Tapas Temptations

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Fresh Coconut at the Meets in Amsterdam

The first step to recovery is admittance … My name is Sophie and I ate fish in Cephalonia.

This summer has been one of the best.   (Ignoring the upheaval from Dubai, where I was living in an empty apartment and attempting 45 degree sunbathing like a true mad Brit)  It has been none stop socialising, flitting from place to place and turning my back on any responsibilities (no house, no job…. no problem!). This nomadic lifestyle has brought me face to fromage with food temptations.

Staring at a menu in a beautiful setting by the ocean in Cephalonia was my first crash off the vegan-wagon. I could lie and say there was only fish and meat on the menu, that I could have asked for the salad without feta, that I didn’t need the fifth cheese pie… but the first step to recovery is admittance. I hold my hands up. I ate a lot of feta and fish in Cephalonia. 

Next was Madrid… meaty Madrid. The land of free tapas and beautifully cooked vegetables… covered in cheese.  Everything was covered in cheese.  I am proud to say that I resisted many tapas temptations and managed to dodge my way around most dairy deviants (apart from one spinach and cheese crepe where I threw caution to the wind after a gallon of Sangria).

Both adventures did leave me questioning my vegan ways. A big part of my love of travel has been to try the local food (and drink) to the utmost. Not turning anything down and never really questioning where it has come from. I began thinking maybe I could just be a vegan in the real world and not in the holiday world… It’s not really cheating if it’s in a different postcode, right? (Ha ha…)

But then came Amsterdam, which my cousin and I have now aptly renamed Amster-vegan. I know most people come back from boozy weekends in the Dam with stories of bananas and brothels. I however have tales of vegan junk food and nights in with tofu (along with the odd tumble off a bike).

A big help to being vegan on holiday is doing your research first (or making your cousin do this for you). Amsterdam was full of vegan treats, which could easily have been missed if relying on my usual ‘let’s wing it’ approach to life. The first night we enjoyed ‘100% plant-based chicken’ kebabs at a place called Donnies. I have always felt a bit dubious about fake meat but seitan (not Satan) may have persuaded me otherwise. The kebabs were delicious. So were the bottles of red wine.

The rest of the weekend followed suit with a ‘greens and grains’ bowl from Little Collins (with even better Bloody Marys), dirty & delicious vegan ‘cheese’ burgers from Vegan Junk Food Bar and beautiful summer rolls and Caesar salad from Meets restaurant.


All this eating out does have a tendency to burn a hole in your pocket so we enjoyed a few romantic meals in too. Cousins by candlelight – we sang along to 80s pop and ate fried tofu with greens invented by Julia Holmes.  Then black bean quesadillas invented by me.  See recipes below to create.  I now feel re-inspired to get back in the kitchen and get cooking.

Summer is nearly over.  My name is Sophie and I am well and truly back on the Vegan Venture.

 

Tofu with Greens for 2IMG-0217

  • 250g tenderstem broccoli
  • 1 handful frozen peas
  • a generous amount of fresh spinach
  • 250g firm tofu cut into strips
  • 1 splash olive oil

For the marinade…

  • 1 fresh chili finely chopped and deseeded (depending on preference)
  • 1 clove garlic finely chopped or crushed
  • 1 inch ginger finely chopped
  • 3 generous glugs of light soy sauce
  • a big glug of thick, dark soy sauce

What Julia did…

Marinate the strips of tofu for a couple of hours (watch a film accompanied by gin and tonics while you wait).  Heat the olive oil in a pan for a few minutes and then add the tofu along with the marinade.  Fry for 5 to 10 minutes.  Shallow boil the peas and broccoli in a sealed pan for 8 minutes (or until the broccoli is slightly tender).  Put big handfuls of fresh spinach into 2 bowls then divide out the greens and the tofu.

Pour the red wine.  Light the candles.  Enjoy. 

