Bruschetta Party!

Posted on June 28, 2016
Bruschetta Party 1

I love late spring and  summer. All the yummiest local tender vegetables start making an appearance in the market, plus we start to see the first of the juicy tomatoes from Italy and Spain.

In an ideal world, we’d have glorious warm evenings, and minimal housework to do, to languidly enjoy a bit of pottering in the kitchen and eat on the back patio. The reality is usually a little different in dear ol’ Blighty, but we can evoke warm weather eating, with really not a lot of effort. 

I like to make up a selection of toppings for bruschetta, then, toast some good quality baguette or ciabbatta, and serve it all along with some cut cloves of garlic and some good quality olive oil. Then everyone around the table can choose how much garlic they would like to rub on their toasts, and which toppings they like the best, or even get creative with combining toppings as they wish. It makes for a comfortable, casual type of eating. 

Bruschetta 2

Here are my current favourite topping ideas: 

  1. Classic Tomato, (use the juiciest, ripest tomatoes possible) a smidge of olive oil, balsamic vinegar & fresh basil
  2. Chopped Asparagus, lightly sauteed with some home-made pesto (my wild garlic pesto is amazing in early June) 
  3. Artichoke & Olive Tapenade: Whizz together a drained tin of artichokes and some good quality pitted green olives. Yum. 
  4. Peas & herbs. Gently cook some fresh green peas (or frozen!) in a little olive oil with some garlic and mix through some fresh parsley. I’ve even used edamame. Add fresh mint if you have some for a really trad English spin on the theme. 
  5. Mushrooms, finely sliced, and cooked in with garlic and a hint of chilli & white wine. 

The brilliant thing about this, is that you can adapt it according to the season.  It’s basically posh things on toast, but somehow, if you put everything out on a pretty board, maybe with a crunchy, leafy, zingy salad alongside, it seems so much more than that.  
Serve with a crispy white wine and pretend you’re in Italy or Spain. 

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Vegetable Pilaf/Paella thing.

Posted on June 16, 2016
Vegetable Pilaf Thing 2

Easy to make and spectacular to serve, this rice the perfect accompaniment to any curry or veggie stew. Or to serve alongside an array of Tapas or Mezze type spread to make it more substantial.

One of the things I particularly  particularly love about this rice pilaf/paella thing is that all that you need to do is add stock and let the rice simmer away whilst you get on with other meal prep, which makes this ideal for when you have guests arriving. All you need do is remembered to add the peas for the last 5 mins of cooking. 

I like to make this in a heavy cast iron casserole that I was given as a present. It’s a Le Crouset look-a-like which according to the gift giver was a total snip in comparison to the real deal.. and I have to say so far it has performed just as well. I do appreciate that this kind of cookware is a bit *next level*  for many people, but don’t worry. If you don’t have a wide, heavy casserole dish, use the biggest saucepan you have, but make sure to keep an eye on it to ensure the rice cooks through. Also, bear in mind that it will need a separate serving bowl. 

Veggie Paella 1

The trick is with a Pilaf, or any rice that is made using the absorption method is to first sort of level out the rice, I give mine a good shake, so it’s all flat in the pan. Then, add the liquid until it sits just to the knuckle of your pointer finger. This method works with pretty much any quantity of rice. I don’t  know why, but it does.  The other trick is, once you have brought the liquid to a simmer, turn the heat down loooow and put a lid on. Do. Not. Peak. for 15-20 mins. You want all the lovely steam building up to absorb into your rice. You don’t want it escaping out into the kitchen. 

If you’re making a pilaf or paella thing, you might want to accidentally on purpose let the bottom layer catch and crust up just a bit. It’s a delicious and crunchy layer to be prized carefully from the dish & fought over by the diners. 

This recipe is enough for two greedy people on it’s own. Double it & serve as a side dish for 4-6 people. 

 

Vegetable Pilaf/Paella Thing
Serves 2
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Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
20 min
Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
20 min
Ingredients
  1. 200g short grain rice, or a mix of rice, spelt & barley
  2. 1 pointy red pepper, diced
  3. 1 leek or one onion, finely chopped
  4. 7 -8 mushrooms diced (optional but nice)
  5. 1 small chilli, finely chopped
  6. 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  7. 10 strands saffron
  8. 1 cup frozen or fresh peas
  9. Other veggies would be nice too: corn, carrots, zuchinni added at the end....
  10. 1 -2 Tbs Olive Oil
  11. 1Tbs Vegetable Boullion or Stock Powder dissolved in 300ml boiling water
  12. 1/2 cup white wine
  13. Salt & Pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. In a large casserole that has a lid, or a wide saucepan, saute the leek or onions, garlic, chilli & red pepper until the onion is translucent in the olive oil.
  2. Add the mushrooms and saute for a moment more.
  3. Add the rice and stir to coat with the oil.
  4. Add the white wine & stir.
  5. Give the pan a shake so that all the rice & veggies are in an even layer on the base of the pan.
  6. Stir the saffron into the boullion stock, then add the lot to the rice mix in the pan, ensuring that the liquid only sits one knuckle height above the rice.
  7. Bring to a simmer, then put the lid on. Turn the heat down very low.
  8. Leave for 15 mins. Do. Not. Peak!!!
  9. Now, carefully open the lid & check. If there is too much liquid, put the lid back on for another 5 mins.
  10. Quickly add the peas, and any other tender veggies you want to pretty the top up with & add the lid again for another 5 mins.
  11. Sprinkle some fresh herbs such as chopped parsley or basil on top if you like, then serve.
Poppy and the Bees http://poppyandthebees.com/
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How to make the BEST Tofu

Posted on June 7, 2016
Tasty Tofu Finished

I know tofu can be a bit of a scary ingredient. Too bland, too slimy.. too bleh. But it doesn’t have to be this way. The brilliant thing about tofu, is it’s ability to absorb other flavours.

