Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Macaroni never again cheese

I have purchased some bright, shiny new vegan cookbooks. I wouldn't recommend them. One of them, written by a doctor, has a  very good first section, explaining why avoiding stuff that comes from animals benefits you and the planet, but the recipes are a bit uninspiring. The other, written by some Irish celebrity is bloody awful. Her writing style is bright and breezy and the pictures are nice, so you are tempted to try her stuff, but everything I've done so far has been a disaster. I made something called a macaroni no cheese, which incorporates a roast butternut blended with coconut milk, mustard and something else. It was fucking vile.
I won't name the writers, they are clearly energised by what  do and mean nothing but good, Problem is they seem to want to convince us that what they are eating isn't vegan, as a lot of vegan authors do. I can only think that the butternut concoction exists because it looks a bit like a cheese sauce, as it is a gaudy bright yellow, like a Dairy Lee  slice. And about as appetising.
The many and varied blogs do better at providing recipes, or ideas for recipes, but you don't really need to be trawling vegan websites or the bookshops for inspiration, you can always just cook what you've always cooked, but omit the bits that once belonged to a mom or a dad or a cute furry baby. Mushrooms, aubergines, and tofu, yes, tofu, can be great friends  if you really must pretend there is something akin to meat on your plate.
As the young un's grew up, with a great aversion to anything resembling a vegetable, I'd sneak the buggers into their meals, a bolognese sauce being the classic. I'd only use a small packet of mince and stretch it out by chopping up onions, mushrooms, carrots and celery really small. Somehow, they'd manage to pick their way around all the veg, and there they would remain, forlorn and defeated on the plate, as the nippers left the table.
The solution was simple, I'd just whizz all the veg up in a processor. You can make mushrooms look like mince in about 3 seconds flat and there is no way they can be picked around, same with carrots, or courgette, or aubergine; they don't look like mince but they become impossible to avoid. All you do then is cook it up as you would any other bolognese or chilli, or moussaka, or cottage pie. This even won plaudits several times from the daughters ex boyfriend, who claimed to be allergic to 'shrooms. Well, it gets simpler, just omit the meat all together, increase the quantity of veg, and you have a vegan dinner.
Let's face it, you don't really have meat for the flavour, not even bacon, the flavour of which comes from the curing process. You stud your leg of lamb with garlic, rosemary and anchovies, you do an apple sauce and a sage and onion stuffing to make pork taste nice, you smother yer chicken in butter and oregano before sticking a lemon up its arse, and you fancy up yer beef with with mustard and horseradish, not to mention the gravy. Oh, man. The gravy. Then there are all the curries and chillies and oyster sauces and what not. Getting flavour into vegetables is no harder, and is probably easier.
There's a million things you can do with aubergines to add some meaty variety to yer plate, the simplest of which is to slice 'em lengthwise to look like thick steaks, marinade 'em in something nice, like harrisa, or a chilli bean sauce, or some Italian or Frenchified thing, and bake for 20 minutes. Same with tofu, take it out of the packet, put it on plate, put another plate on top and some tins of beans to force out excess water, then slice, marinade, preferably in something spicy and bake. Coat the buggers in polenta, if you want, for a crispy finish . It's all a piece of piss, really.
One of my daughters favourite meals, which I would cook even before she went vegetarian is simple, quick, cheap and delicious and I had never considered it to be vegetarian  or vegan, it was just a nice meal. Here it is
Pasta with Broccoli and Tomato
A load of wholemeal pasta, any kind you like
A packet of purple sprouting or other broccoli with a long stem,
A packet of nice tomatoes, not shit tomatoes
2 cloves garlic
1 red chilli or a big sprinkle of chilli flakes
Nutritional yeast flakes

Salt and Pepper
Put the pasta on and while that's doing slice garlic, really thin, warm it up in a good glug of olive oil, then add the tomatoes, leave 'em to to collapse a bit. Chop all the broccoli up and throw that in too. As pasta is done throw a big spoon of cooking water in, drain the pasta and throw that in too. That's it, done, serve with a big handful or three of nutritional yeast flakes chucked on top, maybe some garlic bread and a few leaves. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Pie Without a Shepherd

