Winter is Coming…

As surely as the Starks know that winter is coming, I know that one of my favourite cooking basics is back on the menu as the temperatures start to drop; soup.

I genuinely love cooking soup. And I’ve certainly learned a lot since I first stuck a bunch of boiled veg in a bowl of hot stock at uni and wondered why it didn’t taste that great. That watery uninspiring start has thankfully long been a distant memory. I learned the secret of many a good soup over the years; roast your veggies first for deeper flavour, salt and pepper them at the end so you can really closely manage it, and always use your spices and herbs to bring them to life and give them an extra lift.

IMG_0345.jpg

Two of my all-time faves to cook are pumpkin and also cauliflower.

Today, as the light began to fade, I thought to myself…its a soup kind of evening. What better to compliment the home-baked pull apart bread I whipped up this morning. An amazing garlic tear and share bread topped with a homemade parsley pesto. Yum!

Something I’ve had to adapt to is making a yummy creamy vegan soup. What to use instead of butter? What about cream? I wanted to make something that both myself and my non-vegan hubby would both love.

And thankfully, I managed it.

I use soy cream (provamel single soy cream) and organic soy milk in my creamy soups. I also used some tofutti in this one for creaminess too. Finally – I am a massive fan of the gentle chef and always make my own butter from the non-dairy evolution cookbook (a book which pretty much revolutionised my life). So – if you are keen for some creamy warming yummy wintery goodness in your belly….try this cauliflower soup. You won’t regret it!

The Starks Wintery Cauliflower Soup

  • 1 head cauliflower sliced
  • 1 litre vegetable stock
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 3 chopped medium sized potatoes (par-boiled and peeled)
  • 1 brown onion chopped finely
  • 3 sticks celery chopped
  • 5-6 swiss brown mushrooms
  • 3 spring onions chopped finely
  • 1 cup organic soy (or other preferred milk)
  • Half cup provamel soy cream (or other preferred)
  • 3 tablespoons tofutti cream cheese
  • Tablespoon better butter (or any non-dairy butter)
  • Tablespoon peanut oil
  • Pinch white pepper
  • Teaspoon dijon mustard
  • Tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Parsley and fresh chives to serve

First of all, chop and prep all your veggies. Pop a saucepan on to boil and par-boil your potatoes. Meanwhile, fry up your garlic, onion, spring onions, celery and mushrooms in the peanut oil. Do not brown. The key to this soup is that we are trying to keep it as white as possible for the finished presentation.

IMG_0347.jpgThen, add in the butter and cauliflower and continue to gently fry for about 10 minutes and add the potatoes when they are almost cooked (you don’t want them falling apart). As soon as the potatoes are added – also add the stock. Turn the temperature down (so it doesn’t boil) and let everything simmer for about another 15 minutes. At this point add the cream, nutritional yeast, mustard, white pepper and milk. Stir to combine and then use a stick blender to combine until its really smooth. Then add the tofutti for extra creaminess. Blend again. At this point – add more cream or milk to taste and start to slowly add salt and pepper as meets your tastebuds! The overwhelming flavour should be one of cauliflower. Pop it back on the hob on the lowest heat for about another ten minutes to let all the flavours infuse and then serve and ENJOY.

We had it straight out of the pan and served with the home-baked bread. It was insane. I can’t wait to have it again tomorrow for lunch. Made with love in my kitchen.

Happy souping! 

 

Saturday Night Treats – Two Happy Tummys

I hate being vegan…I never have anything tasty to eat. Its basically all lettuce and dust (for the little Britain fans out there!)

This couldn’t be farther from the truth…as I now find myself nearly 2.5yrs vegan one thing I’ve noticed is that my tastebuds are constantly firing as new or interesting flavours surprise them. I can truly say that the last 2.5yrs have been nothing but an opportunity for me as I have tried more different foods on a regular basis and challenged myself to cook and try more things that I probably did in the previous years combined. When I became vegan I said I wasn’t going to focus on what i’d lost (re cheese lamentation) and instead focus on what I’d gained.