But how do you go from bland to taste sensation? How do you make it the BEST tofu time & time again?

It’s quite easy really. First you have to remove the water content, in order for other flavours to re-absorb. Then marinate the tofu over night for maximum flavour absorbtion. If you’re in a hurry, just marinate it for half an hour or so, but it won’t be nearly as tasty

To make this kind of tofu, you need to start with a firm tofu type. Leave the soft, silky tofus for sauces and stuffing gyoza. Slice the tofu into 2cm ‘steaks’ then use paper towels or a clean teatowel to envelope the tofu. Press between 2 weighted plates or heavy cutting boards for at least half an hour to dry it out. 

Tofu on towels

Meanwhile, make up the marinade. I pretty much freestyle the marinade every time, depending on how I feel, but there tends to be a few themes:

  • Sort of Asian influenced: Chilli, Garlic & Soy sauce with a bit of sesame oil.
  • Sort of Spanish-ish, with smokey paprika, olive oil, oregano and garlic.
  • Sort of Thai-ish, with lemongrass, soy sauce, chilli, garlic and a hint of sugar for sweetness.
  • Sort of Italianish..with garlic, oregano, a little tomato paste and balsamic vinegar. 

Pop the marinade and tofu in an airtight container, making sure you have slicked all the tofu slices surfaces with the marinade. Leave at least half an hour, preferably overnight. If you remember, try and turn the tofu so the side that isn’t immersed in the marinade gets some juicy flavour too. 

Tofu in the pan

Then, choose to pan fry, grill, BBQ or oven bake.

Each method of cooking gives a slightly different texture, all of which I love. You want to aim for slightly caramelised edges that start turning crispy. If you’re oven baking, you can leave the tofu in on a low heat for 45 mins to an hour, which turns it into a sort of ‘Tofu Jerky’.

Go and experiment, play with the flavours. Then report back here which are your favourites! Yum. 

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What’s in my Kitchen Cupboard: Essentials

Posted on May 30, 2016
My Cupboard 1

If you’re new to cooking, or even new to veggie centric cooking, it can all seem a bit daunting. There are loads of fancy sounding ingredients and bazzillions of  weird and wonderful new things to try and get a hold of and sometimes it can feel a bit like – well why bother? Why not just reheat another ready meal. 

But where’s the fun in that?! 

I promise you, once you have a few cupboard essentials, and, importantly, know where to get them from, the new world of cookery will suddenly seem a doddle and far more fun.  But what to prioritise? And why? And why should you trust me and not some other bossy boot blogger/cook/writer says? 

Well- I don’t know why you should either, but for the purpose of this, let’s just assume you trust my taste buds & cooking and start from there.  

There are a few rules with this type of cooking. Firstly and foremost.. don’t get scared about new ingredients.  A sense of adventure is needed, also, learn to love ‘ethnic’ food stores.. Whether they’re your local Asian supermarket, the corner store owned by a Bangladeshi family or a Turkish supermarket come bakery come greengrocer, you’ll find a wealth of ingredients that are cheap, tasty and will round out your veggie cooking. If you live outside a large city (like me!) start to get eagle eyed when you do visit a bigger town & do that annoying thing I do, quickly ‘dart in’ to any interesting foodie supermarket you find and ransack the place for yummy comestibles and odd hard to get ingredients. Also, there is this wonderful thing called the internet. You’re on it right now.. loads of food can now be delivered, right to your door.

Secondly, get to know the basics you like- this will depend on where you’re from and what’s available to you. Get familiar with what you need, then make sure you don’t run out of it. 

For a bit of inspiration as to what you might need… here are my top vegan basic store cupboard foods that I ALWAYS have in,  as well as some top non-basics which I somehow find life very dull without. These are on top of any fresh or frozen food I have stashed away… Now, this might seem like a loooong list, but it’s one that I’ve built up over the years, replacing and adding things as my cooking evolves and my tastes change. Obviously I don’t buy all of these ingredients every single time I go shopping. ( I do however buy all kinds of random things that I try to use up. Who has a recipe for dried Iranian limes? I have a whole bag full!) 

My food cupboard essentials: 

  • Chickpeas, both tinned and dried.
  • Lentils, both tinned/pre-prepared and dried
  • Tinned tomatoes 
  • Tomato paste
  • Pasta
  • Rice 
  • Stock/Boullion powder (I like Marigold or Korres the best)
  • Soy Sauce 
  • Chilli Sauce (helllloooo Cholula!)
  • Japanese Konbu stock powder (make sure you get the seaweed type, not the fishy one)
  • Panko Breadcrumbs (yes I could make my own..but seriously, a few cheats here and there won’t kill me)
  • Tahini 
  • Flaky Sea Salt 
  • Black Pepper
  • Dried Herbs & Spices: Smoked Paprika, Oregano, Thyme, Chilli Powder, Cumin
  • Miso
  • White Wine & Balsamic Vinegars
  • Decent olive oil – I somewhat controversially almost always use only olive oil too cook in & not the more fashionable coconut oil. 
  • Nutritional Yeast – this is sold in health food stores and has a pleasingly cheesy flavour- a bit like super dry parmesan cheese.
  • Vegemite… Well, I am Australian after all. And it’s a brilliant source of B vitamins. 

