Saturday Adventure Recap

 

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Vegetable Couscous at Sidi Bou Restaurant

We had a lovely weekend that included several meals out. The highlight of those was a  late lunch on Saturday at Sidi Bou, a family run Tunisian Restaurant and Art Cafe right next to the Ealing Broadway Station. We had their mezze platter of 4 salads and the vegetable coucous, pictured above, and a pot of Tunisian mint tea. All a perfect foil to the dreary, chilly and drippy weather. The best part was the learning. The host and wait person and son of the owner was wealth of information. He shared images and information about Tunisia as well as his families home town, Sidi Bou.

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Pot of mint tea (a mixture of green tea and mint with a bit of sugar)-Photo by Sophie

 

 

We then headed into the West End Theater district to check out a gallery exhibit of Getty Images from 2017. It was a very popular place to visit on this rainy afternoon. Reminded me of how many newsworthy events have happened in the past 13 months.

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The next stop was Brewdog Brewery just a few blocks away in Soho.  There we both found beers they had brewed to suit our tastes. I loved that the indicated on the menu which beers were vegetarian and vegan and that they had veg’n options for bar food on their menu as well.

Sophie tried the 5AM Saint, an American Style Red Ale and I had the Cocoa Libre, a chewy, strong, sweet, (did I mention strong? 8.5%) dark beer. Sophie said that it was the first pint she had in the UK this visit that she would order again. Cool art graffiti style art on the walls, and though very busy, it was not overly loud or crowded feeling.

After walking around in the drippy rain for another hour or so and getting thoroughly chilled we decided to head back to Ealing Broadway for dinner. We tried out Turtle Bay, which offers Carribean style food and drinks. It was very large place and hoppin’ on Saturday night. We enjoyed the sweet corn fritters, super green side salad and two curries–all from the marked vegan selections on the menu. It is part of a chain, and seems to be doing good business in this West London location.

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Spinach, Aubergine & Sweet Potato Curry
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Supergreen Salad and Spiced Fries
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Ital Rundown

After dinner we turned up the heat and climbed under the comforter to try to shake the chill we had picked up on our central London outing. A few episodes of Channel 4 shows viewed in the computer rounded out a very fun day.

 

Piglet Power!

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Sweet holiday gift from Sophie’s godson Michael

Sophie has a real fondness for pigs, especially sows, alive ones and piglike forms. I am pretty sure one of her top holiday gifts was a pair of “pig trotter” socks that actually make her feet look rather like the “trotters of a middle white sow”. And another favorite is this set of egg cups sent to her here in London by her godson, Michael who lives in Edinburgh with his family. His mum, Gill, is a very long time friend of Sophie’s from her Somerville days.

Hmm…my little vegan brain was thinking when these arrived…what other uses might these cutie piglet bowls have? Mini pots of chocolate mousse was my first inspiration. I found a bar of nice dark ginger chocolate so I made Ginger Chocolate Mousse!

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Chocolate mousse filled piglets awaiting attention from human piglets

We served the mousse with blueberries and ginger cookies (Anna’s original Ginger Thins), and it was a big hit.

Ginger Chocolate Mousse
Serves 4

1 package organic silken tofu (300 grams)
1 bar dark ginger chocolate (I used Green and Blacks; 100 grams)
50 grams unflavored dark chocolate

fresh berries, for serving
Ginger thin cookies, optional

Open tofu package and drain off any liquid. Place tofu in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Process the tofu until it is smooth, about a minute.

Melt chocolate in a clean dry glass bowl in the microwave or in the upper pot of a double boiler. If you use a microwave, heat chocolate for about 30 seconds at a time, stirring in between. It the chocolate gets too hot it can “break” and then it becomes very difficult to get it smooth again (don’t ask me how I know.)

Once fully melted, add the chocolate to the food processor with the creamy tofu and process until the mixture is very smooth. If it is too thick, you can add a tablespoon of plant-based milk, or favorite liqueur to thin. If it seems thin, don’t worry. It will thicken as it cools. Transfer into serving dishes ( I used the 4 pigpots and a larger short stemmed glass for the leftovers that served as seconds) and refrigerate until ready to serve. Serve with fresh berries and ginger thins, if using.

 

Our first dinner party in the flat!

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Thai Fresh Rolls with Peanut Sauce

This week we decided that we had enough space in the flat sorted to be able to entertain Clare and David, Sophie’s god parents and her mums best friends. Last minute preparations included repairing and reinforcing two of the four chairs for the table. Quite sweetly, the chair seats covers were needlepointed by Clare and by Sophie’s mum many years back.

Clare and I are both kitchen alphas and foodies and they so graciously feed us whenever we are around so it is always a pleasure when we are able to make a meal for them. I suggested two different menus to Sophie and she chose the Thai-themed one thinking it might be more of a treat for Clare and David.

