Tofu Tom

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My boyfriend, Tom, is probably one of the most typically omnivorous people you could meet. Whilst he embraced both my vegetarianism and veganism with open arms, he has always made it clear that he loves all things meaty. Cue me hiding in my room every time he cooks flesh in our open-plan kitchen. However, something took me by surprise at the start of the month and continues to surprise me as we progress through January. Tom succumbed to my semi-serious pleas to take the Veganuary pledge. And not only that, he has managed to stick to it. So far so good.

Veganuary aims to reduce the harm and suffering caused to animals and our environment by encouraging people world wide to go vegan for the month of January. Tom cites his reasons for doing Veganuary as wanting to shift a few pounds and sees it as a sort of experiment. After all, how much difference can being vegan for a month really make?

11 days in and already he is beginning to look a little leaner and claims that he generally feels better within himself. He’s not doing it half-heartedly either. He’s doing everything from scrutinising food packaging in supermarkets to experimenting with ways in which to veganise his favourite dishes. I was hugely impressed when he cooked up this sticky oriental tofu dish and I feel compelled to share the tasty recipe.

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INGREDIENTS (serves 3)
•2-3 tbsps maple syrup
•40ml soy sauce
•75ml rich hoisin sauce
•1 garlic clove, crushed
•1 red chilli, finely sliced
•10g ginger, peeled and chopped
•300g firm tofu, drained and cut into slices
•spring onion to serve

METHOD
1) Pre-heat the oven to 190c. Mix the first 6 ingredients in a bowl and marinate the tofu for at least one hour.
2) Place the tofu on a baking tray and cook in the oven for 25-30 minutes. Remove the tofu from the baking tray and add a little water to the remaining marinade to form more of a sauce.

Sprinkle over the spring onion and serve with rice and pak choi. Normally made with pork, this dish provides the perfect balance of sweet and spice.

I’m confident that Tom will persevere with his veganism right up to the 31st and I look forward to sampling more of his culinary experiments!

http://www.veganuary.com

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Vegan Pumpkin Recipes: Pumpkin & Cashew Pasta Bake

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With Halloween looming, it only seemed appropriate to spend a day of my half term experimenting with some pumpkin recipes. I created a savoury and sweet dish for a dinner and dessert pumpkin overload!

Now before I delve into the ingredient side of things, I must get a minor vent off my chest. Let me stress; this pasta bake was originally intended to be a cannelloni. I envisioned myself creating the creamy cashew and pumpkin filling and rolling up the lasagne sheets with the mixture oozing out of the tubes.

I made an early morning dash to my local Co-op supermarket to gather all of my ingredients together. However my determination to shop from memory rather than list writing inevitably meant that something was forgotten, in this case, the lasagne sheets. Not to worry, I thought to myself, I can just head back there later. Although when I did return, were there any dried lasagne sheets in the pasta section? No. After pestering an unsuspecting shop floor assistant, it was concluded that the only available lasagne sheets were in the fresh section and, alas, contained egg. Not exactly a vegan’s dream.

I headed on out of there to a nearby Tesco Express in pursuit of dried lasagne sheets. There, situated between the penne and the linguine, were my beloved lasagne sheets. In a state of pasta-fuelled euphoria, I practically skipped to the self-service till. Then…disaster struck. An overly lengthy queue left me with time to peruse the packet. And what dastardly word did I see glaring me in the face? Egg. Egg! Why oh why do these food manufacturers presume that all people want egg in their pasta?! Usually the pasta in the dried section is vegan. Most disappointing, Co-op and Tesco.

I returned to the pasta shelf disheartened and picked up the last available option; this bag of large shell pasta that I decided to stuff with my mixture instead.

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With the rant over, it was finally time to focus on the cooking side of things.
This recipe makes enough for 4-5 large portions and the cashew cream filling made a fabulous vegan alternative for ricotta.

INGREDIENTS
•80g cashew nuts, soaked for several hours
•Salt
•Black pepper
•Pinch of nutmeg
•1/4 cup of water
•2 tbsps olive oil
•18 tomatoes, halved
• 3 garlic cloves, crushed
•1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
• A small handful of torn basil leaves
•The flesh of three-quarters of a medium-sized pumpkin
•300g large shell pasta, blanched in hot water for 3-4 minutes
•30g grated vegan cheese (optional)

Method
1) To make the cashew cream, blend the soaked cashews with water, a pinch of salt, pepper and nutmeg until a smooth, cream-like paste is formed. Set aside.

