In my veg box this week – stripy courgettes, lettuce, whitecurrants

16 Jul

It’s been a couple of months since I’ve written this series, and so much has changed. The endless brassicas and roots are being replaced by salads and fruiting veg. Over winter and spring the fruit in particular got very repetitive, often the same three things week after week, and now we’re getting soft fruits and berries. It’s so exciting! This week we have:

Stripy courgettes
I absolutely love courgettes, they’re one of the things I really look forward to coming into season. I’m even looking forward to my own courgette plants going bonkers and producing them faster than we can eat them, as long as the weather holds out and we don’t get any more pigeon attacks. I’ve got lots of old favourite ways of cooking them, from including them in scrambled tofu or pasta dishes, to preserving them with wine and oil. I’m also really looking forward to trying some new recipes, in particular I’d love to try making courgette cake or muffins. Luckily I can tell the veg box company to stop bringing certain items, so as soon as my own plants start producing more I can switch off the courgette delivery.

Lettuce
I have to admit I am getting a little bit bored with lettuce. We’ve had exactly the same sort of lettuce almost every week for the past couple of months now. It’s lovely and crisp and fresh, and it goes with pretty much anything, but the flavour is not particularly exciting and there’s not many different things you can do with it. Any unusual ideas would certainly be welcome!

Whitecurrants
I don’t think I’ve had these before. They taste very similar to redcurrants, they might be a little bit more tart but that could just be because they’re not fully ripe yet. I could cook these for a dessert, but they’re just as lovely on their own. What I particularly love is their translucency, there’s something about being able to see the seeds that reminds me of eggs or frogspawn – is it weird that I find that appealing?

Also received this week: kale, broccoli, cucumber, carrots, new potatoes, mushrooms, oranges, a lemon, apricots.

Mrs Veg is back

15 Jul

I’m finally back after my annual hiatus! I work as an administrator at a university and around exam time I’m so drained that I can’t quite articulate myself as well as normal, and I have to have a little break from blogging. I’ve not been sitting at home doing nothing though, I’ve been doing all of the usual Mrs Veg things (growing, cooking, and eating vegetables). Here are some of the things I’ve been up to over the last couple of months:

Our gardening so far this summer has been a bit hit and miss. The pigeons damaged our garlic and broad beans which was really frustrating, but I’ve replaced both with courgette plants which have now started producing. Courgettes are one of the things that are definitely worth trying at home – they’re easy to grow and they taste about a million times better than anything you can buy in the shop. Our strawberry plants are taking a while to get established, but we got our best ever crop this year – about seven of the little beauties in total. As with courgettes you just can’t beat home-grown ones.

In June I went to a vegan food event at my local yoga centre. I could tell that most of the people I told about it were a bit baffled by the idea (after all, vegans just eat plain tofu, brown rice, and kale don’t they? What else is there to know?) It was really interesting and I had such a lovely time. We had a really helpful talk on nutrition, which might have been a bit too scientific for some but as I’m a bit of a geek I found it fascinating. After the talk we had a beautiful meal including ful medame (made of fava beans – my new favourite), a vibrant green tabbouleh, courgette rolls, and a few different salads and dressings. The other people there ranged from veg-curious all the way to long-term vegans. I really enjoyed sharing a meal with new people who I had a common interest with, and the the nutritional information that I learned is really sticking with me and guiding my food choices.

2014-06-22 15.37.06

One of the people I met at the yoga centre seemed to be as interested in experimenting with food as I am, and told me about his adventures making his own tempeh. I had eaten and enjoyed tempeh a couple of times before but it never occurred to me that I might be able to make it at home. I bought some tempeh starter and some whole, dried soya beans and tried it myself. Mr Veg helped me make a makeshift incubator using a wire cooling rack set over a terrarium heat mat (pictured above). It was very extremely time-consuming but totally worth it. If you ignore the labour costs of the hours I spent sat in front of the tv dehulling the beans, it works out much more cost-effective than the tempeh you can buy in the shops, and it’s tastier too. I will definitely make it again, but with hulled beans next time. I will take pictures when I do and I will write more about it.

Last week I went to the V Delicious show at Olympia in London. I’ve never been to a vegetarian food exhibition before and I’m so glad I did because I had a whale of a time trying (and buying) different veggie foods. As soon as I decided to go I developed a really strong craving for jelly sweets, which I’ve not eaten for a long time because of the gelatin. When I found the Goody Good Stuff stall I was thrilled, and as embarrassing as this is to admit, when I tried a cola bottle sweet I actually felt a bit emotional, and of course had to buy several bags of them.

