Thursday, December 31, 2015

Carrot and apple cake with a lemon drizzle icing

I am rather in love with this cake. Apple pieces are showcased to perfection against a backdrop of carrot cake, and the zestiness of the lemon drizzle allows a sweet but fresh finish. As you would expect with carrot and apple in the mix, the cake is moist (but not too moist) and it is sturdy enough to be sliced and taken on a walk (I know this because I did so).

I adapted this from a supermarket (Tesco) recipe and my changes included dropping the eggs (I didn't substitute anything else in, figuring the grated carrot would be sufficient, which it was), halving the butter / non-dairy spread component, and reducing the sugar by 25%. You won't miss what I took out because the carrot and apple give moisture and sweetness themselves.


Monday, December 28, 2015

Christmas and 2015 reflections

The year is drawing to a close and what a year it has been. I may post again before the year is fully over, but it felt right to combine reflections on Christmas with thoughts on this year as a whole.

First, Christmas. It was lovely. I was getting a cold, which was less lovely, but it was our first Christmas in our new home and we enjoyed a relaxed and laid back day. There were lots of presents, lots of food, and just the right amount of effort to make it special. There is something to be said for a Christmas where you do everything just the way you want to.


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Honeycomb and chocolate chip biscuits {Happy Christmas}

Honeycomb has been on my 'to make' list for a long time. On the weekend, I ventured into making it and then went one step further with these honeycomb and chocolate chip biscuits (cookies). They are easy to make, easy to eat, and a fun twist on standard chocolate chip combinations.

A word of warning, though, on baking with honeycomb: it has a tendency to explode out of your biscuits if you put too much in. I used nearly a cup of crushed honeycomb pieces and found some oozed out of the biscuits to form a burnt caramel layer on the baking tray. I have reduced the quantity in the recipe to half a cup, and advise keeping a close eye on the biscuits from the 8 minute mark!


Sunday, December 20, 2015

Edinburgh (a final Scottish recap)


Christmas decorations in Edinburgh

This is my fourth and final recap from our November Scotland holiday (previous posts covered south-west Scotland, Glasgow, and the Scottish Highlands). Edinburgh was our last overnight stop, but we drove to it via a large loop from the Highlands across to Aberdeen and down the east coast. This is far from the most direct route, but I was keen to see Aberdeen as my family nearly moved there when I was 8. My father's company wanted to relocate him (and thus us) to the area, and it took some negotiation to avoid the move. As a result, I've always been curious about Aberdeen and the possible parallel life I could have lived there.

Suffice to say, Aberdeen was not the highlight of our time in Scotland. Until we got there, I'd been increasingly convinced we should have moved when I was 8. Aberdeen, however, is rather different to the rest of Scotland. The sprawling outer suburbs held little appeal, and the city centre was as grey as its reputation (Aberdeen is often know as the granite city due to the use of granite in most of the central buildings). The city council building, pictured below, was impressive but I didn't find  much else to warm to.

Aberdeen's most attractive (grey) building

I was still glad to see Aberdeen and lay my could-have-been parallel life to rest. Driving down the east coast also allowed us to stop at Dunnottar Castle, an impressive semi-ruined castle perched right on the coast.

Dunnottar Castle 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Gold sparkled marshmallow crackles (vegan)

These crackle slices need a disclaimer saying "sparklier in real life than in photos". With hindsight, for photography purposes I should have made the slice chocolate flavoured, so the glitter stood out against a dark background. Still, life isn't all about photography for blogging. I promise you that if you make these, they will glitter and sparkle impressively.

Other than the sparkly top, these are a simple mix of (vegan) marshmallows, coconut oil, and puffed cereal. They're easy to make, easy to eat, and the sparkles make them perfect for the festive season. As they don't need baking, they're also a good option if you need something made in a hurry (although you will need to allow time for them to set).

Monday, December 14, 2015

Christmas scenes and vegan recipe ideas

Houses of Parliament, London, with the London Eye behind

I've been meandering along with a vague sense that Christmas is on the horizon, and all of a sudden that horizon is almost here. Ten days to go! I am not sure I'm ready!

In the spirit of all things festive, I thought I'd share some Christmas scenes and vegan Christmas recipe ideas. I haven't decided what to make for our Christmas meal yet (!) but the recipes below all sound appealing. I'm also sharing an easy recipe for baked pears in red wine and cinnamon, which may not suit Christmas day, but is perfect if you need a festive but low-key dessert. Paired with yoghurt or ice cream the pears are simple, sophisticated and entirely delicious.