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3) To make the tomato sauce, heat oil in a large pan and add the tomatoes and garlic, stirring gently for 7-10 minutes until the tomatoes start to release some of their juices. Add the balsamic vinegar and basil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 45 minutes. Stand for 5 minutes before blending into a rich sauce. Set aside.

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4) Now heat the oven at 180c. Boil the pumpkin for 20 minutes until soft. Drain, leave to cool and the mash with a fork. Mix with the cashew cream and stuff the pasta shells with a spoonful of the mixture, placing in a large Pyrex dish.

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5) Pour the sauce over the stuffed shells and sprinkle over the vegan cheese if desired.

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6) After 15 minutes, remove the foil, add a few basil leaves and put the dish back in the oven for a further 15 minutes or until bubbling and golden. Leave to stand for a further 10-15 minutes before serving.

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I served a large portion of this hearty, autumnal dish with a watercress side salad. Enjoy!

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Vegetarianism to Veganism: The Switch

Yes, it’s official. After nearly 16 years of vegetarianism, I’ve finally done what I should have done years ago and ventured into a cruelty-free lifestyle. By being vegetarian, I thought that I was doing enough to relieve myself of the guilt of the torture and suffering caused to countless innocent creatures. If I’m entirely honest with myself, my love of cheese and desire for an easy life shrouded the deep-down knowledge I had that egg and dairy farming are inflicting just as much suffering on animals as the act of slaughter itself.

For years I was of the misguided belief that veganism was a highly extreme and near enough impossible way of life. It was only last year when I started up this blog and began linking up with inspirational vegan bloggers that I realised that this is not the case. Whilst the basis of many of my recipes involved cheese or dairy, I started experimenting with vegan ingredients, feeling a lot more creative in the process.

Last year, I made a conscious decision to reduce my dairy intake by cutting out eggs in their pure form, limiting the amount of cheese I ate and switching to soya milk. When I used to consume milk in large quantities (such as a venti latte), I would often become plagued with feelings of bloatedness and indigestion. Soya milk soon put a stop to this. My decision was further cemented upon reading the book ‘PopCo’ by Scarlett Thomas which further raised the ethical issues surrounding the consumption of animals and their by-products.

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I managed a few vegan weeks at the start of the year for the Veganuary pledge but found myself falling short once again. However the knowledge of what is inflicted on cows to produce dairy weighed heavily on my mind and I started to lose any enjoyment in it.

It was the ‘Horizons: Should I Eat Meat?’ documentaries that finally clarified what I already knew. Seeing images of chicks on conveyor belts in factories and a farmer with his arm inside a cow’s digestive system made me realise that this is an inhumane, greedy and exploitive industry that I do not want to be a part of in any way, shape or form. When scrutinising what milk is, the fluid from inside a cow filled with hormones, antibiotics and who knows what else, the transition has been an incredibly easy one!

Now nearly a month in, I’m feeling better than ever before, as if a great weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I’ve still got a lot to learn in terms of which products are vegan but I know I’m going to enjoy exploring new ingredients. I’ve already ventured into a spot of vegan bakery and thoroughly loved these heavenly brownies served with soya cream.

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There are many reasons to go vegan, from health to environmental and ethical ones. People who claim that it’s difficult and unhealthy clearly need to do their research. And if you haven’t already seen the Horizons documentaries then I strongly recommend you do. I challenge even the most cold-hearted of people to not be affected.http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04fhbrt

Further Reading
The Vegan Society

Environmental impact of the meat industry

Veganism linked to lower cancer rates

http://veggiesoup4thesoul.blogspot.co.uk/?m=1

My Week of Meats

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The 29th of March this year marked 15 years of a vegetarian lifestyle for me. Within that time, I’ve been relatively lucky in terms of not inadvertently consuming meat on too many occasions. 2011 was an exception to this, a year that saw me bite into a ham instead of cheese panini, chicken masala instead of paneer masala and beef foo yung instead of mushroom foo yung. All horrific experiences which I can only attribute to incompetent and irresponsible chefs and/or waiters. Since this time, I’ve tried to be extra cautious and highly specific when placing orders and receiving food in restaurants. However, a few weeks ago I found myself coming into contact with meat on several occasions within a few days of each other…

The first near miss occurred whilst visiting a friend in Kent. We decided to go for a pub roast, only to discover that they didn’t actually provide a vegetarian roast option. Unless I wanted just a plate of vegetables, of course. However there was one option on the menu which advertised itself as being suitable for vegetarians; a spinach and ricotta tortellini in a cream sauce. That sounded pleasant enough but as I was about to tuck in, I discovered a generous scattering of Parmesan cheese all over this supposed vegetarian dish. Now I’m not going to sit here and rant about the lack of vegetarian awareness with regards to hard cheeses as it’s a topic I’ve vented about before (read here). The waiter appeared somewhat perplexed when I explained that my dietary requirements did not permit me to eat Parmesan and seemed surprised when I explained that it contains animal fats. He did eventually bring me out another portion sans parmesan but by this point, my friends had long finished their meals.

