major energy crash.  This manifested itself in an overwhelming need to lie on the sofa hugging myself and moping about every aspect of my life.  This is not normal behaviour for me!  The old PMA rarely lets me down.  I felt better the next morning, tea in hand.  Call it emotional detox or call it a normal response to drastic calorie restriction.  Who knows, really.

So I can probably point to lots of areas where I went wrong – choosing the wrong day, eating lunch too late.  That night I sat scoffing figs with Coconut Cashew Cream (not completely raw but hey, I’d earned a little wiggle room), mulling the day over and struggling to think of an area where I saw real improvement.  And suddenly, I realised that for the first time in about two months my chronic toothache wasn’t hurting.  Wow!  The toothache that had kept me awake at night and downing paracetamol daily had completely disappeared.  That was a definite result.

Apart from my dazzlingly painless teeth the rest of me felt utterly ruined, and I crawled to bed at about half past nine.  The next day turned into a bit of a carb fest, I’m sorry to say, with vegan Nutella porridge and hourly cuppas.  But as I reached for the painkillers at about 3pm, I found myself thinking about raw food again.

I am not one for dieting extremes, but I think there’s a place for raw food in my life.  Like a lot of vegans I am probably about 30-40 per cent raw most days anyway.  There’s definitely room for upping it a bit more, especially with summer coming.  If I did the old ‘Raw Til 4‘ I could possibly get as high as 70-80 per cent, while still enjoying my beloved bread and pasta.  Let’s give it a go anyway, and see what happens.

And as for my lovely, steaming hot morning cuppa… I wonder if I could make something half-decent with Xylitol and Coconut Cashew Cream?  Or is raw tea a total oxymoron?

What I ate

Breakfast: Green smoothie with 2 bananas, 1 apple, handful of kale, 1 tbsp of linseed, pinch of stevia
Lunch: Salad with rocket, grapes, olives, pecans, almonds, carrot chunks and lemon/extra virgin olive oil dressing
Dinner: Raw carrot houmous (recipe below) with extravagant shop-bought flax crackers, two figs with Coconut Cashew Cream
Snacks: Handful of raw chocolate covered goji berries, one nakd bar
Drinks: Green tea, lots of water

Raw carrot houmous

 

Raw Carrot Houmous

Not the smoothest houmous in the world, but a nice balance of sweet and salty.  VG indeed with flax crackers.

Ingredients
Two carrots
One clove of garlic
Juice of 1/2 orange
Tahini, 2 tbsp
Salt
Extra virgin olive oil, 3-4 tbsps

Process the carrots as smoothly as you can (slicing them finely first might be kinder to your food processor).  Add the garlic, orange juice, tahini and salt.  Pour in the oil in a steady stream while processing, until you get a nice houmousy consistency.

merguez sausage

Makes 4 sausages
Prep time: 50 minutes

Merguez sausages

A combination of two brilliant people’s ideas, neither of them my own.  Homage to Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall.

This vegan merguez-style sausage is so damn tasty and can be eaten in any of a million ways.  Yummy straight from the steamer, even better sliced into chunks and fried.

Merguez sausages end view

Spice mix (adapted from River Cottage Veg Every Day):
Cumin seeds, 1/2 tsp
Fennel seeds, 1/2 tsp
Coriander seeds, 1/2 tsp
Caraway seeds, 1/2 tsp
Black peppercorns, 1/4 tsp
Chili powder, 1/8 tsp
Smoked paprika, 1/2 tsp

Sausages (adapted from Post Punk Kitchen):
Chickpeas, 1/2 cup
Vital wheat gluten, 1 1/4 cups
Nutritional yeast, 1/4 cup
Cold vegetable stock, 1 cup
Sun dried tomato paste, 1 tbsp
Soy sauce, 2 tbsp
Olive oil, 2 tbsp
Harissa paste, 1 tbsp
Garlic, one clove, crushed
Fresh rosemary, one sprig, leaves picked and finely chopped

First, toast the spice seeds (cumin, fennel, coriander, caraway, peppercorns) in a dry frying pan over a medium heat until they begin to pop and smell toasty.  Tip them into a pestle and mortar and grind to a powder.

Get two largeish bowls out.  In one tip the chickpeas, then crush with a fork until no whole ones are left.  Then add the stock, tomato paste, soy sauce, oil, harissa and garlic, stirring to combine.