Trafalgar Square, London

Friday, December 11, 2015

Scottish Highlands

After our time in Glasgow, we drove north-west to spend 3 days in the Scottish Highlands. I was particularly excited about this part of the trip, as I'd heard so many good things about the scenery in north-west Scotland and was looking forward to soaking it up. (Incidentally, given recent Scottish storms, floods and snow, we really were very lucky with our sunshine and minimal rain.)

Loch en Eilein, Cairngorm National Park, Highlands

The highlands cover a large area - basically the north-west half of Scotland - and we stayed in Port Augustus on the lower edge of Loch Ness. We chose it as a central location and because of good self-catering options. Where we stayed, a one-bed self-catering apartment in an old convent, was perfect and I don't hesitate to recommend it. Whilst technically an apartment, it felt more like a cottage due to the generously sized rooms. The rooms were also beautifully furnished and there were lots of thoughtful touches like a completely equipped kitchen (I could have baked a cake if so inclined), books and DVDs, and lots of maps and local guidebooks.

The Old Convent self-catering cottage

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Vegan chocolate cranberry layer cake with a cranberry ganache icing

Last weekend was my birthday and therefore a good opportunity for cake experimentation. It is helpful when the only person you'll let down with a baking failure is yourself; it frees one up to try something new and not worry too much about what may go wrong. In my case, the 'new' was this chocolate cranberry layer cake with a cranberry ganache icing.

I surprised myself by choosing a chocolate cake, as I think of my cake tastes as more aligned with fruit and vanilla. Not this year! In saying that, there was a definite fruit component to this cake and (I think) the cranberries made it more exciting than your typical chocolate cake.

I adapted the cake from a chocolate cranberry cake on Brave Tart, which wasn't vegan but did provide gluten-free options. My cake contained gluten but omitted the eggs and used dairy substitutes. It was dense and decadent whilst also being fluffy, and chocolatey without being overpowering. The cranberries within the cake were subtle and those in the icing allowed for a tart edge that balanced the usual sweetness of ganache.

Monday, December 7, 2015

A review of Plant-Based Breakfasts for Kids (Kyra Howearth)

Some of you may be familiar with Kyra Howearth's blog, Vie de la Vegan. If you're not, Kyra is a plant-based (vegan) Australian blogger who shares plenty of delicious recipes. I like that she uses straightforward ingredients and shares dishes that involve minimal fuss. As she is a mother of three, Kyra is also great at sharing child-friendly dishes.

Given my enjoyment of Kyra's online recipes, I was delighted when she asked if I'd like to review a copy of her first e-book, Plant-Based Breakfast for Kids. I don't have children, so my review is based on my adult opinion. However, I can confirm that the dishes appear child-friendly. For example, what child wouldn't want to try breakfast pizza, no bake breakfast cookies, or pancakes of any variety?

I am not usually a huge fan of e-books, on account of finding it hard to justify purchasing an e-book when there are so many great free recipes online. However, this particular e-book may have converted me. It was set out simply, with beautiful photographs accompanying each recipe, and every one of the 25 recipes appealed to me.

No bake breakfast cookies

Friday, December 4, 2015

In My Kitchen - December 2015

I am linking this in to Celia's monthly In My Kitchen event at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial - which as of January, will have a new host in the lovely Maureen of the Orgasmic Chef!

Pineapple chocolate chip loaf

In my kitchen, there have been a few recipes that I've liked, but which haven't quite been good enough to share. A pineapple chocolate chip loaf, above and below, was one example. I made it without any additional sweetener (beyond the pineapple and chocolate chips) and while I loved it, I can see it wouldn't be to everyone's tastes. It wasn't to Mr Bite's, for example (poor Mr Bite - I'm not painting a good picture of his eating options this week).

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Smoky paprika risotto with chickpeas (and giveaway winner)

I was recently pleased to pick up some liquid smoke in the supermarket. I haven't cooked with it since we moved to the UK and have missed the option of smoky, South American style dishes. Mr Bite was less pleased as he is not a big fan of liquid smoke flavoured meals. However, sometimes I exercise the cook's prerogative and serve them to him anyway...

It is perhaps not very surprising that where I loved this dish, he just tolerated it. I am posting it anyway because I am confident that in this instance, his lukewarm attitude stems from his dislike of the ingredients. If you are kind, you probably won't give this to someone who isn't a big fan of liquid smoke or chickpeas. For everyone else - I am certain it will be enjoyable!

Monday, November 30, 2015

Yoghurt and goji berry baked oat bars

Sometimes I imagine a dish, make it, and it matches my imagination exactly. Other times, I imagine a dish, make it, and it is nothing like what I expected to make. These oat bars are somewhere in between. When hot, they were too soft and crumbly and I was disappointed not to have achieved the texture I wanted. When allowed to chill in the fridge, they firmed up beautifully and came into their own. A lesson in patience - and trusting ingredients even if initial impressions aren't quite right!