I've mentioned that a baked spud can be alright without oil or butter if you you use hummus and some other nice flavours instead, but there's probably oil in the hummus. I've used the chickpea cooking water rather than oil to make hummus, and it's OK, but you don't get that lovely smooth texture, and, day by day it seems to become grainier. Still, it's clear that you can significantly reduce yer oil consumption without too much hardship.
If I use a spread at all, it's a thing called Pure. It's not nice, it's not horrible, it just is, and does the job for my current snack of choice, an onion bagel topped with that stuff and Marmite.
When it comes to sweating or frying veg, Esselstyn, and others, recommend steam frying. This, frankly, is a pain in the arse, and requires the same attention you'd give a risotto. Essentially, you put yer onions and whatnot in the pan and add tiny amounts of water to stop it all sticking and burning, then keep adding as it evaporates. I do it on the weekend, but in the week? Fuck that.
A couple of potato topped pies have turned alright. No meat, dairy or oil, was involved. I can't quite remember exactly what I did to the spuds but there was definitely no milk, butter or cheese. As far as I can remember it was a mix of potato, sweet potato and parsnip, all I used to mash 'em with was a bit of almond milk. I then added in a load of kale and spinach that I had steam fried down and a load of nutritional yeast flakes before topping the lentil/veg mix and finishing in the oven. It sounds like a faff,  and it is a faff, but a faff you don't mind, coz it winds up lovely. Even the bloody cat likes it. The little ginger bastard.
Shepherdless Pie
An onion, diced
A stick of celery, diced
2 carrots, diced
4 cloves garlic, chopped fine,
A handful of shitakes, chopped really fucking small,
A tin of lentis
A tin of flageolets
A big squirt of tomato puree
A load of frozen peas
A decent sized spoon of herbs de provence
A shake of soy sauce
A couple of veg stock cubes
Enough water to cover that lot
Summat like that, anyway
The topping
4-5 spuds
A big sweet spud
A parsnip
An onion
A couple of big handfuls of kale or spinach or cabbage or all 3.
About 3 big handfuls of nutritional yeast flakes
Put yer onion celery garlic and carrot and a big frying pan and steam fry till all getting a bit soft, chuck in the puree and cook that down for a bit, then just chuck the rest of it in and cook down until it looks the right consistency to make a spud topped pie, probably 30-40 minutes, then stick it all in a big baking dish
For the topping, if yer using an onion, steam fry or fry it, on a low heat, for about an hour, about 45 mins in, chuck the greens in, turn the heat up a bit, let it all get a bit crispy. Boil the roots up for about 20 minutes, then mash with some non dairy milk, the onion and greens and the nutritional yeast flakes, dollop all that onto the lentil and bean mixture, chuck it into a hot oven about 200c for 20 minutes or so and yer dinner is done. 
Jamie Oliver is to blame for all the sweet potato use. I can't actually stand the bloody things, but Jamie insists that they are some kind of a miracle food, and only a fool would ignore Jamie. Problem is, they  are crap and their texture is nasty, hence, although I'm using  them a  lot, they are always combined with something else.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Mercy, Mercy, Me