I have gained so much. I couldn’t be more thankful for my dear friend Elsie who challenged me to go down this road with her. I consider my lifestyle change to be a blessing.

This weekend saw a few firsts…I ate my first fresh fig in nearly ten years and couldn’t figure out why I’d ever stopped. They are amazing. I caught up with a dear friend who I haven’t really been able to catch up with for a while and she has recently become dairy free and it was so wonderful to have that time together. And I made the most sensational (sorry to sing my own praises) dinner for my husband and I on Saturday night.

I made us a creamy pumpkin soup with a baked cashew camembert. I have to say, genuinely, I could have kept eating it until I made myself unwell.

I am a sucker for a pumpkin soup as is my hubby. The baked camembert was a first. The soup is a staple. If you are keen to try the camembert…check out Bosh on Facebook and scroll through their page. I literally saw it on Saturday morning and basically fantasised about it all day deciding to make it that same evening. I can’t share the recipe for that as it was in a video with no URL but it wouldn’t be hard to find. Search for Camembosh! It was absolutely worth the 5 mins it took me to blend it and the 20 mins of baking for the end result. Its pretty garlicky though…so be warned if you aren’t a fan.

So my soup…I thought I’d share this love-filled, heart-warmer with you all. As that’s the only way to make it, with love.

Jac’s Pumpkin Soup

  • half pumpkin – sliced and de-seeded
  • 1 brown onion – chopped for frying
  • 2 red skinned potatoes – chopped for roasting – but smaller than you would usually for roasting
  • 5 garlic cloves whole – for roasting
  • pinch nutmeg
  • pinch paprika
  • pinch tumeric
  • 2 carrots peeled and chopped – for frying
  • 1 litre vegetable stock
  • 1 carton soy / rice cream
  • 1 cup soy milk (or oat if you can’t have soy)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Peanut or coconut oil for roasting
  • 2 fresh bay leaves
  • Tablespoon sugar (Any kind)
  • tablespoon vegan butter for frying

Pop the oven on to about 180, fan based. Put the pumpkin, potatoes and garlic in a baking tray (with tinfoil or non stick under them) and cover with about a tablespoon of the oil and a pinch of salt. Make sure covered. Pop in over to roast for about 40 minutes (check once and shake them around a bit.)

Whilst roasting, fry off the onions and carrots in the butter (onions first until nearly clear and a little browned for flavour). Into the pan pop the turmeric and fry the veg until a nice golden brown yellow colour. Pop onto a very low heat until the roasting veggies are done. Once done – add them to the pan and immediately add the stock and the other herbs. Plus two bay leaves. Make sure the veggies are covered and add more stock if required to cover.

Let this delicious mix simmer away on a low heat for about 30 minutes to soften the potatoes completely and for the flavours to infuse.

Post this point add in the soy milk and stir. I then blend straight away – I keep it all in the pan and use a stick blender. Once blended I then add the soy cream and the salt and pepper to taste. I also add the tablespoon of sugar (use whatever variety you prefer it really doesn’t matter). The flavour just helps to bring out the pumpkin.

Then I pop it back on the hob, on number 1 (the lowest temp) and leave it for another 30 minutes to simmer gently away and to let the flavours settle. I usually make this a little ahead of time as it gets better after a few hours. So – if you can, turn the heat off, and leave it cooling on the hob with a lid on for 3-4 hours. Serve later that same day with toasted french stick (or whatever bread you like with your soup) and the camembosh.

Truly truly yummy.

I hope you enjoy it!

And remember, this is another example of what you gain as a vegan rather than what you lose. There is absolutely no reason why this lifestyle choice should mean you compromise on your tastebuds or your health.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bread and tomatoes…its the simple things

2017-01-14 12.24.19.jpgIts the simplest things in life right.