Black Bean Quesadillas for 2

  • 1 fresh chilli chopped finely and deseeded (depending on preference)
  • 1 clove garlic chopped finely
  • 2 Portobello mushrooms cut into slices
  • 200g tinned black beans
  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 1 lemon
  • 3 large flour tortillas
  • 1 lime

IMG-0214Simply…

Fry the mushrooms with the garlic and chilli for 5 to 10 minutes.  Drain and rinse the black beans then smash roughly with a fork.  Add the beans to the mushrooms and fry for a further few minutes. Add the juice of 1 lime and mix together.

Chop and mash the avocado in a small bowl and mix with the juice of 1 lemon.  Divide and spread the avocado mixture along half of each flour tortilla. Divide and add the black beans and mushrooms on top of the avocado and fold the tortillas together, creating 3 folded semi-circles. Chop these semi-circles in half, creating 6 triangles of goodness.

Heat a splash of olive oil in a frying pan over a high heat for a minute before frying the quesadilla triangles for a few minutes on each side.  Ta daaaa!

Only to be eaten with wine and laughter

 

 

 

Midnight Muffins.

IMG_0579So apparently I’m not very good at this regular blog thing…  The vegan thing however is still a huge success.  I have recipes coming out of my ears but getting them down on paper is another story.

The worst time of year for a teacher has arrived; report writing time.  Naturally, I have suddenly found the time for recreational writing.  I am sat in on a Friday night with Meryl Streep for company, having just watched Julie & Julia (wild I know).  Maybe I’m feeling inspired to write having watched a successful blogger, or maybe it’s the 2 glasses of red wine…  And what could go better with a glass of red wine than a breakfast blueberry muffin?  Having stuffed my face with lentil shepherd’s pie (recipe to follow soon) I had a sudden hankering for muffins.  Plus, there are not many better feelings than waking up knowing breakfast is already made.

I first made these muffins for my two good friends who paid me a visit at three in the morning on a stop-over on their way to Sri Lanka.  We caught up over muffins and gin. This would have been perfect if I hadn’t had work in the morning…  I sensibly stuck to only one single gin and tonic and doubled up on muffins instead.

Now it seems I am developing a habit for muffins at odd hours. There are worse habits.

 

Makes 6 – 8 

130g plain flour

75g powdered almonds

40g desiccated coconut

1 tsp bicarbonate soda

1 tsp baking powder

1 banana (mashed)

120 ml almond milk (or soya milk)

100ml maple syrup

1 tsp vanilla essence

200g blueberries

(Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.)

First, combine all the dry ingredients in a bowl.  Secondly, whisk all the wet ingredients in with the banana.  Slowly fold the wet into the dry ingredients and then add the blueberries. Spoon the mixture into six to eight large muffin cases and pop them in the oven until they have risen and turned a lovely brown (roughly 25 minutes). 

So simple even a drunk can make them! 

 

Chilli Con…. Black Bean

img_0779This was one of the first recipes I cooked in 2017 and it cemented the idea that going without meat isn’t actually that much of a challenge.  I think what you automatically jump to when you hear ‘vegetarian’ or ‘vegan’ is all the meat dishes you grew up eating, like spaghetti bolognaise and Sunday roast dinners (I haven’t braved making a nut roast yet!) and it becomes too difficult to contemplate.  Now I am not going to claim that a tin of black beans is the same as a joint of beef but with the recipes I have been cooking I honestly haven’t been tempted to reach for the steak knife once.

Aine Carlin’s Black Bean Chilli is a perfect example of a typically meaty dish which really isn’t missing meat.  I’ve made enough to feed a small army and it’s now my go to frozen ready meal at the end of a long day.  Give it a try!

What you need…

  • Olive oil or sunflower oil
  • 1 big white onion
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp chilli powder
  • 1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 3 peppers (1 red, 1 yellow, 1 green)
  • 1 red chilli
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 400g tin chopped tomatoes
  • a few drops of Tabasco
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 x 400g tins of black beans
  • 2 squares of 70% +  dark chocolate
  • Fresh coriander

How to make…

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Soften the chopped onion in the oil for a few minutes before adding the dried spices.  Let this all amalgamate for a bit then add the chopped peppers.

