Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Fruit & Nut Bars - Suma Blogger's Network

Fruit & Nut Bars
Here's my latest post for the Suma Blogger's Network, which also ties in quite nicely with Veganuary. 

I currently buy a certain brand of fruit and nut bars for healthy snacks, but they're very expensive, so I thought I'd have a go at making my own. I've made a couple of different varieties so far, and found you can mix and match the ingredients, so long as you keep the fruit and nut ratio roughly the same. I used my Optimum 9400 blender to get quite a smooth textured bar, but a normal food processor or blender should work, if you're happy with a chunkier texture.

Makes 6 bars

  • 75g/3oz cashews
  • 50g/2oz dairy-free chocolate or raw chocolate - I used Plamil vegan dark chocolate 
  • 100g/4oz dried dates (or 50g/2oz dates plus 50g/2oz raisins) - I used Suma pitted dates
  • a dash of cinnamon powder, vanilla/mint extract or orange zest to flavour

Blend the nuts briefly, until ground into a fine powder. Remove from the blender. 
Repeat with the chocolate.
Blend the dates with a little cinnamon/flavouring to taste. Scrape out of the blender.
Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl. Mix until completely combined into a dough-like consistency.
If the mixture seems very sticky, add more ground nuts, or some unsweetened cocoa powder.

Squeeze together using your hands and place on a sheet of greaseproof paper. Cover with another sheet of paper and roll to approx 1cm thick. Push the edges in with a palette knife to neaten them up.
Chill for 30 mins then cut into 6 bars.
Wrap the individual bars in greaseproof paper and chill until needed, in an airtight box.

Variations: Double the ingredients to make a batch of 12 bars.
Use different combinations of dried fruits and nuts for different flavours and add your choice of flavouring extract. You may need to add more ground nuts, if you use softer dried fruits. If you want to use softer nuts (such as Brazils, walnuts, macadamias or pecans, it's best to mix them half and half with harder nuts such as cashews, hazelnuts or almonds. Toast the nuts gently before grinding for a fuller flavour.
You could also roll the mixture into balls and dust in cocoa powder to make raw, vegan truffles. 

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Sunday, 11 January 2015

A mainly vegan meal plan for Veganuary - Week 2

Well done for making it through week one with me. You may have already seen my new recipe for Rice and Peas...this went down well with all the family. I won't, however, be blogging my Chickpea and Potato Patties recipe, as they fell apart and weren't very tasty! Here's my second weekly Veganuary meal plan. Some of the recipes featured are vegetarian, so you need to select the vegan options in each recipe.

Monday: Aloo parathas and tarka dal
Tuesday: Gigantes Plaki (Butter Beans in Tomato Sauce) with salad and pitta - double recipe to serve 4 as a main course
Wednesday: Shepherdess Pie with green vegetables - use vegan alternatives for mashed potato.
Friday: Sloppy Joes with corn on the cob and sweet potato chips/fries
Saturday: Spinach and Basil Tofu Cannelloni - recipe to follow
Sunday: Champignons et Légumes au Vin (Mushrooms & Vegetables in a Red Wine Sauce) with roasted potatoes and parsnips.

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Saturday, 10 January 2015

Rice & Peas with Jerk Mushrooms

I must admit I have never eaten real Jamaican rice 'n' peas, so I do apologise if this version isn't quite traditional. It does taste good though; it's cheap and easy to make and it's vegan!

Serves 3-4

For the rice
  • 1 can gungo/pigeon peas or red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup of long grain rice, rinsed and drained
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 fresh chilli, finely sliced/chopped
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 2 cups of coconut milk (or use 1 can and make up to 2 cups/450ml)
  • salt and black pepper
  • A few sprigs of fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried thyme
Heat 1 tbsp vegetable oil in a large pan. Gently fry the onion until soft. Add the chilli and garlic and cook for a further 2-3 minutes.
Add the rice and stir.
Add all of the remaining ingredients (except the peas/beans) and mix together. Bring to a simmer then cover the pan and cook on a low heat for 10 minutes. Add the beans and stir.
Cook with the lid on, for a further 5 minutes.
Turn off the heat and allow to continue steaming whilst you cook the mushrooms...

For the jerk mushrooms

  • 450g/1lb chestnut or white mushrooms, quartered
  • 2-3 tsp jerk seasoning (add more/less to taste)
  • 4 tbsp tomato ketchup
  • 2-4 tbsp water

Sauté the mushrooms in 1 tbsp vegetable oil for a few minutes, until starting to brown.
Reduce the heat and add the seasoning. Cook for a further minute.
Finally add the tomato ketchup and water and stir again (add a little extra water for a thinner sauce). Taste and add more jerk seasoning if needed.
Cook for another minute or so.

Serve the rice topped with the jerk mushrooms.

Vegetarian option: Swap the mushrooms for meat-free/Quorn chicken-style pieces, if you prefer.
Extra veg option: Add a cup of frozen vegetables (peas, sweetcorn, green beans etc.) to the rice when you add the peas/beans. 
Child-friendly option:  For younger children, or those who don't like spicy food, omit the fresh chilli, remove their portion of rice and peas and then spice up the remaining rice with a good sprinkle of cayenne pepper. Just add a pinch of jerk seasoning to the mushrooms at first, remove their portion and then add the remaining seasoning.
 Credit Crunch Munch
I'm adding this recipe to the Credit Crunch Munch, created by Helen and Camilla and hosted this month by Helen at Fuss Free Flavours.

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Sunday, 4 January 2015

A mainly vegan meal plan for Veganuary - Week 1

Here's this week's Veganuary meal plan. It's mainly vegan, but my family might want to top some of their dishes with a bit of cheese or add some Quorn. If you're going completely vegan, then select the egg and dairy-free options in each recipe.