I recently bought an amazing vegan cookbook by Smith and Daughters which has been something of an affirming life force for me. Everything I’ve cooked from it thus far has been stunning. Their recipes are PACKED with flavour and I love love love big flavours.

One of the recipes is a pan con tomate (bread with tomatoes) which is sooooo good I had to share my version of it. Its simplicity is its brilliance. Its an amazing take on a Spanish classic which both my husband and I have completely fallen in love with (I think i’ve made it 5 times now and he’s also made it for his family too).

I wanted to share it here and just put it out there…its pure vegan joy to eat this and its one of those things that you can cook for others and they won’t care that there is no dairy or meat in it because its so bloody tasty.

Here goes:

  • 5 tomatoes (grated including the skins)
  • 2 tablespoons avocado oil (or olive)
  • 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
  • Generous handful of finely chopped parsley or Basil (both work brilliantly)
  • pinch himalayan pink salt
  • cracked black pepper
  • teaspoon caster sugar (fine)
  • 1 crushed / minced garlic clove

fb_img_1485928889054All you have to do is put all the ingredients together into a bowl…and stir away until they are combined.

Leave for a bit to the side to let all the flavours marinate and then serve however you fancy it…on simple griddled bread is my fave so far but its also sensational on baked sweet potato.

Please try this. Its absolutely amazing and one of the simplest things I have ever served up. Tomato JOY.

Its getting hot in here…the story of my sweet chilli jam.

This week I had one of life’s epiphanies. It was about jam. Chilli jam, to be specific.

2017-01-17 19.31.10.jpgThe epiphany..? Its easy to make. I’ve been spending money for years on gorgeous, delicious, organic sweet chilli jams from delis all over the country and yet it had never occurred to me to try to make my own. I assumed it involved a lot of elbow grease, took hours and hours and was fairly complex. All stories I had made up in my own head with no grounding in anything whatsoever.

Historically, I don’t have a great relationship with jams. Since my sister and I worked on a fruit picking farm as teenagers hoping to make our millions, I have barely touched the stuff to be honest. It was one of those ‘now that I know what’s in it I don’t want to eat it any more’ moments. I won’t go into detail for any jam lovers out there. I’d hate to spoil your breakfast 😉

Suffice to say, I really have no interest in jam, apart from the odd occasional green or red chilli jam which for some reason my brain excuses (isn’t the brain amazing). I think its because I was picking sweet fruit for jam and for some reason my brain has decided that chilli probably doesn’t share the same fate as fruits in the jam picking process, who knows. Anyway, the point is…I LIKE CHILLI JAM.

My husband and I have this amazingly stoic chilli plant on our balcony which every year threatens to cark it and somehow, every year, makes it through. Its into its 5th year now and I think this year was the most bumper of any years in terms of yield. We have chilli galore and I commented to him, ‘what on earth are we going to do with all of this chilli?’ ….and there was the epiphany. Somewhere in my brain a little light went on and I thought…ok…dammit…I’ll try to make my own.

So on Weds, as a complete jam making virgin, I entered into the unchartered world of making your own jams with no idea whatsoever what I was doing or whether it would taste good / set or whether I was about to waste a beautiful yield of fresh, organic, home grown chilli on a whim. 

How did I begin? I simply googled sweet chilli jam and followed the first recipe I found which was lucky as I had all the ingredients in the cupboard. It’s this one:

http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/8257/sweet-chilli-jam

The ingredients were pretty simple:

  • 8 red pepper, deseeded and roughly chopped
  • 10 red chilli roughly chopped
  • finger-sized piece fresh root ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 8 garlic clove, peeled
  • 400g can cherry tomatoes
  • 750g golden caster sugar
  • 250ml red wine vinegar

I added a few of my own along the way (up to you if you want to follow suite):

  1. 2 tablespoons Apple sauce
  2. 2 tablespoons agar agar powder (as I wasn’t convinced it would set having never tried it before)
  3. 5 tomatoes with skins at blending stage
  4. Another 100g caster sugar as when tasting close to the end it was a tad too spicy still for me

2017-01-17-18-10-47The method was also bonkers simple. Literally there are no cooking skills involved in this recipe except chopping, blending and stirring. If you can do that…you can make your own jam.

