Monday, August 29, 2011

Easy Peasy Pancakes

There is nothing better than good, strong coffee and a giant pile of pancakes smothered in golden syrup on a lazy Sunday morning - or afternoon, by the time I usually get up on the weekends.  More like giant pikelets (a classic favourite in any Kiwi kitchen), these little babies sit awfully well on a slightly hungover belly.




Easy Peasy Pancakes

Ingredients:

1 cup flour
1 ½ tbs sugar
2 tsp baking soda
Pinch salt
1 cup soy milk
2 tbsp oil

Method:

Sift dry ingredients and mix thoroughly.

Mix in the liquids & beat with a whisk until smooth.

Measure ⅓ of the batter onto a hot, oiled pan.

When bubbles appear, flip and cook the other side until lightly golden.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Mum's Chocolate Self-Saucing Pudding

I'm very lazy when it comes to desserts.  I can whip up a ten dish Chinese meal in a flash, but the thought of mucking about with measuring cups and decorating tools makes me run and duck for cover. 

Mum's chocolate self-saucing pudding however is a different story.  It's super easy to prepare and is one of those foods that envelop you in a big chocolaty warm hug with every bite.  And we all know that chocolaty hugs are the best hugs.




Mum's Chocolate Self-Saucing Pudding

Ingredients:

Base:
2 tbsp melted vegan margarine
½ cup soy milk, warmed
1 cup flour
½ cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp cocoa
½ tsp salt

Topping:
2 tbsp dessicated coconut
½ cup sugar
2 tsp cocoa

Method:

Mix the dry ingredients of the base with the melted margarine and warm soy milk.

Spread the base evenly into the bottom of a ceramic dish.

Mix the topping ingredients and sprinkle over the pudding base.

Pour over two cups of hot water and bake at 180°C for 50 minutes.

To serve, scoop out a big chunk and lather it in runny soy cream.  Mmmmmmm.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Spicy Chinese Tofu 鱼香豆腐

Tofu in its raw original form isn't nice, even us vegans can't deny that - but sure, neither is a potato.  And just like the humble potato, tofu tastes best fried, or even better, deep-fried!  This wee dish was one of my absolute favourites in China, where amazing tofu dishes flow from kitchens 24/7 - the Chinese know their tofu.

Once again though I'm afraid it calls for a few slightly obscure ingredients, and I apologise, I really do.  But thankfully they can all be easily bought at most Asian grocery stores, no sweat.  To get your forgiveness even faster I've even added a link to Wai Yee Hong Online Asian Store so you can see exactly what need to buy. You're welcome.  




Spicy Chinese Tofu   鱼香豆腐

Ingredients:

1 packet firm tofu
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 spring onions, white and green bits chopped
½ green pepper, cut into chunks (optional)
4-5 Chinese dried mushrooms, reconstituted and chopped (optional)
1 tbs soy sauce
1 tbs rice vinegar
1 tsp sugar
1 tbs regular soy bean paste
1 tbs spicy soy bean paste
1 tsp salt, or to taste
1 tsp corn flour

Method:

Slice the tofu into strips, fry in deep oil until golden brown and set aside.

Heat some oil in a wok and when add both bean pastes and fry for a few minutes.

Add in the soy sauce, vinegar and about half a cup of water and mix.

Mix in the sugar, salt, garlic and spring onions.

Add the tofu and let boil for a few minutes.

Mix the corn flour with about 3 tbsp of water and add a few spoon fulls to the tofu - within a minute the mixture should have thickened and will be ready to plate up.

Sprinkle with spring onions and serve with rice.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Dried Tofu, Celery & Peanuts 芹菜豆干花生米

Ah dried tofu, an odd kind of food really, it's like sweet little squares of edible rubber.  Despite that sounding rather unappetizing, it is surprisingly far from it. Add some Chinese spices, a few other marble sized editions and you have one challenging dish to get your chopsticks into!  Usually eaten at the start of a Chinese meal while you are waiting for the hot dishes to arrive, this little baby brings back fond memories of giant food halls, bustling waiters and ice cold beer.




Dried Tofu, Celery & Peanuts   芹菜豆干花生米 

Ingredients:

1 cup raw peanuts
2 star anise
1 tsp Sichuan pepper corn powder (found in most Asian Grocery Stores)
1 tsp Chinese 5 spice
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt

5-6 squares of dried tofu, cut into small bite size pieces
4 sticks of celery, cut into small bite size pieces
2-3 large cloves of garlic
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
Sesame oil

Method:

Wash the peanuts and put them in a saucepan along with three times their amount in water.