The bars feature oats, puffed cereal, yoghurt, goji berries, coconut oil, rice syrup and vanilla. You can taste each of the flavours and they come together harmoniously. It is the coconut oil that allows for the firm texture when chilled. I used soya almond yoghurt, but coconut yoghurt might be a nice way of continuing the coconut theme.

I can only describe the chilled texture as a cross between baked oat bars and raw no-bake slices. If that sounds odd, it wasn't. I found it very pleasing and a nice way to enjoy a bit of both styles of slice.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Vegan Life Magazine, issue 11 (November 2015)

I receive complimentary digital copies of Vegan Life, which allows me to post reviews with screenshots included. My reflections on the magazine are entirely my own.

Another month and another jam-packed issue of Vegan Life Magazine. It was an especially good month for desserts, as in addition to the triple chocolate brownies on the cover, there was a stunning matcha mint cheesecake within. Isn't the green colour amazing?

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Sweet potato, berry and pecan breakfast bowl

I feel a little sheepish sharing this before Thanksgiving. The blogging world is filled with intricate, dramatic recipes for tomorrow's holiday and this is very much neither. It's also very similar to my sweet potato breakfast pudding of earlier this year (this dish is even simpler!). At the same time, after Thanksgiving is over, some of you may want a simple breakfast to recover with. For those of us not in America, this breakfast can offset some of the rushed and/or food heavy days that characterise this time of year. It also tastes really good for something with three core ingredients.

I got extra pleasure from this because I was aware, while eating it, how much it characterised the difference between my tastes and those of Mr Bite. Mr Bite dislikes sweet potato and nuts and he barely tolerates berries. I couldn't resist sharing my ingredient list with him as we sat opposite each other over the weekend papers. Not surprisingly, he said he was happy to stick with his simple toast.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

November running highlights - Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon

This is the second post in my new 'running highlights' series. As I am showcasing one run per month, today's post is actually about a race I did in October. It was such a delightful run that I wanted to showcase it anyway. Better late than never, or at least that was my reasoning.

The Royal Parks Foundation half marathon is a race I'd hoped to run last year, but as it is so popular, they operate a ballot system for entries and in 2014 I didn't get a place. Fortunately, I did get one for 2015. The race has been going since 2008 and the course winds through four of London's eight royal parks: Hyde Park, The Green Park, St James’s Park and Kensington Gardens. Along the way runners pass Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square and Downing Street, and are given glimpses of the Houses of Parliament and Marble Arch. You can't really ask for a better central London route.

The race was on the 11th October, which was 2.5 weeks after we returned from Italy. I planned my training schedule accordingly but knew I wasn't going into the race with a 'perfect' running lead up (not that there is really such a thing). I was also very aware of slowing my pace down for the London marathon back in April. Whilst I'd tried to speed up again over the subsequent 6 months, I was't expecting to get a personal best in this race. At the same time, having run four previous half marathons and one full marathon, I did have more confidence in my capacity to finish.

Waiting to start

Friday, November 20, 2015

Vegan banh mi sandwich

After my delicious bahn mi lunch at Mono, I returned from Scotland determined to make bahn mi at home. This led me to look up the dish and learn that bahn mi really just means bread. To be specific, baguette made with rice flour as well as wheat flour. A bahn mi sandwich, on the other hand, refers to the complete dish: a filled Vietnamese baguette with meat or tofu, picked vegetables, chilli, and coriander (cilantro).

My version used a standard wheat baguette, but I tried to stay true to the spirit of Vietnamese sandwich fillings. Online information suggested I could pickle the vegetables quite briefly - for an hour or so - rather than needing an extensive pickling process. I used carrot, cabbage and radishes but cucumber and daikon would be authentic additions to the mix. Fresh coriander isn't in season here, but if you can find it, it would be a great finishing touch. As it is, I used the dried variety in my tofu marinade.

I've shared a few recipes lately with the note that you don't really need to press your tofu. Here, you do. Allow time to press it in advance and then marinate it for 30 minutes or so before cooking. The result is crispy thin slices that really make the sandwich.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Glasgow, including vegan food at Mono Cafe Bar and Nippon Restaurant


Like so many places, Scotland has a bit of an east/west divide. This is particularly true for Edinburgh (the eastern capital, which is refined and elegant) and Glasgow (the larger western city, which is edgier and scruffier). I ought to love Edinburgh, but I hope I won't offend anyone by saying that in fact I love Glasgow.