In the other bowl combine the gluten, nutritional yeast, rosemary, paprika, chili powder and the spice mixture.

Pour the wet into the dry and give it a good stir, then a good knead, for 1-2 minutes.  Tip onto a chopping board and cut into equal quarters.

Tear off four pieces of tinfoil.  Take one quarter of the mixture and lay it on a piece of tinfoil, shaped into a rough sausage shape (it doesn’t have to be perfect, as they’ll snap into shape as you steam them).  Roll it up in the foil and twist both ends to secure.  Repeat with the other three pieces.

Steam for 40 minutes.  And that’s it!

saag aloo pie

Serves 12
Prep time: 90 minutes

Saag aloo pie main

This is a technique for a really easy tray-baked pie, if you ever have a lot of people to feed at once.  The technique is basically this: cheat with shop-bought pastry.  Buy two sheets of ready rolled shortcrust, roll the bottom one out slightly bigger than the other, pile your filling on, then lay the other sheet over the top and crimp the edges.  It looks really neat and is a good shape for slicing into twelfths (or greedy eighths).  I made it for friends last weekend and they scoffed the lot.

I’m sure there are loads of easy pie fillings you could do that would take no time to throw together.  I wanted to do something slightly fussier with this one, and I had the idea of making a big vat of saag aloo.  I always order saag aloo (curried spinach and potato) at the Indian, I blinking love the stuff.

It has a certain amount of oil in it, which offsets the healthiness of the dish but adds so much to the flavour that, personally, I wouldn’t consider skimping: honestly, it doesn’t taste oily, just unctuous and lush.

Saag aloo pie tray pic
Ingredients
500g spinach, thoroughly washed and drained
650g potatoes, peeled, chopped into 1 inch pieces, parboiled for 5 minutes
Two medium onions, peeled and thinly sliced
One 1-inch piece of ginger, grated
Two garlic cloves, crushed
One green chilli, finely chopped
Vegetable oil, 50ml
Mustard seeds, 1 tsp
Chilli powder, 1 tsp
Cumin seeds, 1 tsp
Turmeric, 1/2 tsp
Fenugreek, 1/2 tsp
Three cardamom pods, bashed
Salt, 1 tsp or so
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Three tomatoes, seeds removed, flesh chopped
Ready rolled shortcrust pastry, two sheets (roughly 375g each) – look at the packet instructions, you may need to take them out of the fridge / packaging for an hour before use
Soy milk, to glaze

Heat the oil in a very large saucepan and fry the onion over a medium heat for about five minutes until softened.  Add the dry spices (chili powder, mustard seeds, cumin seeds, turmeric, fenugreek and cardamom) and fry for two minutes, being careful not to burn the spices.  Add the garlic, ginger and fresh chilli and fry for two minutes.

Add the parboiled potatoes, giving them a good stir so they are completely covered in spicy oil.  Fry for about ten minutes, stirring every now and again, until the potatoes are almost cooked.

Now add the spinach, one large handful at a time, waiting until it wilts down before adding the next.  Once it is all wilted down add the tomatoes, lemon juice and salt.

Cook with the lid off for 15-25 minutes until the potatoes are cooked and the spinach is well thickened.  The mixture should be moist but not too wet.  Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary – if you find it slightly too sour for your tastes, a few pinches of brown sugar will balance it out.

When the curry is ready let it cool a little before filling the pie.

Preheat the oven to 200C.  Lay the first sheet of pastry on your work surface (on top of a sheet of greaseproof paper, if there is not one already in the packet) and roll it out to make it slightly bigger.

Lay the pastry on a baking sheet and pile the filling on top, leaving a 1.5 inch border all the way round.

Lay the second sheet of pastry on your work surface and roll it very slightly to smooth the surface and remove any creases.  Then lay the second sheet on top of your pie.

Crimp all the way around (the easiest way is to fold the lower sheet over the upper one, then press along it with your thumb).  Poke a few steam holes in the top.  Glaze with soy milk.

Bake in the oven for around 30-35 minutes until golden brown.

 

my vegan junk food top ten

Redwood Pepperjack Cheezly Bites

This is a piggy-wiggy post.  I love eating healthily as much as the next vegan but sometimes, often towards the end of a long working week, I find I’m hanging out for a fix of something dirty.  I want salt, fat and an MSG-enhanced taste experience, dipped in vegan mayo and washed down with Coke.