Another thing I was particularly interested in trying at the show was vegan cheese. As a former cheese fiend I find the idea of pretend cheese more than a little bit horrifying, but at the same time I’ve been curious to find out what it’s actually like. I tried several of the cheeses made by Vegusto, the texture was a bit too soft and homogeneous, but a couple of them tasted kind of nice. It was interesting to try but I don’t think I’d ever buy it, I’d rather replace dairy with more naturally creamy foods like avocado, tahini, hummus, or cashew cream.

Amongst other things I bought an awful lot of snacks (mostly Nakd bars, which are my absolute favourite), a couple of good books, kombucha (which I’m now thinking about making at home), aloe vera juice, delicious veggie sushi, Round Ups vegan wagon-wheel-style biscuits), tea, crackers, and some habas fritas. It was a great day out and I’d definitely go back or to a similar event again in the future.

Now the hungry gap is well and truly over my vegetable box deliveries are finally interesting again, and the “In my veg box this week…” series will resume this week.

I’m really looking forward to getting back into writing again, and to catching up with people. I’ve got a few recipes and other things to write about and I can’t wait to share them with you.

Seitan doner kebab meat – who knew vegan food could be this wrong?!

13 May

Here’s another one of those posts where lovely, healthy Mrs “all I eat is vegetables” Veg makes something that looks really wrong and unhealthy. Something normally reserved for the journey home from the pub on a Friday or Saturday night. I can’t make any health claims at all, but at least it’s better for you than the real thing (and, come to think of it, better for the lambs and whatever other poor critters end up in the kebab), and it comes with SALAD for goodness sake!

I’ve finally got the hang of making good seitan and I absolutely love it. I don’t make it very often, because vital wheat gluten is pretty expensive here in the UK, but the cost and effort involved is totally worth it because it’s crazily good. It’s the chewiest and most satisfying vegetarian meat I know, and because you can flavour it and shape it however you like it’s brilliantly versatile.

Whenever Mr Veg and I eat seitan, one of us will always observe that it could make excellent doner meat. The seitan recipe I normally use comes out a little on the beefy side, so it needed some work to change the flavour. I halved the amount of soy sauce to make it lighter, and added carrots to the broth to make it sweeter. I’ve also added typical doner spices to the seitan itself.

Recipe notes:

  • I based the recipe on Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s Simmered Seitan from Isa Does It. You could use a different recipe if you prefer, but adapt it as described above.
  • If you prefer a stronger spicy flavour, you could try frying the seitan in the cumin and coriander rather than adding them to the raw dough. This could also work if you want to use shop-bought seitan rather than making your own.

Recipe (makes two very generous portions):

For the seitan:

  • 1 litre vegetable stock
  • 1 medium carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 cup vital wheat gluten
  • 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon each ground cumin and coriander
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced to a fine paste
  • 1 tablespoon tomato puree
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Everything else:

  • 6 small pitta breads, warmed and split open
  • Chilli sauce or garlic mayo
  • Salad
  • Pickled jalapeños

Put the vegetable stock and the chopped carrot in a large saucepan and bring to the boil.

While you’re waiting for the pan to boil, mix together the VWG, nooch, cumin and coriander together in a medium-sized bowl. In a small jug, combine the cold water, garlic, tomato puree, and soy sauce. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix quickly until it starts to come together as a ball of dough. Knead this ball for a minute or two until smooth and elastic.

Chop the ball of dough into four equal pieces, and drop these into the boiling stock and simmer for 45 minutes. Keep an eye on the pan and do not let it boil.

Drain the seitan and allow to cool a little. Don’t throw away the cooked carrots – you could add them to a soup or stew later.

Slice the cooled seitan as thinly as you can. Allow to dry out for 10 minutes or so while you prepare the pittas, sauces, and salad.

Heat the oil in a wok or large saucepan over a medium to high heat. Fry the sliced seitan in the oil for 10 minutes until it’s as greasy or crispy as you prefer.

Serve the seitan in pittas, topped with sauce and salad. Enjoy with a beer or two and try to resist the urge to drop half of it on the pavement.

