Monday, 30 May 2011

Impure puttanesca

Since the name 'puttanesca' has certain interesting connotations, I don't feel too bad about messing with its purity. The traditional recipe involves anchovies, so a true purist would throw their hands up in horror at what I just made. That's their problem. ;) If you want a vegan puttanesca that hasn't been messed with quite so much, try this. It was the recipe I had in mind when buying the olives and capers the other day, but when I came to make it tonight I couldn't resist the allure of vegetables that need using up. And impurity turned out to taste good...

-Three mushrooms
-Two smallish red peppers
-A few green (French?) beans
-Two or three cloves of garlic, crushed
-A dozen or so olives, cut in half
-Two teaspoons of capers
-A standard tin of tomatoes
-Olive oil
-Chilli flakes
-Cayenne pepper

Heat the olive oil on high (it should cover the bottom of the pan) and add the chilli flakes. Turn it down.
Cook the mushrooms in olive oil over a medium heat. (I NEVER EVER want to bite into a raw mushroom in any situation that has an alternative other than starvation - hence the mushrooms always go in first!) Mushrooms can be a bit absorbent, add extra oil if necessary.
Add the peppers and green beans, then the garlic, olives and capers. It's fine, nay great, if some of the liquid from these things gets in.
Stir in the tomatoes, a small amount of cayenne pepper (half a teaspoon or so) and a larger (maybe a teaspoon) amount of paprika. Rinse out the tomato can with clean cold water and add that to the contents of the pan.
Simmer for 40 minutes or so. If it seems a bit too runny add tomato puree to thicken.

This made four servings (two each for two people) with a decent quantity of fusilli.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011


Increasing Veganicity

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Monday, 23 May 2011

Garlicky bean sauce

We had this with pasta, I guess it could go with other things too though. I'm getting quite into making pasta sauces from scratch rather than using a jar. This is because I realised that pasta used to be one of my favourite foods, whereas now it just seems like a make-do meal if there's nothing else to hand. So this is me reclaiming my pasta!

Take one tin of haricot, cannelini or blackeyed beans, tip into a roasting tin.
Squash three or four cloves of garlic and scatter the bits around the roasting tin. Splash the whole lot with olive oil. Put the tin and its contents in the oven on 200C for 20 minutes or so.

Chop a couple of handfuls of green beans and an onion (I usually use red ones) and cook in olive oil for about 10 mins at medium heat. (Olive oil can go yucky at higher temperatures, although NOT poisonous as some have claimed) Add the contents of the roasting tin. Add a tablespoon or two of tomato paste (your mileage may vary on this one) then enough hot water to cover everything. Bring to the boil then simmer for about half an hour. Add more water if necessary.

Because I've recently become a fan of aioli, I added some vegan mayo - maybe two tablespoons - during the last five minutes before serving. I think this improved the texture and taste a bit, but it is a completely optional part of the recipe!

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Blending in smoothly

This weekend I've finally started to make use of the smoothie blender I've had since October. It would probably have been useful to get the extra vitamin C in the winter, but sadly I didn't have a lot of time or energy to fiddle with a new piece of kit until now. Also, there's more fruit around at this time of year!

Smoothies so far;
-Peach and banana (this was the maiden voyage, based on what was most easily available)
-Banana and peanut butter with some cocoa powder

Smoothies to try:
-Pineapple and banana, maybe with a bit of coconut
-Peach and raspberry
-Strawberry and banana

I've been mostly making these smoothies with soy milk, although it could be done with orange juice. I've also had a go at making almond milk:

-Bash up 100g of almonds with a rolling pin. (this blender is probably not strong enough to deal with whole nuts)
-Soak them in 500ml water (and in this case a couple of splashes of vanilla extract) for half an hour or so
-Add a dollop or two of maple syrup or agave nectar, and blend
-Filter with a narrow mesh sieve.

This left me with 500ml of liquid and a cup full of almond mush to enhance future smoothies or maybe go in biscuits. Personally I felt the need to add extra maple syrup to the milk before drinking a glass of it, but your mileage may vary.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

For the vegan in your life and the life in your vegan

I have no idea whether anyone reading this blog fits the demographic I have in mind - those who aren't vegan, may or may not be interested in veganism for themselves, but have one or more vegan friends they want to do stuff with without hassle. (Of course if you're vegan and agree with this list it could be something to refer your friends to!)