I think perhaps the fresh rolls with peanut sauce were the biggest hit. Sophie and I love these and get them whenever we are at a Thai restaurant that serves a veggie version of them. We have a place at home near school, Thai Kitchen, that serves excellent ones. They are basically salad fixings wrapped in softened rice “paper” sheets served with peanut sauce and chili paste for dipping. Recipe below.

It was an adventure trying to find the rice paper wraps, but I found them at a store in Ealing Broadway called Organic for the People, which is an all organic and vegan grocery store with products from all over the world. It is here that I found rice vinegar and the silken tofu for making dessert.

And, I made the peanut sauce twice. The first batch had slightly dodgy peanut butter. I smelled and thought, this isn’t right (but I am sensitive to that off smell of oxidized oils). I thought maybe my nose was being overly sensitive, but it still had that smell and taste when made into peanut sauce. Sophie, despite not minding the taste, very sweetly went to the lane to purchase a new jar of peanut butter.

For the mains, we had sweet chili basil eggplant, bok choy with shitake mushrooms and ginger, red curry green beans, dry fried tofu with Thai spices, basmati rice, and an avocado and cucumber salad over slaw made from the unused julienned vegetables for the salad rolls.

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Sweet chili basil eggplant with peppers, basil and scallions
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Bok choy with shitake and oyster mushrooms with ginger and garlic
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Dry-fried tofu in a glass dish (the food is not sitting on the table cloth)
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A variation on my mom’s cucumber and avocado salad dressed with lemon pepper and rice vinegar

 

Fresh Rolls
Makes 10 to 12 rolls

1 nest rice noodles (nests or angel hair style–thin)–about 2 cups prepared
1 large carrot, grated
2 cups, thinly sliced cabbage
2 cups baby spinach or lettuce leaves
1/2 to 1 cup fresh basil, fresh mint and/or fresh cilantro (coriander leaves)
1/2 large sweet red pepper, cut into thin slivers
2 small or 1/2 large thin skinned cucumber, peeled and cut into thin slivers
2 scallions (green onions), white and green parts, thinly sliced longwise and cut into 2 inch long pieces

1 package large rice paper wraps (about 8″ in diameter)

Other optional fillings: thin slices of baked tofu, avocado slices, other raw julienned vegetables.

Cook noodles according to package direction (usually soaked in boiled water for 8 to 10 minutes). Drain and set aside to cool to room temperature. Prepare fillings and set them near each other for making the rolls.

One at a time, soak a rice paper wrapper in very hot water (but not too hot for your fingers) for about 2 minutes until it softens enough to roll. Remove the wrap from the water and put in on a flat surface (I use a plate). Pile small amounts of each of the vegetable and noodles into the wrap in a log shape in the middle of the wrap, taking care not to overfill it. Then fold in the ends of the short side of the log and then fold one of th remaining sides over the pile of vegetables and roll as tightly as you can without breaking the wrap, like you might when making a burrito.

Set on a serving plate seam side down and cover with plastic. Continue on in the same manner until you have used up your fillings or your wraps.

Keep covered with plastic wrap (cling film) until ready to serve. Serve with peanut sauce and chili sauce/paste for dipping.

Peanut Sauce
4 generous portions

1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1/3 cup water
1-2 tablespoons lime juice
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon ginger, minced
1-2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon, chili sauce (optional)

roasted peanuts, chopped or crushed
chili sauce

In small food processor or blender, blend first 7 ingredients together until smooth. If mixture is too thick add more lime juice or water to thin. Serve topped with crushed peanuts with chili sauce on the side.

Breakfast without Linda’s Sausage is like…

…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.

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Grilled freefrom cheeze with chutney, veggies and fruit for breakfast

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.

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Condiment deliciousness in tiny little pots (110 grams is just under 4 ounces or about 1/4 cup)

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).

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I love daffodils. I think of them as the flowers of my birth month (May). I could either blame globalization or just enjoy them for more months.

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.

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Herbs (‘erbs, not harbs) & Spices

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The tidied up and fortified

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.

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Luckily the door was shut when this happened!

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.

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One side of the galley style kitchen in the flat.

 

Stunning snowy weekend in Buxton

 

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A snowy walk on the golf course in Buxton

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.

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Fajita burrito filling with vegan Quorn pieces

We decided to make fajita burritos with black beans and breakfast potatoes.

 

 

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Fajita burrito–ready to wrap! 
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Black beans with fresh tomato and cumin

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.

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Pretty sky on this snowy afternoon

Pastitsio & Moussaka Mash-up

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Pastitsio-inspired vegan deliciousness with purple sprouting broccoli (not purple once it is cooked)

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 sheIMG_2529 (1) 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 img_2544.jpgcalled 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
Serves 2

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.

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Quick Stone Fruit Crumble