There is a place in my world for junk food. Not every day, of course: but is it just me or does a vegan diet seem to give you a bit more wiggle-room to enjoy the occasional trashy treat?   I seem to be able to put away more crisps and chips these days, while still fitting into my skinny jeans, than I used to when there were animal products in my diet.

I haven’t seen many recommendations for UK-based vegan junk on the internet so I thought I would draw up my own personal list.  It wasn’t an easy task – I ended up having to discard some long-held favourites (Swedish Glace ice cream…!) but what’s left is a collection of truly delicious dirty foods to be enjoyed sparingly but without guilt of any kind.

1 Redwood Pepperjack Cheezly Bites
My personal number-one all-time fave.  I hardly ever find these in the shops, which is probably a good thing, otherwise I’d be the size of a planet.  I could never be rational about cheese fried in breadcrumbs.  This vegan version tastes exceptionally convincing, with a nice bit of chilli heat too.  I love them so much…  <sob>

linda mccartney country pies

2 Linda McCartney Country Pies
An old favourite.  Just the thing with cabbage and mash

3 Co-op jam doughnuts
The day I heard Co-op doughnuts were animal-free was the day I knew I would be a happy vegan for the rest of my life.  Some say the custard ones are vegan too, although I saw a recent Co-op vegan foods list that didn’t include them.  Stay safe, stay jammy, I say

Tofutti slices

4 Tofutti slices
More of a junk food accessory, really.  Lay them on top of your favourite veggie burger (or tofu fritter) for the full fast-food experience

Antony Worrall Thompson hazelnut and cocoa spread

5 Antony Worrall Thompson Hazelnut and Cocoa Spread
Vegan Nutella.  Enough said

6 Veg.out Porkless Pie
You can get these in Holland and Barrett: a savoury lump of wheat gluten in cold-water pastry.  I find them oddly satisfying

Redwood hot dogs

7 Redwood hot dogs
The kids can’t tell the difference between these and meaty versions.  They go brilliantly with all things lentilly, like this for example, as well as in a bun with onions and mustard, of course

8 Bourbon biscuits
I have developed a bit of an obsession with these lately.  Make sure you check the label as some have milk added.  Dunked in hot tea, there’s nothing quite like them.  Also make a gorgeous crust for pies or cheesecakes, like this one here

Sainsbury's Basics chicken noodles

9 Sainsbury’s Basics Chicken Noodles
I have raved about these before.  You can use them to make the most amazing chickenless noodle soup.  Scandalously, Sainsbury’s have just raised the price of them – to 15p a packet

Jus-Rol garlic pizza bread

10 Jus-Rol garlic pizza bread
Did someone suggest that we vegans should make our own garlic bread?  It’s a fine idea in theory but let’s face it, on wet Wednesday evenings it’s not very likely to happen.  I have often wished it were easier to find vegan ready-made garlic bread.  Luckily Jus-Rol have lately come to my rescue.  Good alongside quick weeknight soups like this one.

What are your favourite vegan junk foods?  Do tell!

roast vegetable soup with shoyu and basil

Serves 4
Prep time: 40 minutes, mostly idle

Roast veg soup

A supper so easy it almost doesn’t count as cooking.  All those bits of slightly past it veg that are loitering in the bottom of the fridge are destined to be roughly chopped, tossed with olive oil, roasted until browned and beautiful, then blitzed with hot stock.

If you use lots of sweet roots, like I did, you will want something salty to balance it out.  A few drips of shoyu set it off perfectly, along with some ripped basil for extra zing.

Ingredients (this is what I used; but you can use whatever veg you happen to have lying round)
Three carrots
One onion
One courgette
One green pepper
One sweet potato
One head of garlic
Vegan bouillon powder, 1-2tsp
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
To garnish: shoyu, fresh basil leaves

Heat the oven to 220C.  Roughly chop all the veg (peel the sweet potato – don’t bother with the carrots).  Chop the garlic head in half widthways.  Toss everything with olive oil, salt and pepper, and spread on a large baking tray.  Roast for at least 30 minutes, tossing the veg once or twice during that time, until everything is soft and well cooked.

When the veg is done tip it into a blender (squeezing the garlic cloves from the papery outsides) and whizz it up with some stock made from hot water and bouillon.  Use your judgement, adding half a cupful of stock at a time, until you have the texture you want.

