Creamy Mushroom & Thyme Soup

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Mushroom and thyme are one of my ultimate favourite foodie combinations. Whether in a pasta sauce, soup or risotto, they compliment each other beautifully. I’d somehow ended up with a load of mushrooms in my fridge which needed to be used up so a creamy mushroom soup seemed like the perfect dish for lunch on a cold and dreary afternoon.

Ingredients (3-4 portions)
•1tbsp dried porcini mushrooms
•2tbsps olive oil
•1 onion, roughly chopped
•2 cloves of garlic, crushed
•200g closed cup mushrooms, sliced
•200g chestnut mushrooms, sliced
•2 tsps fresh thyme leaves
•salt and black pepper for seasoning
•700ml mushroom stock
•200ml unsweetened soya milk

Method
1) Soak the porcini mushrooms in boiling water for at least 10 minutes. Drain and set aside. Heat the oil and gently sauté the onion and garlic for 5 minutes.
2) Add the mushrooms (including porcini) a small batch at a time so that they can cook in their own juices. Add the thyme and season well. Once all mushrooms are soft and brown, add the stock and stir in the soya milk.
3) Blend into a thick soup. Leave a few chunks of mushrooms un-blended for extra bite and texture. Add more water to the soup if necessary.

Serve with crusty bread and enjoy!

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Roasted Red Pepper & Lentil Soup

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I love a hearty bowl of soup for lunch during the week and there’s nothing more satisfying than making your own, free from the high levels of salt, sugar and preservatives that the shop-bought varieties contain.

I made a massive batch of this delicious soup on Sunday afternoon and it has provided me with lunch for the entire working week.

Several red peppers are required in order to bring out the flavour in the soup but I can guarantee it’s worth it. I used a mixture of bell peppers and sweet pointed peppers.

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Roasting them for an extended period with thyme brings out immensely sweet flavours and the added red lentils give that hearty feel to it.

INGREDIENTS (4-5 portions)
•4 red bell peppers
•4 sweet pointed peppers
•4 tomatoes, halved
•3 cloves of garlic, crushed
•The leaves of 7 sprigs of thyme
•1 tsp black pepper
• Pinch of salt
•1tbsp olive oil
•700ml veg stock
• 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
•200g red lentils

METHOD
1) Pre-heat the oven at 180c. De-seed and roughly chop the peppers, placing in a large oven-proof dish along with the tomatoes. Sprinkle on the garlic, thyme, salt and pepper, drizzling over the oil.

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2) Place in the oven and roast for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. In the meantime, rinse and boil the lentils, drain and set aside.
3) When removing the peppers from the oven, leave to stand and cool significantly. Add the majority of the stock and blitz with a hand-held blender. Examine the consistency and add more stock if necessary. Stir in the balsamic vinegar, lentils and serve.

I drizzled a dash of soya cream on mine and served with a sprig of thyme. The rest of the soup was then dished out in tuppeware boxes, ready for the week ahead!

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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

Spicy Bean Soup

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As the temperature begins to plummet, it becomes clear that autumn is well and truly on the way. With a chilly breeze in the air outside, it’s left me craving warm and hearty soups once again, such is the inspiration behind this delicious spicy bean soup.

This huge batch made enough for 6 generous portions. That’s lunch sorted for the rest of the week!

INGREDIENTS
•2 tbsp veg oil
•1 onion, roughly chopped
•3 crushed garlic cloves
•2 tbsp ground cumin
•2 tsp ground coriander
•chilli flakes…depends how hot you like it. I ended up using 2tbsp in this big batch!
•1 tbsp tomato purée
•1kg chopped tomatoes-I used this container from Sainsbury’s rather than buying multiple tins

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•1 tsp caster sugar
•1l veg stock
•1kg mixed beans-I used red kidney, butter and cannellini beans, drained
•salt and pepper to season
•fresh coriander to serve

METHOD
1) Heat the oil and gently cook the onion and garlic on a low setting.
2) Add the coriander, cumin and chilli flakes, stirring gently for 2 minutes.
3) Stir in the tomato purée, followed by the chopped tomatoes and sugar.
4) Pour in the stock and taste, adding more herbs and spices if necessary.
5) Transfer to a food processor or use a hand-held blender to form a rich, smooth soup. Add more stock if preferred.