In my veg box this week – long-awaited greens

7 May

It has been a couple of weeks since we had a vegetable box. Last week Mr Veg and I both took part in the Living Below the Line challenge to raise money for Action Aid. For five days we each had a food budget of £1 a day, and as the vegetable box costs £15 a week it was one of the first things to go. Anyone who reads this blog regularly will know that I’m a huge vegetable fan (hence the name), so going from eating a variety of seasonal fruit and vegetables to just eating the absolute cheapest we could find was one of the most difficult parts of the challenge. I had to buy in bulk to get enough to eat, so the only fresh food we had was a huge bag of carrots, two bunches of bananas, and a couple of other bits. I normally aim to eat at least 5-7 portions of different fruit and vegetables a day, so it was a huge shock.

I’ve been interested in food poverty for a while, so to actually experience it, even though it was just for a few days, was a really important experience for me. It was difficult. It was frustrating eating bland and unvaried food. I suffered from caffeine withdrawal, general lethargy, extreme grumpiness, and my health started to suffer. I am immensely grateful that it was just five days, and it has inspired me to do more to help people who aren’t so lucky.

I’ve been blogging about the whole experience on the Living Below the Line website, so if you want to read more about what we did and why, or if you’d like to donate, please visit https://www.livebelowtheline.com/me/amydittrich.

So after all that you can imagine that I’m so very thrilled to finally get a box of lovely fruit and vegetables. I’m always excited to get home from work and find the box on my doorstep, but I was especially so today. This week I’m particularly happy to have:

Muddy carrots
Yes, we have carrots every week and yes, we had an awful lot of carrots last week, but proper organic muddy carrots have so much more flavour than the cheap watery ones from the supermarket. Even if they only end up in a salad I will relish every bite.

Real potatoes
Again, we have potatoes every week, but after being stuck with horrible tinned potatoes last week it’s just lovely to have real ones again.

Spinach and spring greens
One of my worst cravings when we were Living Below the Line was for greens, so to have two different greens in one week is amazing! I’ll be putting one in a creamy pasta dish, and cooking the other with some spices, I just haven’t decided which way round yet…

Also received this week: coriander, a leek, mushrooms, onions, oranges, apples, pears, bananas.

Action Aid: http://www.actionaid.org.uk/

Live Below the Line: https://www.livebelowtheline.com/

In my veg box this week – purple sprouting broccoli, parsley, fava beans

9 Apr

This week we have:

Purple sprouting broccoli
It’s broccoli! It’s purple! What’s not to love? We grew both purple and white sprouting broccoli a few years ago, and for a couple of months we had a never ending supply of home grown broccoli. You would think we’d be sick of it but no, it was glorious.

A big bag of parsley
From time to time I get a surprise herb in the veg box. If it’s something I use a lot or can use a lot of in one go (like basil) that’s great, but parsley… Seriously? I use it but I can’t recall a time when I’ve ever needed 50g of it. I’ll either use the whole lot to make parsley pesto, which I’ve never tried before but like the sound of, or this week it will be parsley in everything.

Fava beans
The veg box company are trying to promote fava beans at the moment. Apparently farmers (especially organic ones) grow them between crops to improve the soil, but because nobody in this country eats them they have to export the beans to the middle east. I’m a huge fan of beans and lentils so I am very happy to try them. They look like large lentils, similar to yellow split peas or chana dal, and that’s exactly how I’m going to cook them. I’m going to make a lovely lentil curry and serve it poured all over some rice and the broccoli. Lush.

Also received this week: onions, carrots, potatoes, two tiny red cabbages, a slightly moudly swede (yes, I have complained), mixed salad leaves, oranges, pears, bananas.

Vegan quiche with spinach, leeks and pine nuts

6 Apr

WordPress has just reminded me that today is my blog’s first anniversary. I started the blog one Saturday afternoon, when I decided that the pea pesto recipe I’d invented a couple of days before was so good that it deserved sharing with the world. Armed with a name I plucked out of nowhere, and a slightly blurry photo of some basil, I got started. I only really expected a couple of people to look at it, that maybe I’d put one or two more recipes online, and that basically it wouldn’t really go anywhere. Over the next few weeks I did post a few more times, and I read a lot of other people’s blogs, and I got hooked. One year later, with 38 posts, 149 comments, 123 WordPress followers, I feel like I’ve become part of a community. I’ve made contact with people all over the world, stayed up late because I was having an interesting conversation with strangers on Twitter, and annoyed my husband on many an occasion by spending ages taking photos of our dinner. Other bloggers and Twitter-folk have given me the inspiration and support to go from sort-of-cutting-back-on-dairy to 99% vegan (I’m almost there), and I’m grateful to each and every one of you for that. To thank you, I’m sharing a new recipe, my first ever attempt at a vegan quiche.