Anyway, here are a few hints for being a friend to a vegan:
-Give their favourite cafe a try - if someone has been vegan for any length of time they will have some good ideas of where to go.
-If you're going for a meal, be prepared to check the menus of a few different places - there are some really good vegan options out there, but sometimes they need looking for.
-Vegan food is food everyone can eat, vegetarian food is food *almost* anyone can eat, so don't get too scared by the prospect of going in a vegan or vegetarian cafe.
-Likewise, don't be scared if your vegan friend invites you over to dinner. You can guess that at least we don't bite. Of course I can't guarantee that they are a good cook, but veganism certainly doesn't guarantee that they are not!
-You may have questions about the whys and hows of veganism, especially if this friend is the first vegan you've got to know well. It is fine to ask questions. Try to do it constructively and not get upset at the answers. Mealtimes aren't the best place for these discussions. Dialogue is cool, a fight isn't.
-If you're cooking at home, you don't have to make everything vegan (although you may like to) - however your friend might feel singled out if they are limited to a plate of lettuce. The 'net is full of vegan recipe sites - you can find a few in the sidebar here. There are a fair few recipe ideas on this blog, just click the tag marked 'food'. You may also find Activeg's Special Guests useful. The Co-op is the best UK supermarket for labelling of vegan alcohol, followed by Sainsbury's - Tesco is ok but you have to make do by spotting vegetarian wines that don't list egg or milk as allergens. (NB if you aren't the one who cooks in your house, let your significant other/roommate/parent know ahead of time that there will be a vegan there, I have a dear friend who sprung this on his wife a couple of hours before I was due...)
-New vegans can sometimes be a bit like newborn vampires in their enthusiasm for vegangelising, this is generally motivated by genuine compassion for animals and a desire for a better world, so try not to let it get to you. Although if you do feel inspired to go vegan, that's a very good thing indeed. ;)

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Parsnip curry, a nice surprise

We bought a large bag of short-dated parsnips the other day, too many to roast for one Sunday dinner, so they needed using up. I'm not quite sure whose idea parsnip curry was initially, I'm happier about claiming it having happily eaten a couple of helpings, on the other hand I should probably give the significant other credit if it is due. I've never made or seen a recipe for parsnip curry before, so it took a bit of thinking about - I figured mild and creamy would work best. This was a relatively small meal - we stretched it out to two helpings each but that was with extra rice and poppadums (and a naan bread for the one of us who isn't vegan - the Co-op do vegan ones but I hadn't had time to go there, they aren't my favourite thing anyway though).

Start with what appears (from checking the label and what is left in the bag) to be three quarters of a kilo of parsnips. You might like to do more if you don't have any extras around. Peel and chop the parsnips and boil for 20 mins or so.

Strain the parsnips in a colander. Heat some margarine (or veg ghee if you can get it) in the bottom of the saucepan, briefly cook a sprinkling of coriander and cardomom seeds in this, add two or three crushed garlic cloves (less if you aren't keen, more if you love it or have a vampire infestation in your house). Stir the parsnips back in after a few seconds. Add a tablespoon or two of ground cumin.

Crush or grate a sachet or so of creamed coconut (you could probably use a tin of coconut milk if you have it, the creamed stuff keeps better and is cheaper though) over the parsnips and stir in. Add warm water (obviously not if you used coconut milk!) and stir in until the coconut dissolves and everything is covered. Simmer for half an hour or so.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Why You Don't Need Meat and other stories

I will own up and say that I was the teensiest bit wrong in the last post, when I stated that Vegan Freak was the first book I'd come across that combined the why and the how of not eating animals. Only the teensiest bit though. Peter Cox's Why You Don't Need Meat rocks the whole combination of why and how, of goriness with nutrition info, of tips on coexistence with the omnis in your life and exhortations to stand your ground... You get the idea. What it does not rock, iirc (my copy is in a different country from me so I can't check for sure) is the vegan angle. I think it hints that veganism would be an ideal, but it also stops short of recommending it and includes dairy, eggs and so on in the nutrition bit. It may also be a bit dated by now, I got the original edition in paperback nearly twenty years ago. It did the job for what I needed back then though!