Cook for around 10 minutes until the peppers have softened.

Add the finely chopped garlic and red chilli (deseeded.. the first time I didn’t bother and it nearly blew my head off!) then stir in the tomato puree.  Pour in the chopped tomatoes and add the Tabasco, balsamic vinegar and a splash of water. Simmer, simmer, simmer for about half an hour (open the red wine and gobble up some crisps while you wait).  Add the black beans and simmer for a further 10 minutes.

Once cooked, add the dark chocolate and enjoy watching it melt in and deepen the colour. Serve with whatever tickles your fancy (the tortilla crisps in the photo are super easy- simply fry triangles of flour tortillas in sunflower oil until lovely and crispy) and sprinkle on some chopped coriander.

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Thank you, Aine Carlin! x

Blogging Virgin

I have not written for pleasure since I was a teenager, when my ego was probably much bigger.  Being completely honest, I feel very much out of my depth!

I want to start a blog to document the start of a life change – my decision to become vegan.  This decision has taken me by surprise.  If you told myself a year prior I would be cutting out meat and dairy I would have thought you had mistaken me for someone else.  My close friend Lucy always leaves a couple of packs of Boursin for me in her fridge to welcome me back to London and I have often boasted about my BBQ skills and love of bloody steaks.  In fact, one of my pieces of trivia I have always proudly flaunted is that there wasn’t a food I wouldn’t eat.  The idea of now being a ‘fussy’ eater is one I am battling with a little.

So why the sudden change?

I have been an ex-pat in Dubai for the last couple of years and with that has come a certain amount of ‘World Guilt’.  Guilt about my carbon foot print left from the many plane journeys I now take to see loved ones.  Guilt about the over indulgent life style, gorging on silly numbers of animals at all-you-can-eat brunches.  Guilt about the lack of recycling I do out here, not for lack of trying.  I have carried countless bags of plastic bottles and tin cans out to the recycling bins around the corner but it felt like I was the only one filling them up.  I could still see my recycling from months before and then one day the bins simply vanished.  Too much of an eye sore I imagine. There are recycling bins at the local park, but to get there without walking twenty minutes with bags of rubbish I would need to hire a car and drive, which to me seems counter-productive!

Watching the Netflix documentary ‘Cowspiracy’ tipped me over the edge with the beautiful Kip Anderson (swoon) explaining shocking facts about the impact the animal food industry has on the planet.  51% of global greenhouse gas emissions are due to livestock as opposed to 13% being due to transport emissions.  This made me look twice at the animal products I have been throwing into my trolley and for the last six months I began thinking more like a vegetarian when it came to my food choices, swapping the mincemeat for a pack of Quorn.

With January came the stereotypical abstaining and brigade of unrealistic life changes…. Last year I successfully managed four weeks without drinking, which I admit I found a challenge! This year I wanted to kick-start the year as a plant eater.  But as the weeks have gone on I have realised this is more than a four-week stint.  I threw myself into ‘Vegan-uary’, so much so I can no longer look at a piece of cheese in the same mouth-watering way I once did.  My clothes feel looser, I have more energy and I am loving the feeling of less World Guilt (she says with a cupboard full of non-recycled plastic bags).

In fact, I am loving this new way of life so much that it has got me thinking seriously about ways I could make it more than just a hobby.  My list of ideas have spread from cooking classes for kids (my background in teaching would help here) to traveling around in a vegan van; I’m embarrassingly imagining myself as the female Jon Favreau from Chef.

To get the meat-free-ball rolling and begin my vegan-venture I have cooked my way through Aine Carlin’s ‘Keep it Vegan’.  I will share the many meals I have cooked from her book and then hopefully will start thinking more creatively myself.

I think that’s enough vegan related puns for one post.

Bon appetit.