 

Not so essential but make life less dull:

  • Tins of white beans/other beans OR dried beans (Eg black beans, kidney beans..) 
  • Fancy grains such as spelt, farro or bulghar wheat
  • Tins of Artichokes 
  • Capers
  • Dried Chillies
  • Turmeric
  • Good quality Garam Masala powder
  • Packs of long life tofu (I usually buy fresh tofu, but it’s nice to know you have some on hand if you need some!)
  • Mirin (I use this all the time, but white wine is a good substitute)
  • Chinese rice wine vinegar
  • Japanese curry paste blocks 
  • Packs of pre-packaged grains (eg quinoa & rice mix- great for insta salads)
  • Dhuka (I love dipping bread in this & olive oil)
  • Other oils: Sunflower, avocado..
  • Other herbs and spices: cinnamon, cloves, coriander, fennel seeds
  • Dried mushrooms
  • Chilli pastes such as harissa
  • Mustard

Tell me in the comments below what your cupboard essentials are- I’d love to know! 

My Cupboard 2

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We need bees. Bees need us. 5 Ways You Can Help Bees.

Posted on May 8, 2016
Blossom Bee

Bees, such as Apis Mellifera (The Western Honey Bee)  and other pollinators such as hoverflies, bumble bees, solitary bees, butterflies, beetles, flies, moths and even dastardly wasps are an essential piece of the balance of our world. They help pollinate our crops, and enhance biodiversity, which in itself, helps our food production.

We need these little helpers. Without them we will be in serious trouble. Can you imagine a world where every single crop had to be hand pollinated ?

Honey bees and other pollinators unfortunately are under stress, alarming numbers of species are even endangered. Habitat loss, pesticides and even modern agricultural methods like mono-crops put a strain on these precious beasties. 

Butterfly

Pesticides, are particularly implicated in causing the decline of our pollinators. There is one new (ish) group of pesticides in particular that is causing concern. These are Neonicotinoids, sometimes called Neonics. These are a type of pesticide that has a similar affect to nicotine, which is a natural insect deterent in some plants .  Neonics affect the central nervous system of insects, resulting in paralysis, then death.  Whilst they can be beneficial in getting rid of some crop destroying pests, they also have a nasty side effects on other, beneficial insects such as bees, most moths and butterflies, contributing to a cocktail of symptoms which end up in colony collapse and in some cases complete decimation of species within an eco-system.  The European Union banned use of 3 of the most commonly used neonics in December 2013 due to increasing and well documented concern about their adverse affects on bee & pollinator populations. Despite this last year the UK allowed for them to be used in some areas. Nightmare. (Thanks for that Liz Truss!). Right now it’s unclear whether they will be allowed to use them again this year, 

So, given the facts: Declining habitat with fewer sources of food for our pollinator friends, and the food there is often contaminated, What can we do to help?

Sage with a Bee

1. Plant more bee & pollinator friendly plants in your garden…  Or window sill, or on a patch of ground that looks a bit abandoned.  Especially varieties that blossom in Early Spring & late Autumn, which gives local insects an added food source at times of year when pollen might be scarce. There are loads of flowers that are not only beautiful, but insects love. Sage (both ornamental & edible) rosemary, honeysuckles, crocus, all kinds of fruits, lavender, cornflowers, poppies & echinacia… the list is huge, and there will be something right for almost any corner of your garden, no matter how small it is.

2. Don’t use pesticides in your garden. Pesticides might seem like a quick fix to get rid of pesky bugs, but they  have a detrimental effect not only on the insect you’re wanting to get rid of, but on pollinators. Although we’re not 100% sure of the reason for colony collapse or the decrease in local bumbles and butterflies, being exposed to a cocktail of different types of pesticides that bees and other pollinators consume from various sources just can’t be good for them. Added to this, we have no way of knowing the different combinations that they might ingest and what harm that might be doing them. 

3. Buy organic fruit & veggies where you can. I know it’s not always possible, but if you can afford organic veggies, or veggies from schemes like the LEAF  scheme which helps farmers produce food to a high environmental standard, reducing chemical use & leaving hedgerows or other green spaces near crops which provides homes for all kinds of animals, bees included, this all helps. Try growing your own veggies too if you can, especially things like lettuce and salad leaves, which are super easy to grow, even in pots. 

4. Support your local bee keeper. Seek out your local bee keepers and find out where they sell their honey , it might be a local market, it might be a little local shop. Small scale local keepers are generally a lovely lot of people (Gross generalisation here, but in my experience it’s true!) who really care about their Bee charges, ensuring they are disease free, nursing them through horrible winters that seemingly never end and campaigning to get pollinator harming pesticides removed from the approved list of chemicals used in agriculture. Small scale bee-keepers tend to be incredibly passionate & well-informed about key environmental issues, after all, they’re caring for colonies of insects that are susceptible to chemicals, lack of forage (flowers!) and disease brought on by stress or new types of parasites. 