The 30 day challenges came to a merciful end and then it all became effortless. I thought about eating meat but the notion just wasn't appealing. I thought about having a nice, hot, bubbling slice of cheese on toast, but it didn't float the boat, and, then, I realised that for 10 days or so I had not had any dairy at all, not even in tea.
Before deciding that I just wasn't going to eat it I had thought that cheese would be the thing that would keep me from being dairy free. I love cheese. I'll pay more for a tiny slab of cheese than I will for a bottle of wine or olive oil. but it hasn't been much of an issue.
I think one of the benefits of being meat and dairy free is that you eat nutritious food. Nearly everything I eat is pretty healthy and I don't really get hungry, ever. I do get greedy, but I don't get hungry. It requires a bit of effort, but not that much and I tend to cook a fair bit on the weekend, and there's plenty leftover to take to work through the week.
I have some staples, such as a sweet spud and lentil soup, pea and spinach soup,  black bean soup, leek and spud soup, chestnut and mushroom soup, and pretty much every day I have one of those, or another soup, with a wrap for dinner, having started the day with my world famous porridge.
I make a big pot of humous twice a week, using dried chickpeas, which only cost about 3 quid for a fucking huge bag: 8 oz of dried chickpeas when soaked and cooked, yield plenty, about 3 tins worth, probably, and they are much nicer. I spread a load of it on a wholemeal wrap, add a load of chopped spinach, lettuce and me pickled peppers and carrots, and there you go, dinner, more or less, done. I do vary it a bit, but, essentially, that's it. That, and few bits of fuit, keep me really full all day. I could probably do without tea, but I'm an old fashioned chap and when it's teatime, I have tea, regardless of whether or not I'm hungry.
I am practically existing on pulses. Bizarrely, having given up meat and dairy, I was assailed by bloody gout. I thought it was the pulses causing that, which pissed me off, but, apparently, the purines in beans don't cause gout. I also thought it was slightly odd to be scoffing so many beans and lentils every day, but I rationalised that I had thought nothing of scoffing meat and dairy every single day for fifty six and a half years and that hadn't done me any harm, apart from being a fat bastard with a fucked up heart, needing 5 different tablets every single day.
Tea, quite often, is a baked spud. Until a few weeks ago I would not have dreamed of having a baked spud that wasn't drenched in butter and cheese and topped with bacon and its delicious fat. Not even in my worst nightmares. Those days are over, for now. I get  that big pot of humous and I fill the damn spud up with that, and top it with a load of caramelised onions, sometimes I add a bit of harissa to the humous, just to vary the bastard a bit. Alternativley, I use a bit of oil and top it with onions and wilted spinach and a big handful of nutritional yeast flakes. Often, a tin of beans is involved .
It's all very well as long as things go to plan. 
I just had a disastrous weekend. Everything I coooked turned to shit. I did a bean soup which was like a pebble soup even though I'd soaked the beans for about 12 hours and cooked 'em for 2. I whizzed up the lentil and sweet spud soup with a cinammon stick and star anise still in it, rendering it inedible. I cut the spuds for a moussaka too thick, and, by the time they'd cooked through, the aubergines had as good as melted away. There was too much salt in the goddam polenta.
This is where it's problematic.....when everything you have cooked is inedible, ruined or revolting. In the old days it would be simple; have cheese on toast or a bacon roll, or a ham sarnie, or all 3, with chips, and maybe an egg and, possibly, ham sandwich. All of these are still an option, but I'm choosing not to eat those things, and I have yet to come up with something really quick, really simple, and  really fucking nice to eat that I can knock up in a couple of minutes when I can't be arsed cooking.
The forecasters tell us that winter will be upon us this weekend, so I'll share me sweet spud and lentil recipe, because it's a right cockle warmer. If you are not the forgetful type, and you have the patience to steam fry the onions stick a star anise and cinammon stick in at the beginning, makes it nicer, but it's nice enough without, and I won't be bothering again.
1 big sweet potato
1 big onion
1 stick of celery
4 cloves garlic
Big knob of ginger (not Prince Harry)
6 ounce red lentils
A couple of veg stock cubes or some boullion powder
A shitload of good quality curry powder
A tin of coconut milk
About 2 pints water, depending on how thick you like it
Either soften the onion celery and garlic in oil, or, steam fry 'em until they get soft, then bung everything else in, let it bubble away for 20-30 minutes then whizz up
Omit the first bit, just chuck it all in and let it cook for 20-30 minutes and whizz up. It really doesn't make much difference