Add the star anise, Sichuan pepper corn powder, salt, sugar and soy sauce, then bring to the boil and simmer for about 25 minutes, or until most of the water has been absorbed.  Drain the remaining liquid, remove the star anise and set aside.

Put the chopped celery and tofu into a pot of water and bring to the boil - let boil for about a minute then drain under cold water.

Mix the drained tofu, celery and peanuts together, then add the garlic, salt, sugar and a good few drops of sesame oil and mix it all together.

Let it sit for a while for the flavours to mix, serve at room temperature and let the chop stick fun commence!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Go Max Go Candy Bars

A package popped though the mail slot recently and, eagerly opening it, I couldn't help but be taken back to one glorious Christmas morning, when I woke up to find a rather large looking box sitting under the Christmas tree.  Could it be!? Could Santa really have gotten me the deluxe Petite Pony palace complete with electric elevator!?    This was the excitement level I was working with as I opened my little parcel from the Veganstore.co.uk and, like my six year old self that Christmas, I was not to be disappointed.   Out of the package tumbled bar after bar of what I now know to be the most amazing vegan chocolate bars EVER, Go Max Go Candy Bars.





Now I realise whenever I write about a new chocolate bar I always say 'it's the best yet', but that's just because I don't want to hurt the other bars' feelings.  Like a mother who tells their children she doesn't have a favourite while secretly winking at the cutest one, I think Go Max Go Bars are definitely the cutest of the lot.

When I said goodbye to the candy isle back in 1999, I never dreamed I would eat anything that would compare to these amazing creations.  All of my old favourites have been remade with no animal products whatsoever and, while I know its been a while since I've had the real thing, I completely couldn't tell the difference as I demolished all of them in record time.

Describing the bars is easy, albeit a little lazy on my part: the Jokerz bar is just like a Snickers, Twilight a Moro and Bucaneer a Mars bar.  Sadly the Veganstore had sold out of the Mahalo bar so I didn't get to try it yet, but as it's made with a coconut filling it's sure to be nothing less than fantastic.  Looking at their official web page, they now have two new products to add to their distinguished line up; Cleo peanut butter cups and their SNAP! rice crispie bar.  I feel another order coming on...

Stir-fried Dried Tofu with Green Pepper 青菜炒豆干

Working in a Chinese takeaway for most of my teens (shhhh, don't tell the vegans), I thought I was pretty up with the what's what in Chinese cooking. Little did I know when I actually made it to China the culinary wonders that awaited me.  There was not a deep fried wonton or black bean beef in sight and sweet and sour, the king amongst most Western style Chinese cuisine, didn't even get a look in amongst all the other amazing flavours.

Perhaps the most unexpected thing about my first encounter with authentic Chinese food though was a group of starter style dishes called Leng Cai 冷菜 (literally 'cold dishes').  Found at the start of nearly every menu, a good deal of them were vegan friendly, and it was here that I discovered the delicious little tofu variety that is Dou Gan 豆干 ( 'bean dry').

A bit of an odd looking tofu in the packet (it looks like perfectly square slabs of squished livers - hmmm, appetizing...), it has a relatively hard texture, with a light marinated skin and is almost sweet in flavour.  I thought I might have seen it for the last time when I said goodbye to China, but thankfully nearly all the Asian grocery stores around Ireland seem to stock it.  Don't pass it by in the store just cos its a little ugly -  like the 3 legged puppy at the pound, you really should just give it a chance (sorry, I've been volunteering at a dog sanctuary recently!), and with this simple little recipe hopefully you will be able to look past it's odd exterior and give it a go.





Stir-fried Dried Tofu with Green Pepper     青菜炒豆干

Ingredients:

1 green pepper, sliced thinly
5 squares of dried tofu, sliced into thin slivers
3 star anise
1 tbs soy sauce
1 tbs sugar
1 tsp salt
A splash of rice vinegar
Oil

Method:

Heat the oil in a wok and fry the star anise until fragrant.

Add the pepper and fry for a wee bit, then whack in the tofu and all the other ingredients.

Fry for two to three minutes on high heat, then plate up and serve.