5. Get Involved: Pester your local council to stop mowing verges and keep wild-flowers growing instead. Did you know that dandelions are a key source of pollen & nectar in early Spring?  Not only  write to your local MP about pesticide use within your area and country. – Oh- And please go sign this campaign to prevent neonics being used in the UK again this year!   Sign now by following this link: https://speakout.38degrees.org.uk/campaigns/766  

The Gardener & I care so much about our bees. We observe them, look after them and occasionally even get stung for our efforts (only if we are really clumsy). We want them to thrive and be healthy, and you can help too. x

 

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No Meat May : 4 Great Reasons to Eat Less Meat

Posted on April 29, 2016
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Most of you know I’m a pretty dedicated Veg Head. I bloody love veggies. They rock my world. 

But you might not know the reasons (apart from the fact that they are DELICIOUS) that I am an almost 100% Plant Powered person!  

Well, they are very straight forward. In fact there are just four to remember: 

  1. Environment : The farming (in particular intensive modern factory farming) of animals is one of the biggest drivers of climate change. In fact, modern farming contributes to as much, if not more, greenhouse gas emissions than the whole worlds transport emissions. 
  2. Animal Welfare : Modern farming is incredibly cruel, mostly not just at the point of slaughter, but the whole way throughout the animals life. I just don’t like hurting animals.. any of them. 
  3. Health : Eating more veggies is better for you. Plus you can absolutely get all the protein you need &  all the vitamins. It’s true. Pinky Promise. Also, eating more veggies & less meat is proven to reduce risk of modern diseases, such as type 2 diabetes & the risk of some cancers.
  4. Food Equity : If we want to live in a world where no one goes hungry, we need to all start eating more plants. Currently a huge percentage of vegetable crops goes to feeding animals, in order to feed us. Which is a ridiculously inefficient way of feeding the world. 

These reasons aren’t in any particular order, actually, to me they are all  very good reasons on their own to eat less meat and more plants, but if you want to read more in-depth about why I believe these four very good reasons, head over to No Meat May where one of my, dear friends has written them down succinctly and convincingly and in much more depth.

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So What Is No Meat May? 

If you’re curious as to if you could give up meat.. to increase your health, help the world and decrease both animal & human suffering.. we have a challenge for you..  

 No Meat May. 

  • Challenge yourself.. Give up meat.. or if you’re already less of a meat head- go vegan, for the month of May.
  • Challenge your friends… Get them to give up with you, or invite them out- or to your house- for a veggie feast.
  • Get involved…(See here for ideas!) 
  • Get to love the veggies. Try some new dishes.. trust me we have quite a few that are A) easy peasy and B) won’t leave you feeling bored or like you are missing out. If you’re looking for even more ideas, we have a pinterest board dedicated to scrummy veggie-centric meals- its’ here .. No Meat May Inspirational Dishes to Try.
  • Oh- and then spread the word with a #vegelfie. Post your veggie selfie on all your social networks & let everyone know the reasons you’re taking part. 

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Here’s me doing my best veg loving selfie.  

Vegelfie with Pack Choi

Tag your own #Vegelfie on Insta, Facebook or Twitter & join in….. 

 

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MiSo Delicious Stir Fry

Posted on April 20, 2016
Miso Stir Fry 4

I can’t resist a good pun. You probably already know that. #sorrynotsorry

I also happen to love Miso, that fermented soybean Japanese paste that’s full of umami rich flavour. I’m sure you’re already familiar with basic Miso soup and don’t really need an intro to it, but did you know that you can use it in so many other ways too?  

Ok- so maybe you did. (Yay- extra culinary points for you!)

Or, maybe you didn’t. (Don’t worry, no marks are deducted, and you have a delicious new ingredient to learn about)

Miso is a paste made from cooked, fermented soybeans often mixed with other grains such as barley or rice. It’s rich in umami savoury notes and is pretty nutritious being high in protein, iron and other minerals. 

A general rule as to how rich or savoury it is is indicated by the colour. The longer the ferment, the darker (redder) it is, and the more concentrated & salty the flavour.  Paler, yellow (often called white miso) are fermented for less time and have a slightly sweeter flavour, and hence are used more for general cooking.  I try to buy the white miso mostly, but don’t fret if you have the more concentrated red miso, just use a bit less of it.

Another reason I love miso is that it lasts for aaaaages. A big square pot bought at a Japanese or Asian food store is pretty much enough miso for 6 months or so  (at least it does for me.. , you might have more of a miso addiction than I do) and as it’s a fermented product, never seems to go off. It might dehydrate a little or become a bit more concentrated, but it’s still pretty tasty and won’t hurt you. 

Miso soup is the classic we all love, but it’s also super versatile in other things. I’ve used it to sauce up baked Cauliflower (recipe here..) as a secret ingredient to add in loads of rich flavour to a risotto (see this recipe) and most recently I’ve started using it along with ginger, chilli and garlic as a stir fry sauce, which is absolutely freekin’ delicious. We liked this so much we’ve eaten it 3 times in the past two weeks. 

