…Grilled Cheeze and Chutney sunshine. I really enjoy our Linda McCartney’s vegan sausages, with toast or crumpets, and veggies, but today we mixed it up.
As a plant-based nutritionist, I do realize that vegan cheeze and sausages don’t qualify as whole foods. I focus on making us meals that are mostly whole and this seems to work well for us. Having some “transition” or “alternate foods” and some condiments (yeah, chutney! yeah BBQ sauce! yeah hot sauce!) to pair with our vegetables, legumes, grains, fruits, and nuts keeps us happy and coming back for more vegan deliciousness.
Speaking of condiments…I enjoy that so many of the condiments come in small packages. This means I have the opportunity to try lots of them. We are currently enjoying Cook & Co Fine Foods Caramelised Red Onion Marmalade.
We are having a “sun break” (as my formerly Washington-state based parents used to say) this morning and it is a beautiful back drop for the daffodils on our window sill. The are so sunny themselves, and inexpensive right now (1 pound for a bunch).
Although it is farther North here than where we live in the states, the weather is milder. It is just the now nearing the end of January and some of the early bulb flowers are up. I came across this lovely magical blooming patch in a home garden on one of my walks recently.
I think that fresh, delicious herbs and spices are one of the keys making plant-based eating taste great. I am such a spice junky that I have an account with Penzey’s (see bottom row and counter top)–a spice company that also is supportive of progressive causes. I have never lived near a store, but shopping on line is even easier. I brought bags and a few jars of favorites with me for these several months away.
What is also fun is that I have a few that were harvested and dried by friends or from my own garden. On the top right hand corner, I have hot smoked paprika made by my culinarily inclined friend, Mark Starr and right next to that is an herb mix made by two plant-loving colleagues from herbs collected in the “ancient garden” on campus. From my garden I have rubbed sage and bay leaves. And I have lots of ground ancho chilis grown by my botanist friend, David Clarke. The Cascade Hop salt on the bottom row was a gift from home brewer Lori Scappino to home-brewer Sophie Mills. So, really…I can make very simple food taste delicious.
One of the reasons Sophie and I chose to spend our sabbatical (aka professional development leave) in London is that Sophie’s mum lives here. We are staying in her flat while she resides nearby in St. David’s Home. One of our projects while we are here is to tidy, clean, reorganize and do some minor remodeling of this sweet two bedroom flat. Not surprisingly one of my early projects is the kitchen. I chip away at the projects in it a little bit each week. The main concern with it is that it hasn’t been used much for the last decade.
According to those who have known Sophie’s mum longer than I have, she was quite a good cook. In the last decade though she has mostly used the kitchen to “put a kettle on” or to heat up a ready meal in the microwave and the flat has been empty now for about a year except when Sophie has been here visiting. All this to say that a few things were in need of repair and some things, like many of the spices and herbs (BTW-this is one of the words that Sophie and I say completely differently).
The culling, cleaning, and organizing of the spices was actually prompted by a minor kitchen disaster. One day when I was heating up my lunch leftovers in the microwave, I heard a loud crackly boom. It seems that the microwave’s useful years had passed.
As I cleaned the glass and removed the microwave from the counter I noticed all sorts of things nearby that needed a good scrub. I had brought a number of spices and herbs with me so I took the opportunity to clear out the old, put the spices I brought in bags into new clear glass spice jars (Tiger!). The picture at the top is the result.
After cleaning and filling jars with fresh spices and herbs and replacing the microwave, that side of the kitchen looks like this.
Last weekend, Sophie and I had the opportunity to visit our dear friends, Dan, Fiona, Aidan and Will in Buxton, England. The weather was spectacular. Aidan, who was celebrating his 15th birthday, said that we were there for the prettiest day of winter so far this year. Fiona and I have been close friends now for more than 2 decades. Sophie and I consider all four of them members of our extended family. And, we have the pleasure of being the boys “fairy god parents” as well.
The visit was brief but delightful! We took the fast train up on Saturday morning and back to London-Euston on Sunday afternoon. They are great hosts and, of course, the food was delicious.