METHOD:

  1. Tip the peppers, chillies (with seeds), ginger and garlic into a food processor, then whizz until very finely chopped. Scrape into a heavy-bottomed pan with the tomatoes, sugar and vinegar, then bring everything to the boil. Skim off any scum that comes to the surface, then turn the heat down to a simmer and cook for about 50 mins, stirring occasionally.
  2. Once the jam is becoming sticky, continue cooking for 10-15 mins more, stirring frequently so that it doesn’t catch and burn. It should now look like thick, bubbling lava. Cool slightly, transfer to sterilised jars, then leave to cool completely. Keeps for 3 months in a cool, dark cupboard – refrigerate once opened.

The result was sensational.

2017-01-18 18.23.24.jpg

It set perfectly and cooled overnight to reveal this magical jam in the morning which tasted amazing. So good in fact I immediately had it for breakfast on toast with avocado (and a massive smile on my face). One recipe made so much that I divided it into 7 jars and shipped it off to my mates. When I think that one jar to buy is about $10 and I made 7 jars for about the same amount…that’s pretty cool.

If I am feeling brave enough I think i’ll try a homemade onion jam next. I mean, how hard can it be right?

Happy jam making all (but maybe don’t get a job fruit picking). Smiles.

 

Why am I still buying pesto?

I made my own pesto the other night and it made me wonder, why am I ever buying pesto? It took me about 5 minutes in total, was damn tasty, and I knew exactly what was in it. Are we so far removed from what we eat that we always take the easy way out? Sometimes it feels like that. I include myself in this observation.

Many years ago I read an amazing book called, ‘What’s not on the label?’ which my brother recommended to me and it was one of those aha moments when you realise there is a lot of sh** in the processed stuff we eat. Upon completing the book I literally stopped eating as much processed food as possible. I no longer buy any pre made soups, jams, sauces, dinners, and (as much as possible) buy my fruit and veg from local suppliers. Why? Because of the way food is preserved, stored, modified, packaged and transferred. It was eye-opening and terrifying. Everything we think we know, or the assumptions that we made…we should question when it comes to mass processed food production. 

3280f4f84fa0ffb037d473a5524a1387The book started with an amazing observation from the author of going into a supermarket and standing in the fresh fruit and veg section and wondering why none of the fruit and veg smelled. Why couldn’t she, standing in the middle of it all, smell anything? It’s worth pondering and that’s exactly what the book does.

So, despite everything I’ve learned I still on occasion buy pastes for convenience (curry and pesto) as they are so easy and convenient. I also buy pickles as I haven’t yet figured out how to make a good pickle. However, upon seeing an amazing Donna Hay recipe for a macadamia pesto which seemed very vegan modifiable I thought I’d give it a try. And my, it was easy, cheap and really tasty.

Perhaps its time to cut to the chase and stop buying them too. I think its important in these times to be more and  more connected to what we eat and to resist what’s easy as what’s easy is often filled with something that wasn’t easier down the chain…for the orangutans who’s habitat is being destroyed for palm oil, or the farm animals killed for gelatine by products and the rest, or the fish who have not been sustainably sourced, or the local water source for many regional people poisoned by industry...you know how it goes. Easy for us isn’t actually the best choice. In fact I think the opposite might be true.

So in the spirit of not choosing the easy way – here’s my homemade pesto which I invite you to try and to love as much as I do!

Macadamia Rocket Pesto

  • 40gm roasted macadamias
  • handful fresh rocket
  • half bunch fresh basil (or more you can alter to taste)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • handful (Generous) of any firm vegan cheese (I used one I’d made at home from the Gentle Chef but I think any firm tangy vegan cheese will do. Don’t use a mild one)
  • half garlic clove
  • black pepper and salt – pinch

BC0875DF-C70A-41CB-8F05-A6E9B3056A19.JPGSo the only work you have to do here is roast the macas. Once done – you simply put it all in a blender and away you go. This did me 4 serves. Delightful. That’s it. Tastebuds happy.