I honestly don’t know why this didn’t occur to me before.

I mean it’s pretty logical. Maybe I was too pre-occupied trying out other more complicated recipes. I don’t know. 

The thing is, stir fry’s are dead easy to make, we all know that. Right?  You just need to do all your chopping, heat a wok and add sauce. Then serve over rice or noodles or whatever.  The key to GREAT stir fry is the prep.. trust me on this. 

Miso Stir Fry Prep

How to make the BEST Stir Fry. 

To make a good stir fry, you need to have everything prepped. Chop all your veggies into similar sizes, this helps them all cook at the same time. I like long stick shapes for the best crunch to cook ratio. Mix up your sauce.. then heat your wok as high as it will go. You want scorchio hot.  Dump all the veggies in and let them catch a bit before adding the oil. This creates a nice smokey edge to the flavour. Stir and fry for a few minutes, then add the sauce. I sometimes stick a lid on for a minute or so to give the veggies an extra bit of steaming.

Add a crunchy, nutty topping: 

Adding in extra crunch by the way of nuts and seeds to sprinkle over to serve:

a) is super tasty

b) gives you more micro nutrients & protein

Use whatever you have to hand, but may I suggest a combo of cashew nuts, sesame seeds and either sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds. These all are tasty as.. and have all kinds of extra goodness in them. Sesame seeds are a great source of calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, zinc, molybdenum, vitamin B1, and selenium for example,  whilst pumpkin seeds are a good source of protein, iron, maganese and phosphorus.

I pre-make my nutty crunchy topping by first of all popping some raw cashews into an unoiled wok or pan and toasting until they get a bit of a char on.. then I add the sesame and sunflower/pumpkin seeds.  Add a little soy sauce and toast until they are all lightly browned and the pumpkin seeds start popping. Make loads, because you’ll want to pop these in your mouth as soon as you’ve made them and they  keep  well in a jar or container, ready for sprinkling on other stir frys or into salads. Also brilliant for snacking on when you need a little savoury something during the day. 

MiSo Delicious Stir Fry
Serves 2
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Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
10 min
Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
10 min
For the Stir Fry Veggies
  1. You want around 2 cups of mixed stir-fryable veggies- below is a suggestion of what you might use, I tend to use whatever is in the fridge, sometimes supplementing meagre supplies with frozen peas or edamame.. use whatever you have hanging around or is in season.
  2. Broccoli (or brocollini) Cut into little florets. Don't forget to also use the stems!
  3. Asparagus, cut into 3 cm pieces
  4. Red or Yellow Peppers, cut into long batons
  5. Carrot, cut into long batons
  6. Peas
  7. Edamame
  8. Mange Toute
  9. Courgette
  10. etc & etc (tell me what YOU love in a stir fry!)
For the Stir Fry Base
  1. 1 knob around the size of your thumb of ginger, grated
  2. 1 mild chilli, finely chopped
  3. 2 or 3 cloves of garlic (depending on your love of garlic!)
  4. 1 teaspoon of Konbu seaweed dashi (stock/boullion powder) OR half a veggie stock/boullion cube crumbled
  5. 1 Tbs Oil (I like to use half sesame and half olive, but use whatever)
For the Sauce
  1. 2 Tbs of Miso
  2. 3 Tbs of Mirin - which is a sweet rice wine for cooking (or sub 3 Tbs of white wine & a teaspoon of sugar)
  3. 1 Tbs of Soy Sauce
Instructions
  1. Get everything chopped and prepped. Do it first. Don't think you can chop and stir fry at the same time because it WON'T WORK.
  2. Mix together the sauce ingredients, and have them in bowl or mug or something ready to tip into the stir fry.
  3. Ok- You got it all ready?
  4. Heat your wok until it smokes.
  5. Add in all the veggies AND the stir fry base.
  6. Cook for a minute or so, until there is a slight char to some of the greens.
  7. Now add the oil in. Stir, and stir, coating all the veggies in a thin film of the oil.
  8. Cook for another minute or so (if you have some particularly crunchy veggies, you might want to pop a lid on at this stage to give them all a bit of a steam.
  9. Now add the sauce. Stir and cook for another minute or so.
  10. Serve over rice or noodles, adding some toasted nuts and seeds for extra crunchy delicious flavour (see my note in the blog on how to do this!)
Notes
  1. I use Konbu stock powder (dashi), in most of my stir frys. It's made from seaweed and I like the slightly sea salty tang it adds. It's generally easily found in Asian supermarkets- or buy it online. If you can't find it, add a little boullion powder or crumbled stock cube.
Poppy and the Bees http://poppyandthebees.com/
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Chickpea, Butternut & Spinach Pie.

Posted on April 5, 2016
Chickpea Filo Pie 3

You can make any meal, no matter how humble, seem spectacular and special if you encase it in pastry.

I’m not sure why this is, but somehow a crunchy flaky pie crust elevates and transforms the meal into something memorable.  Chickpea & Filo pie 4

Perhaps it’s because when a pie arrives to the table, ready to be cut and served, there is something of the gift about it, with the promise of unwrapping the outer to discover delicious morsels inside. 