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Perfect Skin

I stuck with the vegan challenges to the bitter end, even though they pissed me  off. 
It’s funny how the mind works. It was annoying me that the vegan bods were recommending shit recipes, when the reality is I’m perfectly capable of serving up a plate of decent nosh that doesn’t have meat or dairy in it and have done so regularly, for years. Apart from the bacon sarnies, we only ever really had meat on a Sunday, although we were cheese fiends. Wanna make something taste nice? Chuck a load of cheeses on it, any kind will do.
So there was no need for all my angst. If you have tomatoes, garlic and chilli, yer laughing.
Having said that, I still sought assistance, mostly from the web. I’ve read loads of vegan blogs, and lots of ‘em are really good, apart from the ones by well brought up middle class gals with perfect skin. I admit that this might have more to do with my innate class warrior than it does with the content of their blogs.
When I was a much younger man and studied a bit of English political history, I came across The Ranters, who remain my favourite dissenters. Essentially, they would get pissed, lark about and rail against the property owning classes. They were quite a force, which is why they are so well known now.
One of their aims was to disseminate information to the majority of the peasantry who couldn’t read or write, and who were kept in line by the priests and the gentry who controlled the flow of information, summat like that, anyway. I think there had been some breakthrough in printing at the time and the world was full of pissed pamphleteers. 
At the dawn of the internet age, and the arrival of the phenomenon of blogging I had hopes that we would all become Ranters reborn. That the voiceless would have a voice. The elites and the hegemonic media could lie all they wanted, but the truth was out there and it would be told. We were all Lord Fucking Rothermere now!
It doesn’t seem to have happened. We don’t rant (well, we do, but ya know what I mean), we shop, we  gossip, we  selfie, we spotify and the elites continue to take the piss. The daughters of the elites are all bloody vegans, and they are all blogging about it. Which is OK, actually, because I’ve picked up some nice recipes.
I’ve got loads of the buggers bookmarked, and I’ll share them, bit by bit. My favourite vegan blog by far though is Thug Kitchen, which most definitely isn’t written by a Chelsea Girl. I adapted a spud and cabbage bake thing from it, and it was ace, quite incredible really. It was the sort of thing that would usually be baked in a cheesy b├ęchamel sauce, but instead was baked in a mix made from garlic, chickpeas, some other bits and pieces and almond milk. I repeat; infuckingcredibe!
All the blogs are great actually, as they give you ideas to do with things you might already have in your cupboard and have wondered why the hell you bought ‘em, like nutritional yeast flakes. I have now given up all dairy as well as meat, and I am addicted to nutritional yeast flakes. They sound right tasty, don't they?
One of the posh gal blogs had a recipe for pickled carrot and peppers, which I now have, every day. There are a lot of things that I now have every day, by the way. They are simple to prepare and are ace. They bring  a fantastic tang and crunch which really refreshes yer head. A taste  explosion in the brainbox.  They improve any sandwich or wrap. Typically, I can’t find the bloody recipe now, but my own approximation of it is alright. 
Here it is:
Put this lot in a little saucepan and warm through to dissolve the salt and sugar
About 8 fluid oz of water
About 4 fluid oz organic cider vinegar
About 2 teaspoons each sugar and salt
About a tablespoon of coriander seeds
A few strips of lemon peel
Cut a couple of carrots into matchsticks/ batons/ thin little sticks
Slice a red pepper, about same size as the carrots
Slice a red onion nice and thin
Put 'em all into a sealable jar. Pour the liquid in, leave for about 12 hours. Roberta is yer auntie.
Lord knows how long it lasts, not long in this house.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Milk and Alcohol

I started my new regime discreetly.

Knowing my history of failure, I thought it best to keep it to myself. Of course this discretion lasted until the first Sunday, when I served myself a completely different meal to the others. The Mrs then said she would eat what I eat, so the two of us are at it. I didn’t mention that I had also significantly reduced, if not given up all dairy, which meant I was still getting a morning cuppa.  
I had signed up for 3 (three) 30 day vegan challenges. They were all shit. I’m sure they mean well, but their advice is enough to put you off before you start. They assume that as well as meat and dairy, you are also giving up all sense of taste and discernment. They send you an encouraging message as well as a recipe every day, 2 recipes in fact, one for a cook and one for a lazy bastard.
They all recommended lots of processed ready meals and stuff like vegan bacon and burgers and other shit that I wouldn’t touch with a barge pole. What I wanted was inspiration to make easy, tasty food, from proper ingredients, not pretend meat. I’ve never really been a scoffer of ready meals or meat burgers, although it was my utter devotion to bacon that probably did for me in the first place. Prior to starting this new adventure I had grown partial to the occasional Linda Mcartney  mozzarella burger, which I would top with a nice slice of grilled streaky bacon. Proper bacon, from a proper pig, not from some food chemist’s overactive imagination.
It wasn’t long before I just ignored my daily vegan challenge emails, as they  just irritated the shit out of me, although they were useful as a countdown to 30 days. It was a strange time in my head; I hadn’t really decided to adopt  a vegan diet, just to be more mindful about what I eat, and to endeavour to cut meat out of the diet. I still thought I’d eat fish and I did not think that there was any realistic chance of giving up dairy, and wasn’t even going to try……..but I’d signed up for a challenge, and, by fuck, I was going to complete it.
Round about the time I started, Jamie Oliver had a new series on the box….Jamie cooks superfoods, summat like that. Well, Jamie is no ones idea of a vegan, but I got more inspiration and better ideas from him than I did, the various vegan organisations. I could cook stuff for the others, and just omit the meat for me….. his new recipes are very heavy on the veg. I can’t remember what I did now, but it was all nice.
Apart from the milk in the tea, the accidenal cheese in the topping for the fishless pie, the chocolates, the crisps and the alcohol, I was doing alright, I think.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Who Ate All The Pies?