Quiche is one of my favourite things to make. It does require a fair bit of multitasking, but it’s really versatile and over the years I’ve come up several different combinations, usually involving a vegetable and a cheese. Making something eggy and cheesy without eggs or cheese sounds impossible, but as firm tofu can act as a good sub for both vegan quiche is actually easier to make than the real thing. It’s not strongly cheesy – think ricotta rather than feta – but I am certain that I could feed this to omnivores and they wouldn’t realise it was vegan.

Recipe notes:

  • The filling from this recipe would also work well wrapped in puff pastry, à la my non-vegan spanokopitta sausage rolls.
  • I use frozen for spinach-heavy recipes like this. It’s better value for money by a long long way, you’d need a sack full of fresh spinach leaves to get the same amount, plus you’d still have to wash and cook it. Unless you’re growing your own and have a glut of it, just buy whole leaf frozen spinach.
  • If there is any filling left, you could use it to stuff a couple of tomatoes and bake them at the same time as the quiche.

Recipe (serves 4)

For the pastry:

  • 50g margarine (check it is suitable for pastry)
  • 100g flour (white or wholemeal, I use a mix of both)
  • Pinch of salt

For the filling:

  • 1 ts margarine or oil
  • 1 leek, white and green parts, sliced into thin half-moons, thoroughly washed
  • 50ml your preferred non-dairy milk
  • 400g frozen whole leaf spinach, thawed
  • 50g pine nuts, toasted then very roughly chopped
  • A 396g block of firm tofu, drained but not pressed
  • ¼ ts grated nutmeg
  • Plenty of ground black pepper
  • 1 ts salt
  • 1 ts cider vinegar
  • 1 ts olive oil
  • 2 tb nutritional yeast flakes

For the pastry, rub the margarine into the flour and salt. Continue mixing with your hands, adding some cold water a splash at a time until it comes together in a ball. Put it in the fridge to rest for at least half an hour.

Lightly grease a 20cm / 8 inch quiche dish. Roll out the pastry and use it to line the dish. Trim the edges but not too much, be aware that the pastry will shrink a little bit when you cook it. Prick the pastry all over with a fork, then blind bake it for 10 minutes at 200˚C. You want the pastry to be starting to go dry and golden, but not brown.

Meanwhile, prepare the filling. In a small saucepan over a medium heat, melt the margarine or heat the oil, then add the leek and fry for two minutes until it starts to cook down. Add the milk and cook for a further five or so minutes, until the leeks have completely cooked down and most of the liquid has evaporated.

Tip the spinach into a sieve or a muslin-lined bowl. Squeeze as much liquid out of the spinach as you can.

Crumble the tofu into a large bowl with your hands. You could use a fork or masher, but doing it by hand is much more efficient.

Add the nutmeg, pepper, salt, vinegar, oil, and nooch to the tofu and mix well. You could continue mixing it by hand, but it’s less messy from now on to use a spoon or spatula. Add the cooked leeks, pine nuts, and drained spinach, and mix until well combined. Tip the filling into the blind-baked pastry, and return it to the oven for around half an hour, until the top is firm and golden. Leave to cool for at least 10 minutes before serving, it will be much easier to get out of the dish. Serve hot or cold.

Veganizing a Mrs Veg classic – breakfast muffins

6 Apr

One of the most popular posts on my blog to date is the veggie bacon and egg muffins from August 2013. It does bother me a little that on a mostly healthy, mostly plant-powered blog, the thing I’m most recognised for is neither of those things. The vegan version is still junk food, still delicious, but just a little healthier. Here’s how I veganized it:

  • The English muffin can obviously stay, just check the ingredients as some contain milk.
  • You can get vegan cheese singles, but I’d much rather use a lovely thick layer of guacamole. Vegan cheese just sounds wrong, I can’t bring myself to try it. The healthy fat from the avocado satisfies my cheese craving, but unlike vegan cheese you can actually see what it’s made out of when you look at it.
  • The fried egg is replaced by fried or grilled tofu. On this occasion I used Cauldron smoked tofu, but plain tofu marinated overnight would work just as well.
  • A rasher or two of veggie bacon. In the original I think I used Quorn Bacon Style Rashers, which contain egg. I’ve now switched to Cheatin’ Rashers, which don’t. Tempeh bacon would also be an excellent choice.

The next stage is to make it classier, but that’s a post for another day.

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