Saturday lunch we had a easy, healthy and tasty vegetable soup and just out of the oven homemade seeded bread. Some cut up fruit, olives, vegan cheese, and spreads and we had a lovely lunch. Sorry no photos!
To make the soup: Fiona quickly sautéed an onion in soup pot, then added about two cups of vegetable stock and a couple of partial bags of frozen chopped vegetables (winter squash, carrots, parsnips, potatoes, etc.), covered the whole thing with water and cooked it until the vegetables were soft…maybe 20 minutes. Then she pureed the contents with an immersion blender. We added a variety of spices and herbs and tasted until we liked the flavor.
Dan had started bread before we arrived and it finished just in time for lunch. It was so good. Still warm, light, airy and hearty at the same time. We finished off the meal with a delicious vegan chocolate birthday cake with chocolate glaze that Fiona had made in honor of Aidan’s birthday.
Dinner was Thai take-away from Khomkhai Thai Cuisine. They had a great selection of vegetarian dishes. Menu here. Together the adults shared the mixed vegetarian appetizers, a red and a green vegetable curry a mixed vegetable dish, and my personal favorite, Tao Hu Pad Kra Pow, stir-tried bean curd with vegetables and chili and garlic sauce. The two younger people enjoyed fried rice dishes and sweet corn cakes.
In the morning it was still snowing! We decided on making a leisurely breakfast together. They had purchased Quorn pieces that were actually vegan. I hadn’t seen those previously. The Quorn products, which are made from mushroom and potato protein and are ubiquitous here, usually have egg whites in them. Some one at the company got smart and formulated a vegan version.
We decided to make fajita burritos with black beans and breakfast potatoes.
Fajita Burrito Bar
Serves 4 to 6
1 bag frozen vegan Quorn pieces
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 large cloves of garlic, minced
8 to 10 chestnut mushrooms, sliced
1 sweet red pepper, chopped
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon of Southwest seasoning (Penzey’s brand or a mixture of ground ancho pepper, cumin, and chipotle)
salt to taste, if needed
1 12-ounce can of black beans
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 cup chopped fresh tomatoes, or mild tomato salsa
6 large size flour tortillas (wraps), any variety (wraps)
3/4 cup vegan cheese, grated (we used freefrom chilli & jalapeño)
1/2 bag of baby mixed greens
1 cup of cherry tomato, halves
1 ripe avocado, chopped (optional)
1/2 cup, chopped fresh cilantro (coriander leaves; optional)
1 small jar of spicy Mexican style salsa or hot sauce (optional)
To make fajita filling: In a wok or large skillet sauté onion, garlic and Quorn pieces in a small amount of water until the onions soften. Then add mushrooms and peppers, spices and 1/2 cup of water. Continue cooking over medium heat until the vegetables are cooked and the Quorn is heated through. Adjust seasonings as needed. Set aside and keep warm.
To make beans: Rinse and drain beans, then put beans in a small sauce pan and add tomatoes and cumin, and 1/2 cup water. Stir over medium-heat until cooked through. Set aside and keep warm.
Prepare toppings you are using and put into bowls for serving. Warm tortillas in oven, microwave or over flame on stove top. Serve everything buffet style to allow guests to make their own burrito concoction. Delicious served with breakfast potatoes or steamed rice.
Sophie and I have traveled in Greece a number of times…she is a complete Grecco-phile and delights in a well-crafted Pastitsio. In Greece it is made with ground meat, milk, egg and sometimes also cheese. Not exactly a vegan delight. It is usually a layer of ground meat with tomato sauce, minced vegetables, and spices such as cinnamon and herbs including oregano. This layer is topped with buccatini or penne pasta that has been tossed with egg, milk and sometimes cheese. Then the whole dish is covered with béchamel sauce made usually with butter, flour and milk and flavored nutmeg or mace and black pepper. Moussaka is like Pastitsio, except that thin slices of eggplant replace the pasta–so flavored ground meat, topped with aubergine slices, and then béchamel sauce.
When we first stayed in Greece for a month, we had the opportunity to really investigate the offerings of larger area grocery stores and bio shops (specializing in organic products). One of the items we found (in addition to soya milk) was dried soya mince (what back in the 70’s and 80’s we called textured vegetable protein).
