Vegan honey from apple juice?

This post is part of VeganMoFo 2019, a month-long celebration of vegan food. This week’s theme is travel, and today’s prompt is a dish that transports you back to a vacation.

Many vegans feel guilt about their pre-vegan days, particularly when in comes to treasured memories that are decidedly non-vegan. My advice? Be kind to yourself: you were brought up in a society that normalises the consumption of animal products, and you didn’t know then what you know now.

Seven and a half years ago, Clare and I went on holiday to Center Parcs with Clare’s dad. After a morning swim and an afternoon of archery, Clare’s dad wanted to relax in the lodge, so Clare and I went swimming again on our own. Afterwards I suggested we try Ortega, the tapas restaurant in the Center Parcs village. I made three discoveries that night: that not drinking alcohol doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy cocktails (virgin piña colada for me and Spanish sunset for Clare); that sweet and savoury can work together (honey and cheese croquettes); and that having a meal with your girlfriend in a dimly-lit and otherwise empty restaurant, followed by a lakeside walk under lamplight, is incredibly romantic.

Seven and a half years later, we’re married and vegan. This evening Clare returned from a long weekend camping with the Guides, and I welcomed her home by restaging that meal. But what could I do about the honey and cheese croquettes? Fortunately Marks & Spencer have ‘not-zzarella sticks’ in their Plant Kitchen range, so I just had to make the honey.

honey

Search for vegan honey recipes and you’ll find dozens of variants on the same theme: combine two parts apple juice with one part sugar and boil down to half the original volume. I used golden syrup for the sugar. The result had a pleasing colour but still tasted strongly of apple juice. It worked well with the not-zzarella sticks, but no-one is going to be fooled into thinking it’s honey. The romantic meal, though? Just perfect.

 

French onion soup (recipe)

This post is part of VeganMoFo 2019, a month-long celebration of vegan food. This week’s theme is travel, and today’s prompt is favourite international dish.

I’m not usually keen on onion-centric food: onion rings have too strong a flavour for me, and I don’t like the crunch of lightly-cooked onions when they’re part of a larger dish. However, at my company’s annual conference last year the vegan option was French onion soup, and to my surprise I enjoyed it.

This is proper slow food: I put on the deluxe edition of London Grammar’s Truth Is A Beautiful Thing as I started, and I was still cooking when the album finished an hour and twenty minutes later. The long cooking time makes the onions soft and silky, and mellows their flavour.

soup

Ingredients (per person)

2 onions
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ teaspoon brown sugar
200ml vegetable stock (or water)
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
¼ lemon
¼ teaspoon salt
Several pinches of black pepper

Method

Finely slice the onions and garlic.

Heat the oil in a saucepan and add the onions, garlic, and a tablespoon of water.

Cook over a low heat, stirring every few minutes, until the onions start to brown. This may take up to an hour. If the onions start to stick to the pan, add a little water.

Once the onions have started to brown, stir in the sugar and add the stock (or water) and vinegar.

Bring to the boil and then simmer for fifteen minutes. Season with the juice from the lemon, salt, and pepper.

Serve with slices of crusty French bread.

 

Gram and vegan cheese shortbread (recipe)

This post is part of VeganMoFo 2019, a month-long celebration of vegan food. This week’s theme is travel, and today’s prompt is road trip snack.

These gram and vegan cheese shortbread rounds may be small, but they pack in a lot of flavour. Fill a mini lunch box with them for a delicious snack that’s robust enough to survive being thrown around in your travel bags.

This recipe is adapted from a non-vegan original in Rose Prince’s The New English Kitchen. The keys to success are using a firm vegan butter (I used Naturli Organic Vegan Block) and the strongest vegan cheese you can find (I used Daiya Medium Cheddar Style Farmhouse Block).

lunchbox

Ingredients (makes 12)

60g gram flour
50g vegan cheese, grated
40g vegan butter, cut into cubes
¼ teaspoon salt
Several pinches of ground pepper

Method

Preheat the oven to 180℃.

Put all the ingredients in a food processor and process until they start to combine.

processor

Tip out onto a clean surface and knead for a few seconds until the mixture has an even consistency.

Roll into a cylinder about 3cm in diameter, and then cut into rounds about 1cm thick. Use a sharp knife and rotate the cylinder a quarter turn after each cut to avoid squashing it.

before-baking

Put the rounds onto a baking tray and bake for 15 minutes. The edges should start to turn a golden brown colour. Leave to cool.

after-baking

Vegan Mofo 2019: Winter warmer

Hot chocolate is the perfect end to a winter’s day. Or indeed, any other day throughout the year, which is why Clare and I have 36 cartons of oat milk in the pantry. It was hot chocolate at the Exploding Bakery in Exeter that introduced us to oat milk (first Oatly, and then Minor Figures), and having tried every vegan milk around we’re still convinced that oat milk makes the creamiest hot chocolate.

This is my hot chocolate recipe: a grown-up hot chocolate, dark and strong.

hot-chocolate

Ingredients (serves 2)

1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp raw cocoa powder (if using processed cocoa powder, increase the sugar to 2 tbsp)
15g dark chocolate (I use three squares of Green & Blacks 70%)
400ml (2 mugs) oat milk (I use Minor Figures)

Method

Put everything in a saucepan over a high heat and whisk steadily until the chocolate melts. Pour into mugs.