I’m a bit cack handed when it comes to pastry however, so up until recently had not really discovered this wonderful party pleasing trick, thinking it would be far to difficult for me to get right. But that was before I discovered the delights of filo pastry.  Thin, almost translucent pastry sheets that you brush with olive oil and layer up before adding in a filling. I suppose you could make it yourself, but it does seem like an awful phaff, when it’s sold in packs in the supermarket, all nice and pre-rolled, ready for wrapping up those tasty fillings. 

This recipe requires a little bit of prep, roasting the butternut squash & chickpeas in warm moroccanish spices with garlic, then sweating down spinach with garlic, but it’s not really hard work, and not much more than I would make for an ordinary mid-week supper, sans pastry. 

I wanted to make something more special than just roasted veggies with a bit of greens on the side.

The thing is, we had people coming for lunch, and I wanted to create a proper centrepiece to the meal, so it looked partyish and special.  I had read a spinach & feta pie recipe somewhere   (I read a lot of recipes, which sort of fizz around in my head until they pop out into something cohesive. )  which utilised a springform cake pan lined with filo pastry, then filled, and pastry sort of crumpled over the top to create a pretty, crunchy top to the pie. The pie then was easily popped out of its casing revealing pretty ruffled sides and looked amazing.  I wanted to make a similar thing, but vegan, and without it seeming wholesome and dreary. 

I had also bought a little tin of harissa that was burning a hole in my cupboard.. I have in the past made harissa with our own chillies, but sadly, all the chillies from last year had all been eaten up, so I had sought out a pretty jar of the spicy Moroccan chilli paste. I used this alongside some other spices to coat the Butternut Squash and chickpeas in whilst they were roasting to give a subtle yet richly spiced flavour. 

The trick is when making  this kind of pie like this is to use lots of olive oil to slick between the filo layers. Line the springform pan with overlapping layers so they come up over the rim of the pan- don’t worry if they don’t quite fit, once you have a few over lapping layers to cover the pan they will sort of come together in flaky layers once baked.  Then, you put in your fillings, in this case the Butternut Squash & Chickpea mix, with another level of garlicky spinach to lighten the pie up.

chickpea pie stages

Finally you fold the edges over the filled tin, then rip up some more sheets of filo, and scrunch them up all over the top to form a pretty, ruffled crust. Drizzle extra olive oil over the top to ensure a crispy glossy look. 

To serve, unclip the springform pan, then carefully transfer to a platter.  Take to the table with pride, it should most definitely be the star of the meal. 

Chickpea, Butternut and Spinach Pie
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Prep Time
1 min
Cook Time
20 min
Prep Time
1 min
Cook Time
20 min
For the Butternut Squash & Chickpea Filling
  1. 1 Butternut Squash, peeled and cubed (around 3cm)
  2. 800 g (approx) cooked chickpeas
  3. 2 tsp harissa (to taste)
  4. 8 garlic cloves, still in their papery skins
  5. 1 tsp cumin
  6. 1 tsp mild chilli powder
  7. 2 Tbs thyme
  8. 1 tsp oregano
  9. salt
  10. 1-2 Tbs Olive Oil
For the Spinach
  1. 1 large pack baby spinach leaves
  2. 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
  3. 1 tsp marigold stock powder
  4. Salt & pepper to taste.
  5. 1 tsp olive oil
To make the pie
  1. 1 pack filo pastry
  2. olive oil to brush between the sheets
Instructions
  1. Tip all the ingredients for the Butternut Squash and Chickpea mix into a large roasting pan.
  2. Give it all a good mix around to thoroughly coat everything in the spices, adding just enough oil to keep everything moist and prevent it from sticking.
  3. Roast on 220C/ Gas Mark 7 for 30 mins or so, stirring occasionally.
  4. Remove from the oven once the squash is soft and squishy and slightly caramelised on the edges.
  5. Make the spinach mix in the meantime, by softening the garlic in a big frying pan or saucepan. Dump the entire bag of spinach into the pot, add the marigold stock powder and give it all a stir.
  6. Clamp a lid over the pan so the spinach wilts and cooks down.
  7. Remove from the heat, then once the spinach is cooled a bit, drain (you don't want any extra liquid to make the pie soggy!) and roughly chop the spinach so it's sort of a rough puree.
To assemble the pie
  1. First, slick your springform pan with olive oil.
  2. Then, brush olive oil onto 6-8 layers of pastry, before arranging them in a slightly overlapping way so that they cover the bottom & sides of the pan, with loads left hanging over the top (see image 1)
  3. Then,layer in the butternut squash & chickpeas, before adding the spinach.
  4. Fold the edges that were left hanging over the top over the filling, then, slick some more sheets of filo with oil, and tear & crumple them up, to sort of squish over the top in a pretty way to form the crust.
  5. Bake for around 20mins until the filo is slightly browned and crispy.
  6. Serve with salad or greens, and maybe some tahini sauce to drizzle.
Poppy and the Bees http://poppyandthebees.com/
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Aquafaba Garlicky Vegan Mayo.

Posted on March 17, 2016
Aquafaba mayo

Oh. My. Goodness…

I’m about to share with you a recipe that I think will change my life. It might change yours too- let’s see.

 I’ve always been a bit of a fan of proper mayonnaise , not the horrible chemically stuff, but the real homemade properly lush stuff that if you go & live in Spain your BFs boyfriend thinks nothing of making for lunch (true story) but you would never EVER think of making yourself.