I am far from perfect and the first to point the finger (at myself) but here’s to awareness and to not taking the easy route. 

 

For the Love of Paprika

I haven’t posted for ages…life has rather got in the way. Work has been bonkers, my amazing parents have been visiting…and there hasn’t been as much room for experimentation. So, whilst I had the house to myself for 6 days, I decided to try my hand at a new cheese.

Flicking through my fave cookbook (the non-dairy evolution cookbook) my eyes alighted on a gorgeous bright red cheese called Muenster. Looking through the ingredients I realised it was the paprika that gave this cheese its ‘hit’.

2016-11-16 20.14.17.jpgNote – to love this recipe you gotta love paprika. Easy for me as I really do. Its something about the sweet smokiness of it that I love.

So…I gave the Muenster a whirl. Pretty straightforward to make as it turns out.

This pic is it in all its ooey gooey gorgeousness before it sets. I realised as making it that this recipe, perhaps sans paprika, would make an amazing lasagne topping, dipping cheese (if you could keep it hot) as it was so very cheesy and mimicking of cheddar. Quite frankly I could have stood there and eaten it straight from the pan just cooked and smiled like a crazy person as the flavours lit up in my mouth.

Anyway…to the recipe….

So…its pretty straightforward. I won’t share the technique…for that you have to purchase the book itself, but here are the ingredients so you can get them in your pantry.

  • 1.33 cup refined organic coconut oil
  • 1.33 cup organic almond milk (I use Inside Out Almond Milk’s brand)
  • 1 tsp sweet paprika
  • 2 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup tapioca flour
  • 1 tablesp Nutritional yeast
  • 1 Tablesp kappa Carrageenan
  • 1 teaspoon agar agar powder (my own addition)
  • pinch pink salt
  • 1/4 tsp dried mustard powder
  • 1/8 tsp onion powder

file-18-11-16-6-26-26-amIt turned out so well. I was really delighted with it. Its delicious, slice-able, melt-able and would be great in a sarnie, on toast, in a salad or just in a massive slab just because.

Here’s the link to the book: https://thegentlechef.com/gentle-chef-cookbooks/non-dairy-evolution-cookbook/

Next up – there is a ‘make your own butter’ recipe in there. I am intrigued and going to give that a go. I’ll report back 😉

Until then, its FRIDAY! 

 

Pulled ‘Pork’ Phenomenon

Sat night I was in a quandary….I wanted to eat something different, try something new, delight my tastebuds…but I didn’t know what to cook. And then, I remembered seeing a lot of posts across FB and other places talking about this vegan pulled ‘pork’.

I’d looked at it a couple of times and couldn’t figure out whether it grossed me out, whether it was just too weird for me, or whether I really fancied it….

I’d seen jackfruits in Thailand and Malaysia many years ago as a Jackfruit and they were ugly. Ugly and massive. And in my head, they were acquainted closely with the raucous smelling durian fruit and therefore about as appealing.

But feeds kept on popping up about how jackfruit was a winner…and so I thought, what the hell, nothing to lose and if I hate it…I won’t eat it again.

A couple of things to be clear about though; I have no idea if this tastes anything like pork and quite frankly I’d prefer it didn’t, I have no idea how it compares in terms of mouth ‘feel’ as I haven’t eaten pork since I was 14 and I can only assume that pulled ‘pork’ is the gimmicky way of trying to make people curious about it as really, its not pork and shouldn’t be compared to it. It should stand on its own as a glorious and delicious plant based option; healthier than pork, better for the environment than pork and way better for the pigs than pork…

I loosely followed this recipe on the Minimalist Baker but have included it here as I basically used my own interpretation of it with a few twists.