Monday: Vegetarian chilli in tortilla bowls (check wrap ingredients)
Tuesday: Potato & chickpea patties with roasted vegetables
Wednesday: Mixed vegetable curry with rice and naan
Thursday: Parsnip & carrot soup with fresh bread
Friday: Rice & peas with jerk mushrooms (or jerk meat-free chicken-style pieces) 
Saturday: Spicy vegetable & bean burgers with sweet potato chips (shop-bought, frozen are fine!) and vegan coleslaw
Sunday: Pasta with Greek tomato sauce, vegan garlic bread and salad

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Friday, 2 January 2015

Aubergine, Bean & Pepper Casserole

Aubergine, Bean & Pepper Casserole
Here's the first of my Veganuary recipes for the year. I wanted to make a really simple, but tasty, Greek-inspired dish for those new to vegan cooking. The secret to this dish is baking it in the oven but if you want a faster version, ready in less than 30 minutes, you can also cook it on the hob.

Serves 4

  • 1 medium-large aubergine/eggplant, sliced about 1cm thick
  • 2 large bell peppers (any colour), halved, de-seeded, and thinly sliced
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced or sliced
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes, or around 500g/1lb very ripe chopped fresh tomatoes 
  • 200ml/¾ cup boiled water or hot vegetable stock
  • 100g/4oz/1 cup of drained, tinned pulses such as cannellini beans or butter beans 
  • 1 mild-medium chilli, de-seeded and finely sliced
  • 1 tsp of dried oregano
  • 1 tsp sugar, optional
  • a handful of fresh chopped mint and parsley (about 1 tbsp of each)
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
Pre-heat the oven to 180C/170C Fan/350F/Gas 4*

Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large frying pan (medium-high heat) and cook half of the aubergine slices on both sides for a few minutes, until soft and golden brown. Remove from the pan and repeat with the other half. Keep the cooked aubergine to one side. Once cooked and cooled slightly, chop the aubergine slices into quarters - This is best done after cooking, to ensure that the aubergine is cooked through evenly.

Turn down the heat to medium and add a further tbsp of oil to the pan. Gently sauté the peppers and onion for a few minutes. Then add the chilli and garlic and cook for a further 2 minutes. 

Add all of the remaining ingredients (including the cooked aubergine) and bring to a simmer. 

*If you're in a hurry, reduce the amount of water/stock by half and cover the pan. Simmer for around 10 minutes, instead of baking. 

 Extra VegIf you have time, pour the vegetables into a heat-proof dish, cover with foil and bake for 1 hour. Uncover for the last 10 minutes for a thicker sauce.

Serve with fresh pitta bread, potatoes, rice or pasta.

Vegetarian option: crumble 100g of feta cheese over the casserole before the final 10 minutes cooking time. 
Substitutes: If you don't like aubergine, swap it for 200g/8oz mushrooms or 2 medium courgettes/zucchini.  

 Credit Crunch MunchI'm linking this post up to this month's Extra Veg Challenge, created by Fuss Free Flavours and Utterly Scrummy and to the Credit Crunch Munch  also hosted by Helen at  Fuss Free Flavours.

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Thursday, 1 January 2015

Happy New Year and welcome to Veganuary 2015

 Veganuary - find out more
Happy New Year! You may remember that last year, I discovered Veganuary for the first time. As a non-vegan vegetarian, I often find I'm in the firing line from both meat-eaters and vegans, as to what my family eat and why we do so.  In case you don't know, I've been vegetarian for over 20 years, Mr O eats meat occasionally - but I won't buy or cook it - and both of our daughters have been raised as vegetarians from conception! 

As an ethical, rather than heath-led veggie, I am obviously aware that a vegetarian diet isn't perfect when it comes to avoiding cruelty to animals, but as a family we try to minimise our egg and honey consumption, leather and silk purchases, and avoid products tested on animals and animal-based entertainment (zoos/racing/circuses etc.). Our one big downfall is cheese, although I must say that since last January, I definitely buy less diary cheese than I did before.

 For those of you who haven't discovered Veganuary before:
"Veganuary aims to reduce the suffering of animals by inspiring and supporting people across the globe to go vegan for the month of January. For most, a love of animals is the catalyst. Some people want to feel better about themselves and the impact they make on the world. Others would like to set themselves a challenge, and many combine Veganuary with their ‘New Year’s Resolutions’ and see trying vegan as the healthiest start to the year. Whatever your reason, we’re here to support you. So try vegan for a month and discover a whole new world of taste and flavour. We guarantee that, by the end of the January, you’ll feel fantastic! Sign up today."
Although I didn't quite manage to stay completely vegan for the month last year, I made a concerted effort to reduce my family's dairy/cheese and egg consumption. I will admit that I found it tough at times, but it was a good experience, and one I am willing to try again. I currently have some cheese left over from Christmas to finish off, but after that has gone, I'm going to attempt a full vegan month. The rest of the family may have some cheese/dairy and the odd Quorn product, so I'll be keeping vegetarian options in my new Veganauary recipes.

I'm actually thinking of doing a 5:2 kind of meal plan for the family, whereby weekday meals are vegan and weekend meal are vegetarian or have a vegetarian option. That way if I fall off the vegan wagon, I know I can get back on the following Monday!

For anyone joining in with Veganuary, there's a great list of vegan pantry essentials for both the UK and the USA, which give dairy and egg-free alternatives to many common non-vegan cooking ingredients.

I you're thinking of joining in the Veganuary challenge, I'd love your support, so do drop me a comment either here or on Facebook, with your encouragement, tips, recipe ideas or questions.

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