Luckily, Sophie reads ancient Greek and often can make sense of modern Greek so she sat and worked out the instructions on how to use it. The best part literally translated was “drown in water and then strangle” the mince. I made my first attempt at a vegan moussaka that year in lovely little rental house in Kokkino Horio. It was successful enough that this past summer when we were in Crete, I brought “home” a bag of soya mince. It only made it as far as London. All this to tell about this inexpensive and low-fat product that has a long shelf life and is really pretty darn delicious when reconstituted and flavored well.
Last week I made the dish pictured above. I can be best described as a vegan pastitsio with a layer of roasted eggplant at the bottom, topped with so Fytro soya mince mixed with chopped sweet peppers, onions, and mushrooms and tinned tomatoes flavored with herbs and cinnamon. Then a pasta layer (I used bowties) mixed with a small amount of free-from creamy cheese spread and a spoonful of pesto. I made a vegan béchamel from “pure” brand margarine (I have used olive oil previously), flour, minced garlic and Alpro plain soya milk. I added a salt/shallot/chive spice mix called Fox Point Seasoning (from Penzey’s) and of course, the nutmeg. This was poured over the pasta mixture and finally topped with a bit of grated smoked free from cheese and sprinkled with a smoky paprika. When it came out of the oven it look like this.
We had it with the cutest little purple broccoli I have ever seen. It was bunched into little bouquets and decorated the fruit and vegetable shelves at the Fruit Bowl. It tastes just like broccoli as I know it, but it is a bit tougher (perhaps more sclerenchyma tissue, Dr. Clarke?).
Finally, we finished our meal with a tasty stone fruit crumble (or crisp) as I would call it. I had hoped to make something like the dessert that Clare had made us using puff pastry as a topping (JusRoll brand is vegan!) When I had completed cutting up the fruit I discovered that the pasty in the tiny freezer was no longer viable. Not pictured for a reason. Instead, I threw together a crumb topping using ingredients I had on hand.
Quick Stone Fruit Crumble
3-4 pieces of ripe apricots, peaches, plums, peaches or nectarines (I used 3 apricots and a nectarine)
1 medool or other big date, pitted and chopped
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 package quick oats (rolled would work, too)
1/4 cup flour (I used wheat flour)
1-2 T sugar (or other sweetener)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 T vegan margarine
Pit and slice or chop the fruit, leaving skins on, into a small pan. I used a loaf pan. Add chopped date and cinnamon and stir to mix. Then make topping. In a small bowl, combine dry oats, flour, sugar and cinnamon. Add margarine and mix using a fork or clean fingers, until the mixture is crumbly. Spread mixture over the fruit and cook for 20 to 30 minutes in a 160 degree C oven.
Veganuary is a big thing in London this year. Earlier this week when I was getting on the tube to head to Tottenham Court Road Station, I was handed an Evening Standard paper. I was just casually thumbing through it and I came across an article titled “How to power up your lunch.” The sub head read “Upgrade the working midday meal with vegan bowls and boosters, says Katie Strick”.
To my surprise, after the subheads: “Warm up” and “Darken your greens” came the one in the picture “Go V”. It’s starts with the sentence “Half the office is doing Veganuary and it’s easy when the options are so V-aried.” Half the office? While this likely is a bit tongue in cheek, it cheered me to read it and the list of healthy vegan options at a number of chain eateries in London (including the very American Starbucks). I just checked, US Starbucks don’t have the recommended yummy sounding wrap on their menus—BBQ jack fruit with spinach and slaw. It is for me to question, why not?
If you haven’t heard of it, Veganuary is a registered charity that is encouraging people in many places in the world to take a pledge to go vegan for the month of January. More info here: https://veganuary.com/
Even more remarkable was the massive banner I saw on the side of a double decker bus the afternoon we were walking around in Shepherd’s Bush. I missed getting a photo then, but Sophie caught it on her walk to visit her mum last night. I am not familiar with GoVeganWorld and the message is pretty hard core, but as a person who regularly teaches that “cow’s milk is not a necessary food” and that “consuming it (and products made from it) at recommended amounts is likely doing more harm than good,” I jumped with glee seeing this message on the side of a bus in a busy international city.