A few days later, whilst wandering around Soho, my friend and I decided to try the Vietnamese street food chain, Pho. I ordered the Vietnamese tofu curry and all was going well until I was about to nibble into a piece of tofu, only to discover that it was, in fact, chicken. I immediately informed a passing waitress who was genuinely appalled by this, being a vegetarian herself. She took the plate away and went to investigate the situation. A short while later, the manager brought me out the correct dish and gave me his sincere apologies, explaining that it was an error on the part of a brand new waitress. The meal was deducted from the bill and the manager continued to apologise and check that everything was ok throughout the evening, a service I hadn’t come across before after being served meat in a restaurant. So thank you, Pho.

The final incident in my week of meats was another parmesan polava. I was at Guerrilla Eats Street Food Day at the Camden Brewery and ordered a margarita pizza from the Drum and Baste food stand. Upon opening the pizza box it became clear that the margarita was topped with Parmesan and pesto which, alas, contains Parmesan! A double blow. I returned it to the stand and they did whip me up a new pizza, although somewhat begrudgingly…

Hopefully there will be no further incidents this year or in the future. Or maybe this is just a sign that I should stop dining out so much!

Just another veggie vent…

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This morning I was about to embark on a 5 and a half hour coach ride up to Liverpool. It was early and I’d left my flat without eating breakfast but I wasn’t worried. After all, I was at London Victoria where there was an abundance of places to grab food. There wasn’t going to be a problem. Or so I thought.

I looked in Pret a Manger. I looked in Boots. Perhaps it was due to the fact that it was a Sunday morning but there just appeared to be no vegetarian food stocked. My last resort was Sainsbury’s. Even they only appeared to have the odd bog-standard cheese and onion sandwich. Then, hidden behind a load of baguettes, I found a vegetarian option that looked relatively tasty. ‘Goats cheese and grilled pepper ciabatta’. Those were the words exactly as they appeared on the label. I was in a rush for my coach and felt no need to read the finer detail on the label so hurriedly purchased it. As the coach moved through central London, I put my headphones on, admired the city scenery and tucked into my ciabatta. Then I tasted something. Could it be basil or dare I say it….PESTO?!? It was only at this point that I decided to check the label more thoroughly. There, in the fine print, were the words ‘with a creamy pesto dressing’. Given how hungry I was, I clung on to a glimmer of hope that this may well be vegetarian pesto. I desperately searched the packaging for that all-important green ‘v’ symbol. I did not find it. With a grumbling tummy, I had no option but to hand the ciabatta over to my boyfriend. With nothing else but a packet of crisps and bottle of water, my only saving grace was that from previous experience of taking the coach from London to Liverpool, they usually stop off at Lichfield service station. Of course on this particular occasion, they made no such stop. So that’s nearly 6 hours with virtually no food. And I don’t fare well when hungry, to say the least.

Now I wouldn’t say that I’m angry with Sainsbury’s. After all, the onus was on me, the customer, to check the label thoroughly before buying. Nevertheless, I just wish they’d state all the main ingredients in bold print on the label. If the label clearly stated that it contained pesto, I never would have purchased it. Given that most people do not even realise that pesto is not suitable for vegetarians , this label was quite misleading in my opinion. And that’s it. Vent over. Time to go and get some food…

Ode to a sweet potato chip

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I’ve always thought of ‘chips’ as quite a dirty word. When I hear it, I conjure up images of a hectic McDonalds scene or a big, greasy bag of newspaper. Chips were always something I tried avoiding eating too often from the age of 15; I was plagued with a fear of obesity and/or acne. To cut it short, chips are bad for you, end of story.

In recent years, I’ve used sweet potatoes on an increasingly frequent basis. Curries, casseroles, salads. Given their health benefits, I’m surprised that everyone hasn’t completely traded in starchy white potatoes for them. Sweet potatoes include vitamin C, D and iron; something which many vegetarians unknowingly lack in their diet. For further reading on the health benefits of sweet potatoes, visit http://www.care2.com/greenliving/9-reasons-to-love-sweet-potatoes.html.