Here we go: another attempt at changing the diet for the better. This time it’s motivated as much by a desire to save the planet as it is to save my own lardy arse. I happened upon a film called Cowpolis, or Cowtrocity, or some such appalling mash up of the English language, and it had me convinced.
“Let’s go vegan” I said, and the Mrs said “yes, let’s” “Let’s dig up the garden”, I said, and the Mrs said, “yes, dig the motherfucker up!” “Let’s sign up for a load of 30 day vegan challenge”, I screamed. ”Fuck that” the Mrs murmured. I think it’s fair to say that we found the arguments put forward in the film convincing.
Not everyone is convinced. Having watched the film, I sought out reviews, plenty of which were absolutely certain that the film misrepresented the truth and the facts it presents are not facts, but made up stories. The fact is though, all the hipsters on the film who had got with the programme positively glowed with health, so if I can’t save the planet, I’ll have a go at saving myself, and if my little effort does a bit for our poor, beleaguered planet, well, hooray.
A couple of years ago, following a dramatic cardiac event, I resolved to change my ways: eat better, exercise more. Well, I weigh more now than I did, and I was a fat bastard then. I’ll have the same trouble now. Put a bar of chocolate, a bowl of ice cream or a packet of crisps in front of me, and that’s it. Game over. Let’s not even talk about beer. Also, I don’t like vegetables. We may be in for a bumpy ride.
So far, so so so. I’ve been at it for about 3 weeks, and if we overlook  the chocolate, the crisps and the ice cream, I’ve done well. If we don’t overlook those things, my progress has been, er, erratic. I’m not mentioning the beer.
When it comes to meals, I’ve surprised myself. I think I’ve had one bacon and egg sarnie, on a hungover Saturday morning, and that’s all the meat I’ve had. I’ve become something of a chai wallah at work and drink only organic tea not requiring milk, or some bloody herbal infusion or other. I still have my morning cuppa on rising though. There have been two other fairly major changes. I go to bed early, no later than 11 and more usually around ten. That helps me with the other big change and a major challenge……getting up early and having a 20 to 30 minute meditate every day. It’s not as straightforward as you might think.
A further challenge is porridge. Give me a saucepan and a hob and I’m a genius, give me a bowl and a microwave and I’m an idiot. Every day at work there is a porridge related drama, either far too sloppy, or far too stodgy, or exploded all over the damn machine. I’ve tried it at home and two and a half minutes does it, at work though, who knows? I’ve decided to err on the sloppy side, as cleaning the damn microwave every day was as embarrassing as it was laborious. Once it has had 3 minutes. I take it out, whatever state it’s in…….if it’s a thin gruel, I add a load of chia seeds which I keep in a little pot, and within a couple of minutes, it has thickened. Those little bastards soak up liquid like I do on a Friday night
Regardless of the drama, I have hit upon the perfect recipe, and here it is.
4 tablespoons porridge
Little handful dried coconut
Little handful sultanas
Tiny squirt of maple syrup
Decent sprinkle of cinammon
300mls non dairy milk  ( I use KOKO or Almond, whatever is on offer)
Chia seeds, depending on how it turns out.
Into the microwave 2-3 minutes, Bob’s yer uncle.
I eat that shit, every single day, and it’s really, really nice.

The world will be delighted and beside itself to know that I’ll be posting recipes regularly, but only nice, easy to do ones. I might even stick a photo up every now and then, mind you; most things just look like a big pile of stodge.