Last eve, Sophie and I had the pleasure of dining with two members of her extended family. I have been visiting West London at least yearly for 10 years now and have had the great pleasure of dining in Clare and David’s home each time I have visited. Clare is a highly accomplished chef, who like me, seems to take pleasure in making delicious and interesting meals that meet her guests dietary preferences. In my case, whole foods and entirely plant-based.
After a, dare I say stiff, gin and tonic made with Fever Tree Tonic (so good!) and some sort of fancy gin, some snacks and some delightful conversation we headed into the kitchen dining room for supper.
Clare had made (with David as sous chef), rice and herb stuffed tomatoes, hearty white beans, and a colorful mixed vegetable dish. This later dish was prepared using a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe for “ratatouille.” It came with a disclaimer that it wasn’t really a ratatouille and that the recipe’s directions were overly complicated. Nonetheless, this and the other two dishes were delicious. And should they make the dish again with fewer cooking steps, I feel confident it will be every bit as yummy.
I woke up dreaming of plums. After the main course, we were also treated to a lovely pudding (dessert ;).
It was baked plums with a pastry topping. Basically, a plum pie without the bottom crust. I never think to cook with plums and I love them. I was remembering to our hosts, enjoying eating canned little black plums as a child and tween. I loved them, we called them canned prune plums. I haven’t seen these on the grocery store shelves for years. Have any of you? I suspect they were canned in heavy syrup, which is out of style now. Maybe that is why they are absent (or uncommon).
I also liked the idea of only a top crust for a fruit-pie-like dessert. I have recently had a difficult time with soggy bottom crusts on grape and peach pies. She used a little cup like item to support the center of the crust (see photo).
I have a new favorite sandwich filling. I have been craving eggplant (aubergine) since the evening when I couldn’t find any in the lane for the green curry.
On Sunday when we were out exploring in another part of town (Shepard’s Bush) we walked past a number of little middle eastern groceries. I stopped at the first one that had eggplant visible in the baskets out in front of the store, picked out a cute small one and brought it in to the cashier. He said to me, “only one?” I replied, “it’s a tiny kitchen.” He said, “They are 2 for 1 pound. Are you sure you don’t want 2?” I hesitantly handed him a 50p coin and then started out to grab another. Then as he said, “you don’t have to get another if you don’t want it.” I halted mid-motion and we both laughed as I stuffed the little thing into my backpack. Funnier yet, I purchased another (bigger) aubergine at the Fruit Bowl yesterday.
I wanted something like baba ganoush (eggplant dip) or melitzana salata (mashed eggplant and onion salad) to put into pita (pitta, here) breads, but I didn’t want to have to roast the eggplant for an hour, then peel, chop, etc. to get there. I am supposed to be spending my time reading and writing after all!
So, I tried a new to me method. Here it is:
Spicy Roasted Aubergine Slices Serves 2 to 4 (depending on how it is used)
1 medium eggplant
1 tablespoon olive oil
smoked paprika (I used Penzey’s)
hot paprika (I used the version made by my friend Mark and imported from Jupiter NC)
Preheat oven to 190 degrees C (about 400 degrees F). Cut the top off of the eggplant and peel off the skin using a peeler. Cut the eggplant diagonally into ½ inch slices. Salt the eggplant slices, let sit for a few minutes, then put into a colander and run water over them and allow to drain thoroughly. Rub the bottom of a non-stick baking sheet or pan with olive oil. Put eggplant slices in the pan and rub around on the oiled surface then turn them over. Dust the top of the slices with lemon pepper (or salt and pepper), smoked paprika, and a small amount of hot paprika. Bake in the hot oven for 15 minutes. Then, take out the pan and turn the slices over and dust again. Return to the oven and cook another 10 to 15 minutes until the slices are soft and browning on top and/or on the edges.
Remove from oven and cut into slices and serve as a sandwich filling, salad topping, or feature on a mezze platter.
We had our aubergine slices with whole wheat pitta bread, falafel, lettuce, cherry tomatoes, red pepper, tzatziki (Alpro plain yogurt with cucumbers, red onion, cilantro, salt and black pepper) and tahini sauce (tahini, lemon, water and smoked paprika).