The stuff that if you add garlic to it,  I will happily scoop it up and scoff with almost any kind of food.   Even better if scooping implement is made from potato. Preferably fried.

Ok.  My name is Louise and I love fries with garlic mayo.  (PS-they’re even better if you have wine too)

There. I’ve said it.  It’s a delicious food combo.

Aquafaba mayo and home fries

So shoot me. 

I’ve never pretended to be a health blogger, I like to eat. I like to eat yummy scrummy food, I just don’t like eating things that have been hurt to make my food. Or that contain pesticides or herbicides- which might hurt other things too, or have a lasting nasty impact on the world I love. 

The thing is, I haven’t yet found an adequete commercial vegan substitute for proper mayo, garlicky or otherwise yet. Actually. I mostly find even ordinary mayo a bit ergh.. it often tastes a bit of chemicals and not at all like that fabled mayo made by my BFF’s Spanish Boyfriend made, or like the mayo you find in good French restaurants. 

I had in the past tried making my own, traditional, egg based mayo, but I just didn’t have the knack for it, the eggs split, or it tasted not quite right, but then I discovered aquafaba.. 

I’ve already talked a bit about aquafaba in my carrot cake recipe . It’s a bit of a wonder ingredient that has only really just been discovered and is really rather miraculous.  

Well… What on earth is it you ask? 

Aquafaba is, quite simply,  the liquid you drain from a tin of chickpeas.  (Or the liquid you use to boil the chickpeas in if you’re cooking from scratch).  It’s not at all weird, just bean juice. The proteins that end up in the water when you cook chickpeas are really similar to egg protein, and it behaves just like egg white. It can be whipped into meringues, used as an egg substitute when making cakes or used as a binder for savoury vegetable patties.  Quite simply, it’s amazing stuff.

I knew that an aquafaba vegan mayo would work, because I’d read loads of accounts of how to make it over on a brilliant Facebook page called Vegan Meringue – Hits and Misses! which has  all kinds of people on it, who are experimenting with aquafaba. There are some SERIOUSLY talented bakers and cooks on there. Knowing it would work in theory, and having not managed to discover any decent commercial vegan mayo,  meant that obviously I really wanted to try making it myself, despite my past disasters with traditional egg mayo making. 

I’m so SO glad that I did, because it tastes AMAZING and it doesn’t split or go funny like ordinary mayo. Plus no weird chemicals or funny things go into it. 

I’m never going to buy mayonaise again. Seriously. It was so easy to do, and this recipe made a pretty decent jar full, so why bother?? 

Here’s the recipe.. go try it out.. Omit the garlic if you want a more trad mayo, but I love it with. Then go and make yourself a batch of homemade oven fries, pour yourself a glass of wine & scoff.  Perfect Friday Night eating.  Or Tuesday. Or whenever…

 

Aquafaba Garlicky Vegan Mayo
Yields 1
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Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
15 min
Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
15 min
Ingredients
  1. 9 Tbs Aquafaba (chickpea brine)
  2. Sunflower Oil (around 100ml)
  3. Olive Oil (around 1 Tbs)
  4. Juice Half a lemon
  5. 2 tspns Dijon Mustard
  6. salt to taste
  7. 1 garlic clove, crushed
  8. 1 tsp white wine vinegar
  9. 1/2 tsp flour or cornstarch (this is to thicken the mix slightly)
Instructions
  1. In a food processor, start by whipping the aquafaba for a minute or so until it starts becoming frothy.
  2. With the motor on, add in a thin stream the sunflower oil through the open spout thingy,
  3. It should start looking like very thin cream, keep adding oil, it will start to thicken up.
  4. Add the other ingredients in, bit by bit, with the motor running.
  5. Taste as you go.. it's not an exact science, and you'll know when you reach the right 'flavour'.
  6. Keep adjusting, maybe adding bit more oil & whipping more to thicken the mayo up.
  7. Pour into a sterilised jar (I pour hot water over a jar, drain, & pop it in the oven on a low heat for 15 mins to dry out). This helps preserve the mayo a little longer. I have to say however, we (2 people!) managed to go through almost the whole jar in less than two weeks! No chance of it going off!
Notes
  1. Keep the mayo in a jar in the fridge. It keeps for at least a month.
  2. Omit the garlic and olive oil for a less 'Spanish' and more 'French' tasting mayonaise.
  3. Eat on everything. Fries, sandwiches, burgers.. add to coleslaw. I wouldn't add it to smoothies though. That would be weird.
Poppy and the Bees http://poppyandthebees.com/
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Pulled BBQ Jackfruit Tacos

Posted on March 10, 2016
Jackfruit Wrap 1 web

The more I delve into the world of vegan cookery, the more I’m surprised and delighted by the amazing variety, tastes, textures & innovations that are out there for adventurous cooks. The best thing is, none of it so far has been particularly difficult, it’s just been a willingness to try new techniques or think outside the box a bit. 

Sites like Instagram and Pinterest have been amazing at spreading new ideas and recipes, for which I’m profoundly grateful. I do love (and I mean LOVE) a good cookbook, but for innovation that comes from home cooks that use easy techniques and explain how they came up with an idea or recipe, and who aren’t afraid to tell you what did or didn’t work, plus give you feedback on your own recipes you can’t beat the good ol’ internet. 