Taste and adjust seasoning.  If you are garnishing with shoyu then don’t over-salt the soup.

Divide into four bowls, rip basil, drip shoyu, and serve.

the great vegan cream tea test (plus an excellent recipe for scones)

Cream tea main pic
For a while now I’ve been mulling over the question of the vegan cream tea.  What in the world could possibly substitute for Cornish clotted cream?  Not much, it seems.

Previously I had been avoiding the whole issue and eating my scones with just jam, but it wasn’t the same.  Scones with just jam aren’t that wonderful.  There had to be something that would lift the experience to something closer to the one I remember so fondly from childhood: digging into the little pot of rich yellow cream, the dilemmas over whether to smear the jam layer first or second, and finally the bellyache and associated regret, which never lasted that long before I was pining for another one.

Scones are more or less the planet’s most easily veganisable recipe (see below) so I was already halfway there.  I just needed something that would hit that same rich, yellow-white note.

So, armed with my new shabby tea set and cross-stitched tablecloth (all courtesy of a charity shop in Ponty) I was ready to strike out on a series of experiments that became known in our house as The Great Vegan Cream Tea Test.

I knew immediately that there would be no commercial vegan creams in this exercise.  They would only disappoint.  Eventually I decided on three candidates for extensive taste-testing: traditional vanilla buttercream, whipped coconut cream, and vegan vanilla ice cream.  Here is our verdict on each:

1.    Vanilla buttercream (see recipe below): the children’s favourite, and hubby’s too.  I am a buttercream lover, and I do not share bowl-licking whenever making up a batch for cupcakes.  However, I am not convinced it is quite right in a cream tea.  It is just too sweet for my tastes.  But saying that, I was in a minority of one with that view.  If you like sweet stuff (and let’s face it, who doesn’t love buttercream?) then this could be just the thing.

2.    Whipped coconut cream (again, see recipe below): Coconut cream, whipped with a couple of tablespoons of icing sugar, made a dreamy tasting topping that I just loved (‘Too boring,’ said my older daughter dismissively.  Um, I think you’ll find that’s ‘subtle’, I corrected).  This would have won for me hands down, except for the problem of the texture.  Coconut cream is as light as foam and melts away in your mouth.  It needed to be more substantial.  So, experimentally I blitzed it with a cup of soaked cashews and put it in the fridge for a couple of hours.  What emerged was rich, silky coconut cream with a delicate flavour and a thick, generous texture just like clotted cream.  I was in heaven.

3.    Vanilla ice cream (we used Swedish Glace): a slightly novel choice, but you know what?  It had a certain something!  Again very sweet, and the flavour of the ice cream tended to overpower everything else, but still – on a hot day when you can’t be bothered to whip something up from scratch, I would happily have this again with my pot of Earl Grey.  And it looked brilliant – colour and texture spot on – that is, until it started to melt.  Eating quickly isn’t much of a hardship.

So, there we have it.  My personal favourite was the coconut cashew, but I encourage you to try for yourself and see what you think.  If you have any other ideas for suitable creams, let me know!

Scones

Oven scones (adapted from the Good Housekeeping Cookery Book)

Makes 8-10
Prep time: 20 minutes

These scones are lovely and light, and take very little time to throw together.  They won’t keep for more than a day or two so eat while fresh.

Ingredients
Self raising flour, 225g
Salt, 1/2 tsp
Baking powder, 1 level tsp
Vegan margarine, 50g
Vegan milk, 150g

Preheat the oven to 230C and put a baking sheet in to warm.  Sift the flour, salt and baking powder into a large bowl, then rub in the margarine until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.

Make a well in the centre and stir in enough milk to form a fairly soft dough.  Turn out on to a lightly floured surface, knead very lightly if necessary to remove any cracks, then roll out lightly until about 2cm thick, or pat it out by hand.

Cut into 8-10 rounds with a 5cm cutter (dipped in flour) then place on the baking sheet and brush with milk.  Bake towards the top of the oven at 230C for 8-10 minutes, until golden brown and well risen.

Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Cream tea with buttercream

Vanilla buttercream (adapted from the Good Housekeeping Cookery Book)

Prep time: 5 minutes plus, ideally, a few hours’ fridge time

Ingredients
Vegan margarine, 75g
Icing sugar, 175g
Seeds of half a vanilla bean

In a large bowl beat the margarine until soft, then add the icing sugar bit by bit while beating all the time.  Add in the vanilla bean seeds.  Refrigerate until ready to use (it will get slightly harder in the fridge).