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6) Add the the beans and season. Leave to cook on a low heat for 30 minutes.

When serving up, sprinkle on some fresh chopped coriander. Simple!

Vegetarian Breakfast: spicy avocado & halloumi on toasted sourdough w/tasty beans

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A while back, I never would have considered having avocado and halloumi for breakfast. However, after having these as part of the vegetarian breakfast at the Pavilion Cafe in Victoria Park, I was inspired to make this concoction for breakfast last week.

I bought this delicious sourdough loaf from the Spence Bakery on Stoke Newington Church Street and gently toasted it under the grill.

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I used very soft and ripe avocados (1 makes enough for 2 servings) and mashed a mixed it with a drizzle of olive oil, 2 pinches of chilli flakes and the juice of half a lime.

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I spread half of the mixture on a thick slice of the sourdough, refrigerating the rest for the next day. I lightly grilled a slice of halloumi and placed this on top.

For the beans, I heated a tbsp of olive oil and added half a crushed garlic clove and pinches of cumin, oregano, paprika and cayenne pepper. I then added a can of chopped tomatoes and a can of drained butter beans (cannellini beans would also work well).

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I left this to simmer on a low heat for around 15 mins, regularly tasting and adding more herbs and spices until I was satisfied with the taste. I added half of the beans to my dish and saved the rest for the following day.

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To wash this down, I had one of my boyfriend’s delicious fruit smoothies that he made by blitzing some frozen mixed berries, tinned pineapple and a banana in a blender.

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A great way to start the day and I remained full right up until dinner time…which is very unusual for me and my big appetite!

Next time I’m going to try a vegan alternative, replacing the halloumi with a grilled portobello mushroom!

Mushroom stoup with three-root mash

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After watching back-to-back episodes of River Cottage Veg on Sunday evening, I was inspired to try Hugh’s mushroom ‘stoup’ (a hybrid of a stew and soup) along with a three-root mash. Time to dig out my favourite vegetarian cookbook again!

For the ingredients, I headed to a lovely little greengrocer shop on Stoke Newington Church Street, beautifully stocked with just about every type of fruit, vegetable, herb and grain imaginable!

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I deviated from the original recipe for personal tastes but it worked out well for me!

Mushroom stoup ingredients (5 portions approx)
•2 tbsp olive oil
•small knob of butter
•2 onions roughly chopped
•2 carrots, peeled and sliced
•2 celery stalks, chopped
•4 garlic cloves, crushed
•500g mixed mushrooms; I used a variety of Dutch mushrooms, including shiitake, oyster, chestnut and button
•250g portobello mushrooms
•1l mushroom stock
•a handful of chopped parsley
•salt and pepper to season

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METHOD
1) Heat half the oil and butter, gently sautéing the onions for 2 minutes then add the carrots and celery, simmering gently.
2) In the meantime, heat the remaining oil and butter and simmer the garlic VERY gently-nothing worse than the bitter taste of over cooked garlic! Add the mushrooms in their batches, stirring gently each time.
3) Add the onion mix to the mushroom mix, followed by the mushroom stock and cook uncovered on a medium heat for 20 minutes. Stir in the salt, pepper and parsley.
* The dish was very runny so I did stir in a small amount of cornflour. I might use less stock next time.

Now on to the root mash. This could be made with any type of root veg but I opted for parsnips, turnip and sweet potato. Yum!

INGREDIENTS (5 portions approx)
•2 parsnips
•1 small turnip
•1 VERY large sweet potato (or 2-3 small ones)
•A bay leaf
• A knob of butter
•100-200ml milk
•A few shavings of vegetarian hard cheese
•Salt and pepper to season

METHOD
1) Peel and chop the veg, placing in a large pan with the bay leaf. Leave to boil for 20 minutes or until soft and tender.

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2) Drain the water and remove the bay leaf. Add the butter and mash as much as physically possible! Stir in the milk bit by bit until you’re happy with the texture. Add the cheese and use a hand-held blender to eradicate those remaining stubborn lumps!
3) Add more milk if necessary, until you’re left with a thick and smooth consistency. Season to taste.

I served the stoup and mash with curly kale sautéed in shallots, topped off with a refreshing yogurt made by mixing creme fraiche and dried dill.

Make sure you have plenty of crusty bread on hand to mop up the stoup!