 

Review: Deliciously Ella (London)

When we discovered our one-day trip to London was going to last another three days, Clare headed back down to Torquay to grab some clothes and arrange for the pets to be looked after, leaving me to explore London by myself. Not enjoying crowds or noise, I took a long walk around Hyde Park before heading off along the minor roads in the vague direction of Crosstown Doughnuts.

On the corner of Weighhouse Street and Binney Street I discovered Deliciously Ella, and several hours later I returned, clutching a bag of Lush bath bombs, for a late lunch. You order at the counter and then sit around a communal wooden table where the native Londoners try to avoid making eye contact.

deliciously-ella

This is the sweet potato, chickpea, and pumpkin curry (£8.95), which is served with brown rice and optional coconut chips and chilli flakes; I turned down the chilli. It’s a wholesome and delicately flavoured dish, which unfortunately suffers from having too high a rice-to-curry ratio. In the corner of the photo is the organic chocolate cashew blend, which was pricey (£6.95 for 500ml) but wonderfully rich. For a cheaper drink, Belu water is available from a fountain in exchange for a donation to WaterAid.

While not that special for an (impromptu) holiday meal, I can imagine Deliciously Ella being a great option for those who work nearby and want good quality food without a wait.

Review: Li’l Mama’s Vegan Kitchen (Paignton)

When Paignton-based Li’l Mama’s Vegan Kitchen became available through Just Eat last October, many reviewers complained of long delivery times. Attributing this to the initial stampede that greets every vegan launch, we decided to wait a few months.

We placed our order at 5:20pm on Wednesday evening, and were given an estimated delivery time of 6:20pm. With no sign of our order by 7:00pm, we called and were told the delivery driver was outside but couldn’t find our flat, so Clare went out to find him.

When we unpacked our order we found the vegan mac and cheese was missing. Fifteen minutes later they realised their mistake, and called to offer us a refund on that item.

So what about the food we did receive?

kate

I had the Vegan Mince Lasagne (£12), which was a big contrast to the Plant Kitchen lasagne from earlier this month. The cashew cheese and marinara sauce was thick and creamy, and the pasta and mince were dense and chewy. It was easily the best lasagne I’ve ever had. It came with a side of herb-roasted baby potatoes, which were cooked until just tender, although a little bit salty for my taste.

clare

Clare had the Fully Loaded Vegan Kebab (£8). She thought the seitan was perfectly spiced, tasting just like the real thing, the coleslaw and salad worked well, and the flatbread was fluffy and soft.

Our experience ordering from Li’l Mama’s Vegan Kitchen epitomises the phrase ‘good things come to those who wait’: amazing food, but not a good choice if you’re hungry and used to takeaways arriving in under an hour.

Update (7th March 2019): This evening we gave Li’l Mama’s Vegan Kitchen another go. We placed our order at 5:30pm and were given an estimated delivery time of 7:05pm. The food finally arrived at 7:55pm.

The lasagne and kebab were as good as before, but the herb-roasted potatoes were lacking in herbs. This time the Mac & Cheese (£3) wasn’t forgotten, but in contrast to the lasagne it was very bland, with an almost flavourless sauce.

pasta

Two and a half hours is too long to wait for a takeaway. We won’t be ordering again.

A Riverford recipe (Vegan Mofo 2018)

Today’s Vegan Mofo theme is food inspired by the “leader of a country, place, or group”. That sounds a little nationalistic to me, and after the Aung San Suu Kyi affair I’m struggling to see much inspiring in our current batch of national leaders (although I’m cautiously optimistic about Jacinda Ardern). So I’m going to write about a different kind of leader, and one more obviously connected to food: Guy Singh-Watson of Riverford.

Guy converted his family farm here in Devon over to organic framing in the 1980s, and started delivering vegetable boxes to friends and family. Thirty years later Riverford delivers almost 50,000 veg boxes each week all over the UK. For many companies that kind of expansion would lead to a creeping managerialism and inoffensive polished marketing, but Guy has keep Riverford true to its principles and a little rough around the edges. Each weekly veg box comes with a little newsletter containing recipes, ideas, and — most importantly — Guy’s News. Guys writes on topics ranging from local problems on the farm to big global issues such as pesticide use and climate change, and he isn’t afraid to share his strong opinions. It’s not just talk either: long before Blue Planet II brought the issue of single-use plastics into the British public consciousness, Riverford commissioned the University Of Exeter to investigate the sustainability of Riverford’s packaging.

The most significant development in Riverford’s history happened on 8th June this year. After years of ignoring offers from potential investors who were only interested in the company’s profit-making potential, Guy transferred 74% of the business into an employee trust, guaranteeing Riverford’s values will be be protected into the future.

And now for the food. When Riverford sends us green beans, I make this ragú (minus the Parmesan). It may not be much to look at, but the slow-cooked beans and tomatoes have a wonderful flavour. Clare isn’t keen on the farinata (chickpea pancake) so has her half on pasta instead.

ragu-farinata