Central Glasgow

My views of Glasgow may have been shaped by the weather and the food. The weather was autumn showcased to perfection. The food was boosted by a host of vegan eating options, and the particular appeal of Mono, a fully vegan cafe / bar that we ate at twice.


Sunday, November 15, 2015

Lani Muelrath's The Plant-Based Journey: Review, give away + recipe for cranberry sauce with dates and oranges

I am delighted to share this review and give away of Lani Muelrath's new book The Plant-Based Journey. Whilst there are many vegan-focused recipe books out there, this contribution stands out because it focuses more broadly on the whole lifestyle of plant-based eating. There is easily accessible science (reminiscent of The China Study but in summary form); helpful descriptions of plant-based food groups and how they can combine to give different meals; an actual meal plan example; and then both recipe templates (including customizable bases for burgers, soups and bowl meals...) and specific recipes.

Lani Muelrath has an impressive reputation as an author, speaker and teacher on plant-based and mindful living. She has a qualification in plant-based nutrition from Cornell University and is active in promoting a plant-based lifestyle in the US. In The Plant-Based Journey. she draws on her own 40-odd years of plant-based eating experience.

Cranberry sauce with dates and oranges

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Purple vegan lasagna

If I'd been more organised, I might have shared this post for Halloween. Purple lasagna would have been particularly fun then, but as it is, we're having it in mid-November. I'd like to think it is fun now too - difficult to photograph well, but fun.

As with my previous purple meals, the colour in this dish comes from purple carrots. It amazes me how much colour they are capable of providing. They usually cost a little more than regular carrots, but I get such pleasure from them that I think they're worthwhile every now and again.

Other than carrots, this dish drew inspiration from the lasagna with hummous I made earlier in the year. I used tahini here instead of hummous, but either would work well. Whilst purple carrots don't taste very different to regular ones, their dark colour conjures up a depth of flavour that tahini complements nicely.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

South-west Scotland

Before our recent trip, I had been to Scotland twice, but both times only to Edinburgh and both times only briefly (a day trip and an overnight trip). I am sure it goes without saying that there is a lot more to Scotland than its capital city, but I will note it anyway, because the rest of the country was so very different. It blew me away and if you haven't visited Scotland, I urge you to go, and go west and north in particular!

Culzean Castle, Scotland

I'll get to the north of the country in a future post, but am starting where we started - in the south-west corner. We based ourselves in Dumfries, which is a small town 30 miles north of the English border and 75 miles south of Glasgow. We chose it as a base for the south-west and because it was one of the closest Scottish towns we could drive to. However, as we only had 1.5 days in the region we didn't spend much time in Dumfries itself, and even less there in daylight. What we did see was pleasant enough but I can't pretend to have a good grasp of the town.

Dumfries' 15th century bridge

What we did see in the area were two magnificent castles. Culzean Castle, pictured top and below, is the flagship property of the Scottish National Trust. As English National Trust members we could visit for free, and got in just before the property shut for winter (it shut in November and we visited on the 30th October!).

Culzean Castle

Sunday, November 8, 2015

In my kitchen - November 2015

I am linking this in to Celia's monthly In My Kitchen event at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial.

We're back! Scotland was wonderful and I look forward to sharing photos and highlights in future posts. For now, though, I am joining Celia's monthly In My Kitchen series to summarise some of what is happening in my kitchen this November.

In my kitchen, there is the tried and true mix of (soya) yoghurt with oats and fruit. I go through phases with this combination - sometimes I can't get enough and then suddenly I'm over it for a little while. Right now, I'm in the can't get enough phase.

In my kitchen, there are assorted products from Morrisons. Until recently, this was the British supermarket we didn't shop at, on account of not having one within walking distance in London or particularly close to our new home in Kent. In Scotland, though, they were the most frequent chain and we enjoyed discovering their products. I was especially pleased to see vegan millionaire's shortbread (caramel slice) in their own brand 'free from' range. I liked it a lot and more so than the other vegan millionaire's shortbread I've tried.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Tomato, red wine and oregano roast tofu and vegetables

After today, I will be taking a short break from blogging as we drive north to Scotland for an outdoor, autumnal, laid back holiday. I am very excited. Work has felt very busy lately and whilst I am blessed to enjoy my job, I am ready for a break. I did a lot of travelling in August and September but those trips all had work included - this one will be entirely work (and laptop) free.

Before I depart, I wanted to share this recent recipe that provided me with lunch on several busy work days. It is a classic roast in that you put everything in the oven and leave it to cook itself. It's also a classic roast in that the flavours and seasonings are full-bodied and comforting. It's a meal to curl up with when you want something hot, nutritious and satisfying. Autumn weather is optional...