Given their healthiness and versatility, it only makes sense to use them to make chips. Now this is something I’ve fought many a losing battle with. How difficult can it be to produce the perfect sweet potato chip?! I thought that drowning them in olive oil was the key to forming the crispy outer layer. Sadly, all that left me with was a soggy mess. Still, I persevered and I can now confidently say that I know how to make the perfect sweet potato chips!

Now I would love to say that this is an achievement I acquired through my own hard graft. But that would be a lie. I took the tips from the Instructables website. Nevertheless, a major part of my culinary habits have been revolutionised and I’ll never look back. Some of the key tips I picked up from this website include:-
• leaving the skin on- after all, that’s where most of the nourishment is contained.
• Use MINIMAL oil. This will stop the chips from turning soggy.
• Spreading out the chips on a baking tray will allow them adequate space to cook beautifully.
• Even a small sprinkling of salt and black pepper will make a world of difference to the flavour.
• Pre-heat the oven to 200c. Leave the chips in for 15 minutes then flip them over and cook for another 10 minutes.

The beauty of these babies is that you can add them to so many meals! I find them particularly useful to create a bit of a ‘pub grub’ vibe at home. Some recent dishes where my sweet potato chips have acted as an accompaniment include a homemade mushroom stroganoff and salad…

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And that classic; portobello mushroom and halloumi ‘burgers’.

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So what are you waiting for?! Switch to sweet potatoes today; your health will thank you for it!

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Man vs Veggie

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Can an avid meat-eater and strict vegetarian ever cohabit in sheer harmony? That’s the question I’ve been mulling over recently.

Four and a half years ago, Tom and I embarked on our first date. The drinks were flowing. There was laughter and flirtation, when all of a sudden, Tom made a food-related suggestion.
“Let’s go for a curry. I know this place that does an amazing lamb balti!”
My smile wavered. “Well the thing is Tom… I’m actually a vegetarian.”
Silence. He put down his pint. The colour drained from his face. I swear I even saw the glimmer of a tear forming in his eye. How could we possibly progress from this moment of doom?!!

After compromising on a Domino’s takeaway, we made it through and here we are several years later. I can’t deny the fact that Tom well and truly earned his place in my veggie little world. Having spent 25 years of his life never once having to concern himself with anything remotely veggie-related, he adapted. He amended his cooking habits. He broadened his horizons. On one of our earlier dates he even rustled up a delicious homemade vegetable lasagne. I knew from that point that he was a keeper.

So how have we managed to make it through? In all honesty, the small matter of a 200 mile distance has probably played a part. You see until January of this year, Tom remained living in Liverpool, whilst I had moved to London back in September 2009. That’s over three years of veggie/meat domestic-related arguments that we’ve saved ourselves from.

Now that’s not to say it’s been all hearts and flowers. There have been times when our differing dietary requirements have caused ructions, particularly when dining out. For instance, for my birthday two years ago, Tom offered to take me out for a meal at a restaurant of my choice. I fancied something of Italian origin, preferably where I could eat a goats’ cheese-based pasta dish (fussy, I know). After hours of online research, I found a lovely looking place in Soho and Tom booked us a table.

After a few drinks in Soho first, we merrily headed to the restaurant. We ordered a bottle of wine and our starters instantly. I opted for the veggie panini which looked delicious when it arrived. As I chomped my way through it, something did not seem quite right. Upon closer inspection, I realised that there was a pink, flesh-like substance within the bread. Ham. HAM!!!! Feeling traumatised and nauseous, I immediately retreated to the bathroom. The staff apologised profusely for inadvertently serving me the ham panini, offering to bring me the correct food on the house. But by this point, the damage was done and I just wanted to leave. Tom was not impressed. Actually he was furious, blaming me for not making my order clear enough, as well as making the poor waitress feel bad. We travelled home in silence, him stopping off for a Domino’s pizza and me buying a tofu curry from the Wasabi stand outside Liverpool Street station. Happy birthday, me.

Holidays abroad can also raise tensions. France was particularly difficult, seemingly vegetarianism and the French do not mix. Tom was very supportive, even though it meant we were dining in Italian restaurants most nights which, considering we were in Paris, did not feel quite right. To thank him for being so supportive, I suggested that we dine out at a traditional French restaurant one night, even though I knew that my choices would be limited. There was a dish on the menu called ‘plates de legumes’. Feeling optimistic, I made the assumption that this would be some sort of fancy, creative vegetable concoction. Not quite. It was, rather literally, a plate of vegetables. Nothing more, nothing less.