There were a few books that got me through as a newbie vegetarian and vegan. The first, which appears to be out of print but available secondhand through Amazon, is the Teenage Vegetarian Survival Guide by Anouchka Grose (went for a while by Grose Forrester). This contains tips about veganism, but mostly is about the wrongs of eating meat. The case for veganism was largely put to me firstly by current events - this was during the heyday of live calf exports following on the tail of controversy about battery farming kicked off by one Mrs Currie - and by fiction. I was rather solitary as a young person and books were my connection with the outside world. The most impressive of these in my opinion was Jean Ure's Who Says Animals Don't Have Rights which also goes into ideas such as direct action and how far to go in the name of a cause.

The best books I've had on animal rights have been Campaign Against Cruelty by Alex Bourke and Ronny Worsey and (the original UK paperback of) Ingrid Newkirk's Save the Animals! The former deals with starting campaigns and forming groups, the latter with tips for what you can do in your everyday life. When I left PETA they sent me a copy of the new, improved edition, personally I didn't find it quite so inspiring as the older one for some reason. That could just be me though. When I review makeup and skincare I often point out that your skin chemistry and colouring is likely to be different, the same goes for your reaction to any given book.

And the worst, hmm. There was a book called Commonsense Vegetarianism that appeared in my parents' house at some stage, which may have had some sensible advice in but largely seemed to be scaremongering about how careful you have to be. It was seriously anti-vegan. Nice and all that my folks were making the effort to read up on it, but I wish they'd found a more positive source - suffice it to say it would have been less hassle for everyone. Then there was another teenage fiction book, Burning Issues, can't be bothered to look up the author here but the gist of it is that animal activists are all psychos or dupes. It was also incredibly frustrating that the main character didn't show a sign of being vegetarian, let alone vegan. Then there's Skinny Bitch, I've talked about that before right at the start of this blog. Suffice it to say here that conflating ethical veganism with dieting doesn't strike me as a good idea and I will never be down with 'lov[ing] the empty feeling in your stomach'.

What were your most (and least) inspiring reads when going vegan?

Monday, 9 May 2011

Thoughts on Vegan Freak

Vegan Freak by Bob and Jenna Torres is the first 'new' vegan book I've read in quite a while, the combination of very little money, regular access to the internet and already knowing the basic facts has meant I haven't really made much effort to seek such things out. But - several years late - I decided I'd see what the fuss was about.

I have to admit I wasn't expecting to like this one as much as I did. I used to hang out on the Vegan Freak forums (there's a link in my sidebar) and didn't have a hugely happy experience there. There were a lot of cool people, but also quite a few who, well, I'm sure they're good people and their hearts are in the right place but we did not take the same approach to vegan advocacy or practice. In any other forum people get dissed for getting drunk, eating cheese and needing hand-holding. In that one admitting to making and feeling repentant about a mistake got the same reaction. Many new vegans need advice on getting their significant other on side, if they asked for that there you could guarantee multiple 'dump him/her' type responses. (Disclaimer, I was either single or dating a vegan at that point, so I'm not being sore from getting this response myself) I'd recommend it to an existing vegan or a new one with a thick skin, not to anyone easily offended. Personally I have my doubts about that sort of approach, even in terms of its effectiveness as a means to encourage people to go vegan. (Ok, being entirely fair, I also stopped hanging out there as much because a regular had an avatar that referenced one of my few phobias, that's nobody's issue but mine.)

In the light of this, the book was a pleasant surprise. Sure it pushed the hard line on veganism, but that's a good thing when done in a constructive way. The Torres' gave a lot of measured advice on how to talk about veganism in what contexts - don't preach or get gory over dinner with omni family, talk about it calmly another time, stick to your guns *without* creating a major row. (I know, and Bob and Jenna may also know, that not everyone can do this - there will be some contexts where no approach will entirely avoid aggro - I'm afraid the only solution there is probably to stick it out until the problem starts to fade. Eventually it will. Or if the aggressor isn't in your immediate family or your favourite person evah apart from this they might fade out instead.) There is a bit of goriness, just to fill the reader in (or provide a reminder of) why to go vegan, but the focus is generally on how/why it is wrong to *use* animals rather than why particularly egregious abuses are wrong. (We all know the latter anyway, you can eat meat four times a day and still think some things are wrong, so it isn't always the best hook to use for veganism specifically) There's a lot on why people become ex-vegans, which I found useful in trying to understand the most recent crop, and also how to avoid becoming one yourself.