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Vegan pineapple-coconut French toast with caramelized banana

There will come a time when I hit saturation point with vegan French toast recipes. After all, there are only so many variations one can share for a dish based around bread. At the moment, though, I'd like to think that day is some way off. Vegan French toast has become my standard Saturday morning breakfast and I love it just as much now as when I first discovered it. It might not be as nutritious as porridge or oat-based breakfasts, but it is a delicious way to start the weekend. Saturday is my long run day and French toast also follows running perfectly!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Out and about in Kent and Sussex #1 - Scotney Castle

Are you glad it's the weekend? I have had a particularly hectic week (thus no blog posts since Tuesday!) and am extremely pleased to have reached Saturday morning. The fact we get an extra hour of sleep tomorrow, with the end of daylight savings, is a bonus.

Scotney Castle, Kent
With being grateful for this weekend, I thought I would share one of our weekend outings from earlier this month. I have previously posted Out and About posts for Perth and London, but this is my first for our new county (we are on the border of Kent and East Sussex).

Scotney Castle is a National Trust property about 10 miles south of Tunbridge Wells. Like many National Trust properties, there is a lot to the estate. The original Scotney Castle, pictured above, is a 14th century semi-ruined castle set in beautiful gardens and woodland. There's lots to explore just with that, but you can also tour the newer country house that was built to replace the castle around 1840.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Coconut flour raspberry and apple crumble

It is crumble season. Also pie season and pudding season, but today we're talking crumble. A simple, fruity, comforting crumble with the sweet tartness of raspberries and the tart sweetness of apples.

My crumbles are more fruit than topping, but the topping here is excellent too (even if I scorched mine a little bit). I used coconut sugar and coconut flour, which gave a slightly different texture and taste to standard sugar/flour combinations. I think coconut flour is particularly suited to crumble toppings because it is inherently quite crumbly. It also has a texture that is somehow light and fluffy but also rich and comforting. I liked it in this dish.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Giant couscous with greens, sun dried tomatoes, chickpeas and tahini

I'm on a real tahini streak at the moment. My jars of peanut butter and almond butter have been untouched for weeks, but tahini is featuring pretty much daily. I've come to expect this from myself and am sure I'll move on to a different ingredient love soon. For now - tahini it is. As a result, you get to share in a few tahini recipes and today's bowl meal is a savoury counterpart to my tahini chocolate oat balls of last week!


Thursday, October 15, 2015

'Honey' soy tofu wraps

We all know how to stir fry and sometimes it is nice to stir fry with lots of fragrant, fresh, aromatic ingredients. Grated ginger. Lemongrass. Fresh chillies. You know the drill.

Today's recipe is for the other times. The nights you get home, haven't stocked up on south-east Asian ingredients, and don't fancy grating ginger, seeking out lemongrass or chopping chillies. The nights you want something fresh and tasty, but also easy. Minimal ingredients and minimal chopping.

These honey soy tofu wraps are the answer. The marinade features nothing more than your honey equivalent and soy sauce. The vegetables will need chopping, but that's as complicated as it gets. You don't even need to cook rice (although you could) - just tear open a pack of wraps and pile the filling in.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Tahini chocolate oat balls (vegan, one bowl, no food processor required)

These energy balls are not hugely different to recipes I've shared before (their closest counterparts being peanut butter cacao energy balls, cinnamon peanut butter oat bites and chocolate fudge bites) but they managed to be just different enough. It's amazing how you can combine such a small number of ingredients and get such delicious, fully-flavoured results. These showcase natural foods to decadent perfection and they make extremely satisfying snacks!

The ingredient list is pretty much summed up in the post title, with the exception of liquid sweetener, which I used in the form of Sweet Freedom low GI sweetener. I have mentioned the Sweet Freedom Choc Shot sauce before and was pleased to recently spot this syrup in their range. It's made entirely from fruit extracts and carob and I think it tastes like a cross between maple syrup, rice malt syrup and molasses.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Vegan Life Magazine, issue 9 (October 2015)

I receive complimentary digital copies of Vegan Life, which allows me to post reviews with screenshots included. My reflections on the magazine are entirely my own.

The latest edition of Vegan Life magazine is out! It features a particularly stunning array of recipes. After my last post on spiralized sweet potato noodles, I was interested to see sweet potato waffles made from spiralized sweet potato. I don't have a waffle pan, but if I did, these would be happening...

In the same section on spiralized treats, there was an equally novel recipe for fruit noodle trifle. This features spiralised apple and persimmon. I think it looks delicious.