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Most recently, we went on holiday to Singapore where Chinese cuisine is highly prominent. Unfortunately for me, vegetarianism does not play a prominent role within Chinese cuisine. I knew that Tom had his heart set on eating at the traditional hawker markets so in order to be supportive, I suggested that we venture to the ones in Chinatown. After all, surely I’d be able to find plenty of vegetable rice and noodle dishes. I was in luck (or so I thought) as I saw several stands with the word ‘vegetarian’ on. However, I soon realised that ‘vegetarian’ to the Chinese simply means any meat dish with a few vegetables on the side. Soon enough, my senses had a meltdown as the sight and smells of all the meat, combined with the humidity, meant I had to leave. We ended up in a nearby cafe; still authentic in its Chinese origins but at least they served a plate of tofu.

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Tom and I have now been living together for over 8 months and are starting to accept and understand eachother’s differing views, opting to cook and eat separately most of the time. Admittedly, I don’t like it when he cooks meat and stinks out the flat, nor does he particularly like it when I make him eat my bizarre tofu concoctions. Nonetheless, relationships are all about give and take and we’ve managed to make it work.

So what does this mean for the future? Whilst still a long way off, I can only imagine the inevitable arguments about the food at our reception, should we ever decide to tie the not (I just know that he would want a hog roast). But for the meantime, we’re making it work, proving that meat-eaters and vegetarians can, in fact, cohabit in harmony. Just about!

Vegetarian?! What’s that?

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Abraham Lincoln, Morrissey and erm…Pamela Anderson. What do they all have in common? That’s right they are all (or were) vegetarian. We now live in an age where vegetarianism is more widespread than ever before and thanks to groups such as The Vegetarian Society, there is increasing awareness to all things meat-free. Yet, there still appears to be somewhat of a stigma attached to vegetarianism, making it the butt of many a rubbish joke.

Go into any decent shop or supermarket and what do you find? Whole sections dedicated to veggie food. Brands such as Quorn and Linda McCartney Foods specialise in offering meat-free alternatives and foods that are veg-friendly. Surely this is all indicative that a fair proportion of society are vegetarian, right? So why do many vegetarians still feel that they are subjected to much ignorance and even derogatory treatment from our meat-eating counterparts?

There are different variations of vegetarianism within the whole ‘vegesphere’ (if i can claim that as a real word). Some people eat fish but still refer to themselves as vegetarian. Some people are more relaxed than others about consuming animal products such as gelatine and rennet. Some vegetarians become distressed at the prospect of cross-contamination of their food, whereas others aren’t as fussed. People have a range of reasons for becoming vegetarian, from animal rights to simply just not liking the taste. Regardless of levels of strictness and reasons, vegetarians should not be made to feel almost discriminated against for their own personal life choices.

I was once at a barbeque with people that I didn’t know very well. Now barbeques are not my top choice of activity on a sunny day but as all my friends and family are meat-lovers, they sort of become unavoidable. Anyway, at this barbeque someone informed me that they had very kindly prepared me some vegetable and halloumi kebabs. Brilliant, I thought to myself, I can cook them before the meat goes on. Unfortunately I didn’t get there in time and my kebabs were grilled right next to a big slimy piece of duck and served up to me in all their duck-fat glory. What was I to do in this situation? If I spoke up, I’d face being seen as ungrateful and fussy, as well as creating a scene. If I said nothing and politely nibbled away at the kebabs, I would more than likely vomit…thus still creating a scene. I decided to go with the former option and faced some peculiar looks and questioning. “Why won’t you eat it, it wasn’t touching the duck?”, “Why is it that you’re vegetarian, anyway?” You get the idea. Vegetarians generally don’t want their food anywhere near where meat is or has been. Surely that’s just common sense?

So why do we still see so much ignorance veered towards vegetarians in this day and age? I’m of the opinion that it has much to do with the fact that vegetarians are still a highly under-represented section of society. I mean how many vegetarians do you know personally? I don’t know many at all. We are seeing some changes in relation to attitudes and the acceptance of vegetarians so my hope is that this can only progress as they years go by. Some of my recipe posts have been followed by comments such as, “now all you need is a big bit of chicken to go with that” (yes mother dearest, you are guilty of this). However harmless in their intent, those comments are swiftly deleted (sorry mum).

Due to just about everyone I know eating meat, I am constantly surrounded by it. I don’t preach. I try not to wince or complain. So this attitude really needs to be reciprocated. Afterall, vegetarianism is merely a life choice, not a disability (despite what some may say!). Now I’m off to munch on some carrot sticks…