There are a lot of books out there on either why or how to go vegan. This is probably the best I've seen at combining the two.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Finding other vegans

Going and staying vegan can be rather daunting if you don't know any other vegans, if the vegetarians in your social group (assuming there are any) are already seen as scary militants (particularly if they don't like that position being challenged by someone doing more!), if you mostly know 'vegans' who cheat regularly using tenuous excuses, if you love your friends dearly but feel the absence of that particular common factor... you get the idea. It can be positively isolating if the people you hang out with are openly hostile and threatened by the prospect of eating anywhere that even has a vegan option - I hope that's the case for waaaay fewer people than it was in the past, but I hear enough stories that suggest the phenomenon hasn't died out quite yet. Anyway, more friends is always a good thing right? And I can say from experience that having more vegan friends makes it a whole lot easier to be vegan yourself. So here's some places to start looking!

There are vegan Meetup groups across the world, just type in your post/zip code to see where your nearest one is. I'd never used Meetup until my last big move, it's been a great way to get to know people.

If you don't quite feel like turning up to a cafe to meet a bunch of people you don't (yet) know - or don't have a local group - you can gear yourself up by getting to know other vegans online. My favourite places are Vegan Lounge and Vegan Forum.

The Vegan Society and ActiVeg both maintain databases of local groups and contacts. The Veggies Directory, meanwhile, is a treasure trove for all things vegan, animal rights, etc that you might want or need to look up.

And of course you can comment here, click through to other blogs, and maybe start your own... ;)

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Packed lunch and dinner

Tomorrow I have a fairly long (although largely quiet) day at work, so I have to take in enough food to keep me going all day! Lunch is two homemade herby brown rolls with half a slice each of Tofutti plastic cheddar (because vegans can eat crap too...) and salsa (left over from nachos yesterday). I'm thinking I might add some carrot sticks, and also buy a small bar of plain chocolate from the campus shop for dessert. (Iron AND caffiene, what more do I need?) Dinner is the final installment of the last post. I mixed the leftover barbecue tofu with roast vegetables for dinner today, and made sure that there were leftovers of *that* so I could mix them with tofu for a portable evening meal.

I've no idea about the vegan-friendliness of the food outlets on campus, they look ok on the surface but I've always taken my own food in to save money. Taking your own can seem like a bit of a faff and adds extra weight to what you have to carry around (I miss having a desk to leave stuff on!), but it does guarantee that you'll have not just vegan food but vegan food you actually like (and don't have to pay over the odds or queue for).

The gift that goes on giving

For lunch yesterday we had vegetable and tofu skewers. Apologies for the lack of photos, still having bandwidth issues that makes uploading them a massive liability. The vegetable content included tomatoes, mushrooms, courgettes and red peppers. The tofu (after dry-frying for AGES, if we had a tumble dryer I'd be tempted to put it in that!) was done in a slightly improvised barbecue marinade:

-Enough sunflower oil to cover the tofu pieces
-Three or four cloves of garlic, peeled and bashed to pieces with the knife handle. (You can extract the flavour more efficiently as it breaks the cellular structure in a way that cutting with a blade doesn't - I have a favourite knife for the purpose!)
-Tablespoon or so of maple syrup
-Dash of soy sauce (yes these two ingredients sound WEIRD together, but it worked)
-Chilli powder (the one I used has cumin in as well as chilli - I've only sussed this out recently!)

I left the tofu in the marinade for an hour or so while getting on with other important tasks such as drinking coffee and reading the newspaper. Amazingly, despite the battering it went through in the attempt to shift the water out, the pieces held together when skewered. We had two skewers each with couscous and bean salad.

The leftover marinade proved useful when making chilli for dinner - I used some of the excess flavoured oil for frying the soy mince, onions, peppers and so on, and scooped some of the garlic in for good measure. We still have some tofu left as well, so I'm planning on doing that with roast vegetables for dinner today. The leftover chilli is going to be the basis of pasta sauce for lunch.

Incidentally, if you want to get chilli powder that is JUST crushed dried chillis (without anything added), the only brand I've found so far is Julian Graves - available in Holland and Barrett. Alternatively I've been using chilli flakes - Schwartz I think - which look like fish food but work well. Of course I tend to add cumin seeds anyway, being a contrary sort of duck.

On another note, I downloaded the kindle edition of Vegan Freak yesterday, liking it so far, watch this space...