It can be eaten hot, but I like it best at room temperature, so if you are doing a few dishes make this one first.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Caramel Flavoured Choices

In the small town of Tuam, just down the road from my fiance's family home, there is a wee supermarket called Joyces, which, to my utter amazement, I recently found to be rather abundant in vegan goodies.  Scanning her shelves a few weeks ago I came across what could possibly be THE chocolate highlight of my entire vegan career, Caramel Flavoured Choices.

Wrapped in golden foil, like all the best chocolates are, these succulent chocolate coated balls of soft caramel are a sweet-toothed vegans dream.  Twelve to a packet they were gone in an instant, to leave me wallowing in a sugary chocolate haze of content.

Now, whenever I’m back out at the In-laws, I’m always the first to put my hand up to run into town on an errand just so I can nip back to Joyces and stock up.  In the process I have become quite the favoured daughter in law - little do they know! 

Having never seen them anywhere else, I am hoping now that we have moved to Galway to hunt these bad boys out in a more convenient location to home.  Produced by the same people who make Celtic Chocolates in Co. Meath they should be around somewhere, but my advice to you if you stumble upon a packet is to stock up!!  For if you are anything like me, they won’t last past the hour.

If you can't get 'em locally you can order them online at Alternative Stores.com

Monday, June 13, 2011

Spicy Cucumber Pickle

While I was on exchange in Malaysia, I couldn't wait to get home everyday from school to see what my Thai host mother had whipped up for dinner.  Out of her tiny kitchen she produced some of the best food I'd ever eaten and made sure I ate it, all.  After prodding me to 'finish, finish', with a proud little gleam in her eye she would then poke me in the belly and tell me how fat I was.

While slightly traumatic at first, I soon learned to take it in my ever heavier stride and gave it my all when it came to dinner time (yeap, I'm just a trooper that way).  One of my absolute favourites was her fried rice, not complete without a bowl of spicy cucumber pickle.  In fact, I'm not sure I really remember what her rice tastes like at all it was always so covered in the stuff!  Sour, sweet and spicy all at once, I'll never eat fried rice without it again.




Spicy Cucumber Pickle

Ingredients:

½ large cucumber, halved down the middle and finely sliced
1-2 small shallots, sliced
½ small red chilli, sliced
2 tbs sugar
½ tsp salt
¾ cup white vinegar (I use Chinese white vinegar if I want it very sour, or rice vinegar for less of a kick)

Method:

Mix all ingredients together and let sit for about half an hour before serving at room temperature.

Faith In Nature

When I first became vegan back in my rather isolated home town in New Zealand, even if I had wanted to use vegan friendly toiletries I wouldn’t have been able to find them.  My mother was willing to put up with me not eating dairy but actually smelling like a cow would have been a different story.  Since moving over to Ireland however, I have stumbled across a whole host of different vegan products and after much deliberation in my bathroom come testing lab one brand has definitely come out a winner, Faith In Nature.  I simply love the stuff!




Quite picky when it comes to fragrances, I am hooked on their Chocolate Shampoo and Conditioner, which not only makes me smell like a cake but leaves my hair feeling fantastic.  Their Aloe Vera and Tea Tree Hand Wash is also a favourite - there is just something about eucalyptus that I find irresistible, like petrol and maker pens, but good for you!

Also a constant in our bathroom repertoire is their Aloe Vera and Ylang Ylang Shower Gel and Foam Bath, which smells just divine (and is rather amusing for our childish selves to try and pronounce, ylaaang yllaaaannnggg).  They make it in chocolate as well, which at the shop I always go to reach for first and then think better of it – probably best not to smell that much like a cake, however much I want to.

All of their products are paraben free – something I didn’t even know existed until recently but that may be linked to cancer.  While there is no hard evidence that this is the case, I’d say there is no harm in keeping dodgy chemicals away from you if you can.

And last but not least, the final reason our place is littered with Faith in Nature's fabulous products is the price – extremely reasonable, smelling so good without covering yourself in animal by-products and chemicals has been made quite affordable.  So I entreat you to go, buy, lather (and try not to eat) these wonderful products, because, quite simply, you just 'gotta have faith faith faith' (I know, I'm sorry).

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Broccoli Soup

Ah the humble soup. Previously rather under appreciated in our household, I have recently been caught in the midst of a wee obsession with this unassuming appetizer.  A handy way to use up any left over vege and the best excuse for whipping out the ol’ hand blender (I would blitz all my food if I could – I can’t wait to be old), soup has become a treasured friend in times of culinary laziness (so rather often!).