I had come across BBQ ‘pulled’ jackfruit a few times in recipes and had seen Insta shots of them from various cool pop up restaurants and street food eateries in trendy parts of cities around the world, but I’d yet to try any, until a few weeks ago when The Gardener and one of my friends Carlo & I went for a stroll around Brick Lane markets. There I found a stall selling BBQ Jackfruit ‘burgers’ and I finally got to try this mysterious and alluring food. And.. I have to say I was SUPER impressed.  Cooked in a  sweetly spicy BBQ sauce, with a ‘pulled pork’ texture, it not only tasted delicious, but the slight meatiness of the texture made a really satisfying burger.

I’m not a big eater of ‘fake’ meat, as I was never particularly into eating meat anyway so I don’t miss it, but I used to always love spicy BBQ marinade and sometimes it’s nice to mix things up for interest.  My only complaint with the burger I had purchased was that it was a bit on the sweet side, and I thought tasted a bit too much like a cheap  brand of BBQ sauce might have been used plus it could have done with a bit more of a kick to it. So, I thought perhaps I could maybe make it myself, and make it a bit better, add some depth, add a bit more spice and increase the smokey BBQ flavour by adding in lots of smoked paprika & chipotle sauce. 

Jackfruit is a tropical fruit, it’s really rather huge and not particularly available fresh in the UK, at least, not reliably. It IS however available tinned in Caribbean food stores.  I got mine from one of the stores around Brixton Market- but I’m sure if you went looking in any store that serves Indian or other communities they might have some available too. It’s quite cheap, around £1 a tin. Tinned Jackfruit comes in two types, green jackfruit in lightly salted water. This is the one you want. It also comes in a sweet syrup, you don’t want that one… it’s the ripe jackfruit and it won’t work!  

For some reason, when cooked, green Jackfruit takes on a softly stringy texture,  which looks just like tenderised, slow cooked meat.  ( See the photo below! Doesn’t look like fruit, does it?!) It also is quite bland, making it PERFECT for absorbing loads of delicious saucy flavours. One day I’d like to try cooking with fresh green jackfruit, just to try the difference, but for our purposes, the tinned is fine. BBQ Jackfruit 2 web

Now- I’m not going to give you the recipe for the rest of the taco filling, add your favourite taco things! Salsa, refried beans, salad, guac… you know the deal. Fill it up and let it spill out all over the place. We had my Disco Slaw ( it’s a good recipe, and goes really well with the jackfruit, so go make that if you need some inspo!)  and some guacamole one night, then added some refried beans and salad the next night. The Jackfruit filling makes enough for 8 large tacos- or 4 people. 

Making the pulled Jackfruit isn’t difficult at all… In fact, I’m going to try some different flavours soon, and see where it takes me, The Gardener really liked it (this is crucial when he likes something, it tends to be a HIT) and suggested it might make a good pie filling.. or maybe would be good with Chinese style flavours. Watch this space, we’ll see what else I come up with! 

Pulled BBQ Jackfruit
Serves 4
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
25 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
25 min
Ingredients
  1. 1 tin green Jackfruit (NOT the sweet kind!!)
  2. 1 red onion, finely diced
  3. 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  4. 1 large pointy red pepper, chopped into strips
  5. 1 tsp cumin (ground)
  6. 1 tsp coriander seeds (ground)
  7. 1/2 small chilli (to taste)
  8. 1 tsp smoked paprika
  9. 5 Tbs smokey BBQ sauce (I used one with Chipotle peppers)
  10. 1 Tbs tomato paste
  11. 1 tsp chipotle paste (optional - I had it so added it in!)
  12. Extra hot sauce if you want more heat
  13. 4Tbs water.
  14. 1 Tbs olive oil
  15. salt to taste
Instructions
  1. Drain the jackfruit & chop it up- it comes in trianglish pieces, with softer outer attached to a harder core. I chopped into smaller wedges,each with a little piece of the slightly harder core.
  2. Sweat the onion & garlic in the oila large frying pan until translucent.
  3. Add in the chilli and spices, and stir until they smell FAB.
  4. Add the pepper and tomato paste and cook for a few minutes
  5. Add in the jackfruit and stir to coat in all those lovely spices.
  6. Now, add in all the rest of the ingredients, stir to coat everything and turn the heat down. Put a lid on the frying pan and leave for at least 10 mins.
  7. By now the jackfruit will have softened, you'll be able to sort of smash it/pull it apart with two spoons and it will start looking 'pulled' and stringy.
  8. Keep cooking on a low heat- add a bit more water or sauce if it looks like it needs it. This will allow all those little stringy bits to be coated in delicious smokey BBQ sauce.
  9. To get a really authentic texture I then allowed the mix to slighty dry out, cooking it for another 10 mins or so until it almost caught a bit on the pan, creating even more depth of flavour.
  10. Taste and add more sauce/spices/salt if you think it needs it.
  11. Serve warm with Tortillas and all your favourite taco fillings alongside.
Notes
  1. Use this as a taco filling, or make it into a slider thing. This amount is pretty much perfect for 4 hungry people.
  2. It also reheats brilliantly, so make it the day before if you have loads of people coming over & have a taco party!
Poppy and the Bees http://poppyandthebees.com/
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