2016-09-10-16-35-59So here is where I started, two tins of young green jackfruit in brine. I washed them, rinsed them, and left them standing in fresh water for few hours as the recipe was quite specific that they shouldn’t be in brine (which mine were) as the recipe is too salty.

They looked weird – like a combo of pineapple and silken tofu. But, not letting prejudices get in the way I continued, ignoring that my stomach really wasn’t convinced at this stage.

First up, whilst these were soaking, I made my own BBQ sauce. The BBQ sauce is really the key flavour component to this recipes as the jackfruit seems to absorb whatever flavour you throw at it.

2016-09-10-16-40-14

Jac’s Special BBQ Sauce:

  1. Blend the following ingredients :4 ripe tomatoes (chopped up fairly loosely – no need to be picky), teaspoon liquid smoke, teaspoon paprika, teaspoon cumin, tablespoon sriracha sauce, pinch chilli powder, half teaspoon himalayan pink (or table) salt, cracked black pepper, pinch white pepper, 7 dates, 1 peeled garlic clove, 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, 2 tablespoons tamari, 1 tablespoon tomato puree and half cup water.
  2. Taste – add more of anything you want. If you want it spicer…more chill…etc etc
  3. Its not a dark BBQ sauce – more of a spicy smoky tomato influenced BBQ sauce!
  4. Finally, add 1 tablespoon tapioca or potato starch (or cornflour) as the thickener to it. Blend again and then remove and place in a saucepan.
  5. Simmer on a low heat for about 20-30 minutes so that the starch activates and the sauce thickens.
  6. Put into jar and leave to cool with the lid off until ready to use.

So – once the BBQ sauce was created and I was happy with the flavours…I moved onto the crazy fruit.

First up, make the BBQ seasoning, which is also used in the recipe along with the sauce. The BBQ seasoning is all the Minimalist Baker’s and not mine…

  • 1/4 cup BBQ seasoning (2 Tbsp brown sugar + 1 tsp paprika + 1 tsp garlic powder + 1/2 tsp salt + 1/2 tsp pepper + 1/2 tsp chili powder)

2016-09-10-16-37-35Create this and toss it over your now drained jackfruit. It should coat it thoroughly until it resembles something like this image. Still looks a bit weird huh?

Then, in a frying pan, put some oil (I used peanut) to heat and then toss in the coated jackfruit to cook for about 5 minutes to give it some colour and to start breaking it down.

After 5 minutes, add in the BBQ sauce (3/4 cup of it) to the fruit and stir it through. Add a little water too – maybe 1/4 cup – as it will simmer down and reduce. Keep this going on a low heat for about 20 -30 minutes. You’ll notice, about 15 mins in, that it starts to do this….

2016-09-10-18-48-53

It starts to break down and become stringy, for want of a better word. It looks a little like those amazing little stringy mushrooms you can buy. And it keeps going and keeps going. You can use a fork and push it and it will break down into these strings…basically until the whole dish is like this and the fruit has disintegrated into this stringy amazing mess. That’s when you know its done…which is also handy when you have never cooked it before.

I admit, curious as I was, I was still a little unsure at this point. Would this strange fruit live up to the internet’s lauding of it…I wasn’t convinced.

To accompany it I made a simple avocado, sweetcorn, tomato salsa (with coriander, spring onion, celery and garlic) and I also served it on top of mini pita breads. Here’s one without the topping on it so you can see clearly how it finished up.

2016-09-10-18-54-11

And the verdict? Amazing. Really really really tasty. All of my expectations were smashed and it was really fantastic. I had it the night after with an asian coleslaw and coconut chips and I am having it tonight with a stirfry. It’s really versatile, super low in fat, high in iron, easy to prepare and yum. Really yum.

I am so pleased I ignored all my reservations and just went for it, something that’s so true in life generally. Often things are better than you expect, and this was exactly one of those moments.

Here’s to the jackfruit. Long may it reign.