Not a fan of chunky soups, I follow the same steps each time, ending with a good zap of the hand blender and they always turn out amazing.  Whack in some pesto, or sprinkle on some toasted nuts and you look like a proper professional without the least bit of effort!



Broccoli Soup

Ingredients:

Olive oil
1 med onion, finely chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 small head of broccoli, chopped
Vegetable stock
Salt & pepper to taste
Soy cream or toasted almonds for decoration

Method

Sweat off the onions and garlic in a deep pot by frying them in a good bit of olive oil for 4-5 minutes.

Add the potatoes and broccoli and fry together for a few minutes.

Add enough vegetable stock to cover the vegetables, cover with a lid and bring to the boil. 

Simmer until the potatoes are cooked, let cool and then go at it with a hand blender until nice and smooth.

Add salt and pepper to taste and heat until hot enough to serve.

Sprinkle with toasted almonds and/or a dollop of soy cream.

Note:  For a different soup, just swap vegetables.  Current favourites include leek & potato, carrot & orange, and curried squash, yum!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Riata

Indian doesn't get eaten in our house unless accompanied by a big, overflowing bowl of riata - mostly because I have a habit of making things too spicy, but also because I think it's just delicious!  I always make a whole load the stuff because, if it doesn't get eaten at dinner, it makes a great dip the next day with any left over poppadoms.



Riata

Ingredients:

1 tub of soy yogurt (I use Sojade 400g tubs)
½ large tomato, chopped finely
¼ small cucumber, chopped finely
2 spring onions, chopped finely
2-3 tbs lemon juice
1 tbs cumin seeds, roasted
¼ tsp cumin powder (or more if you are a big cumin fan like me)
1 tsp of salt (or to taste)
Handful coriander, chopped finely

Method:

Toast the cumin seeds until fragrant, finely chop all the vege and then whack it all together and refrigerate - it's that easy!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Vegan in Cork

Only a week has gone by since myself and the ol’ fiancée packed up shop and moved to the wilds of western Ireland, leaving behind some vegan haunts in Cork City that are already sorely missed.  Not an overly vegan friendly city from the outside (are there any in Ireland!?), after a year of scanning menus and checking specials boards I eventually managed to find quite a few diamonds in the carnivorous rough.

One place that definitely turned into a favourite spot from the onset was a wee cafe on Washington Street called Cafe Gusto.  Sniffed out early on in our stay (my nose is set to find hummus) it’s a funky little place that serves a variety mezzee, tapas and wine -  which to me just equals heaven.  While not extensive in their vegan friendly items, what they do do, they do very well, especially their babaganouj (I could guzzle a whole bucket of it, no trouble!).  



Their menu has a great Lebanese Platter, minus the cheese, which you can swap for tapenade, piquillos, couscous, olives, roast veges, salsa or sun blushed tomatoes.  They also do a chickpea and spinach stew if you want something a bit more filling (minus the yoghurt) and are the only place in town that do a soy chai latte and always actually have soy milk (not like those other places which have it on the menu and never stock it – grrr to those other places!).  And last but not least they do corkage for €4 a bottle, a definite rarity in Ireland.  Can you tell I like this place!?

Unbeknown to me for a long while was their sister restaurant Liberty Grill and, more importantly, the salad they serve within.  Walked past a number of times (‘grill’ doesn’t exactly offer hope of vegan items!) it was only recently that I learnt of their San Fran Salad and got to taste the best tempeh I think I’ve ever had.  Set on a bed of couscous and leaves, the tempeh is marinated in a magical soy sauce and sweet chili mix and is just amazing. They also do a tempeh burger (minus the mayo) and a few tasty appetizers – definitely worth a look in.

Also worth a gander, and surprisingly not short on options, is Cafe Mexicana.  Tucked in the back of Carey’s Lane, it’s a cute little restaurant with happy, colourful décor that makes you want to grab a shaker and have a wee dance.  While nothing on their menu is specifically tagged as vegan nearly all of their vegetarian options can be adapted to become so, mostly by just leaving out the cheese and/or sour cream, and they do a mean chili sauce that shouldn’t be missed.

If spicy is what you’re after Banna Thai on Maylor Street does some of the best Thai I’ve ever eaten, especially their Massaman Curry - delicious, creamy, peanuty goodness with bits of deep-fried tofu to soak in all the juices, yum!  Make sure to ask for no fish or oyster sauce and get them to leave out the egg if you order the Pad Thai, which is also a favourite (plus they deliver on Just Eat.ie - the lazy man's choice!).