 

Coconut cashew cream

Prep time: 5 minutes plus a good few hours in the fridge

Ingredients
Coconut milk, one 400g tin, stored in the fridge
Cashews, one cup, soaked for 3-8 hours, drained and rinsed
Seeds of half a vanilla bean
Icing sugar, 2 heaped tbsp

Open the tin of coconut milk carefully.  It will have split into solids and clear water.  Let the water drain off until just solids remain, then scrape them into a food processor or high speed blender.  Add the vanilla, sugar and cashews.  Blitz for as long as it takes to get a smooth texture, then refrigerate until ready to use (at least four hours, ideally overnight).

red onion and rosemary bread (with the most perfect olive oil in the world)

Makes one large loaf
Prep time: 2 hours 15 minutes, including proving time

Red onion and rosemary bread, main pic

My mum and stepdad are lucky enough to live on a Greek island.  A few weeks ago the girls and I went out for a visit and, while we were there, we went to see a good family friend, Ady, on his land where he is building a home (and erecting an impressive totem pole) among about fifty olive trees.

When we left he and Caroline, his missus, gave me a whole litre of their oil.  Extra virgin, first pressed, organic olive oil from the actual trees that we had just been sitting under.  I mean, wow.  How Observer Food Monthly is that?  My middle-class, back-to-the-earth sensibilities burst their banks and ran everywhere.  It was an incredibly generous gift, especially considering they only had 30 litres in that year’s whole harvest.

Ady plus totem, plus trees

Ady with his mightily impressive totem, made by his own hands

So this beautiful, translucent litre of green-gold perfection has been sitting on my kitchen worktop ever since, still in the same plastic pop bottle I transported it home in.  And the trouble is I have been revering it too much to actually do anything with it.  One precious litre.  I don’t want to waste it on salads or pasta – the very thought!  I want to save it for something really special.

In the meantime there it sits, while I gaze at it in quiet awe and my husband walks past sniggering that it looks like a bottle of wee.

Anyway, earlier this week I decided things were getting a bit ridiculous.  I could only see one way out of the impasse, and that was to bake bread.

This is what I made – red onion and rosemary bread.  Hubby and I ate almost the whole loaf while it was still warm, dunking it chunk by chunk into sublimely flavourful olive oil until it ran down our chins.

Here is the recipe.  Eat it with the best oil you can find – and no, you’re not having any of mine.

Ingredients

Strong white bread flour, 500g
Warm water, 350ml
Dried yeast, 2 tsp
Sugar, 1 tsp
Salt, 1 tsp
Olive oil, 3 tbsp
Two medium red onions, finely sliced
Salted water, 3-4 tbsp
Fresh rosemary, 3-4 sprigs, leaves picked and roughly chopped
Good quality extra virgin olive oil, for dunking

Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a frying pan and gently fry the onion for 15 minutes, over a medium-low heat, stirring occasionally.  In the last five minutes add the rosemary too.  Season with salt and pepper, take off the heat and allow to cool.

Pour the warm water into a large bowl, add the yeast and sugar and stir briefly.  Put aside for about five minutes until the yeast is activated and bubbles start to collect on the surface.  With your fingers stir in the flour, salt and onion/rosemary mixture, with as much of the oil from the frying pan as you can scrape off, until it all comes together into a sticky dough.

Knead the dough for a good ten minutes until smooth and elastic.  Form it into a ball.  Pour about 1 tbsp of oil into your hand, rub it all over both palms and then rub it all over the dough ball.  Put the ball into a clean bowl, cover with a tea towel, and leave in a warm place to rise for one hour.

After an hour punch the dough down, then form it into a loaf using your favourite method (I like to form it into a flattish square, then fold it into thirds and tuck the ends underneath).  Place it on a baking tray, re-cover with the teatowel, and leave to rise for a further 15 minutes.

In the meantime get the oven heated up to 220C.

After 15 minutes remove the teatowel and brush the surface of the loaf with salted water.  Dust a bit of flour over it and make two or three slits on the top.

Bake at 220C for eight minutes, then reduce the heat to 170C and bake for a further 35 minutes.  The bottom of the loaf should sound hollow when tapped.

Serve warm, with a little pot of extra virgin for dunking.

Red onion and rosemary bread, cut

fielsted

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