If you’re more after just lunch or a quick snack there are some very decent options around the city centre. Dashi Deli, on Cook St do some rather inventive sushi and have a variety of vegan options if you want to grab something on the run or eat in their little window box and people watch (the Vitamin Bomb, Vege Futomaki, Avocado Futomaki, Cucumber Maki, Inari and Vege Miso Soup are all vegan friendly).  The Natural Foods Bakery on Paul Street do a hefty hummus and salad sandwich, complete with vegan mayo, and also have a variety of flapjacks and a few other goodies for a quick energy hit.  Wagamama is also a good call for a wee bite on the go – their Asian style diner offers up a fair few vegan options, including Miso Soup, Yasai Itame, Yasai Chili Men and Saien Soba.  Or if its just cake and coffee that you are after, Gulpd Café in theTriskel Art Centre do some vegan sweet treats, including vegan cupcakes from Sugar Moon

And how could I not mention the Quay Co-op Restaurant, the solid mainstay of so many vegans and vegetarians in Cork.  Like a vegan grandmother, her hearty salads, tarts, pies and burgers never fail to fill you to the brim at every visit, with just enough room for a sweet treat at the end (yes, that’s right, sometimes they even have vegan cheesecake, gasp!).  

If you are looking to cook in as opposed to eat out, the store below the restaurant stocks the best variety of vegan frozen foods in town as well as soy yogurt, hummus, vegan chocolate bars, scones, bread and vegan friendly toiletries, not to mention the most addictive slab of vegan carrot cake ever, complete with equally addictive icing.

Another spot around town that’s also good to stock up on vegan essentials is The Good Food shop in the English Market, which has a variety of meat alternatives, soy yogurt, vegan bars, hummus and tofu, as does Natural Choice, above Tesco in Paul St Shopping Centre.  Here’s Health on Patrick St is also handy if you just want an energy bar or small tub or soy yogurt.

And then we come to the Asian food stores, my favourite kind of store.  Probably the best and most convenient is Jia Jia, a hole in the wall shop jammed to the brim full of all sorts of fun things, just down past TK Max on Cornmarket Street.  It stocks all your essential tofu varieties: squidgy, dry, smoked, skin and regular.  It has kimchi and dumpling wrappers, steamed buns and vacuum packed pickled mustard plant – this place has it all.  

Well no, I tell a small fib, sadly it doesn’t stock the world’s best curry powder, but never fear, I found a place that does!  Just down on the right, past the Heineken Brewery on Leitrim Street, is Sun Chong Hong, a Malaysian Chinese owned Asian food store that sells the all amazing Baba’s curry powder (which I use in my Malaysian Chicken Curry and Curry Fried Noodles recipes) among other essential goodies.  And if you have a car and want to get all your Asian foodstuffs in bulk CX Oriental Cash and Carry on Tramore Road is just the ticket.

All in all things are surprisingly not so dismal for the vegan in Cork and while the city is lacking in a few essential favourites (I was never able to find a falafel kebab anywhere :( ) it certainly makes up for it with many others.



For a look at where all these amazing places are check out my Vegan Cork map.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Fry's Vegetarian Range

Now I know that meat substitutes are not everybody's cup of tea, but for a girl who basically went through her childhood years subsisting on a diet of processed luncheon, sausage rolls, pies and cheerios, and was never really into meat that actually contained any real meat anyway, they are right up my alley.


Having lived in Asia for over six years, where mock meat is perfected to sometimes disturbing levels, I like to think of myself as a bit of a connoisseur.  And so it not without much research (aka stuffing myself silly with mock meat of all varieties) that I recommend Fry's Vegetarian Products as being rather, dare I say it, awesome. 

Don't be fooled by the vegetarian label either, their entire range is vegan too (huzzah!) and ticks the boxes on all sorts of things health conscious people are worried about.  Not me though, I'm all in it for taste, and they taste good.

Unlike other 'fake meat' products, that tend to have a habit of tasting just that, Fry's have amazing texture and flavour, especially their Chunky and Chicken Style Strips, and if I can slip 'em into a curry and not have the fiancee notice, then they're definitely onto a winner!

With such an extensive range it's hard to pick out favourites, but certainly high on the list are their Original Hot Dogs, which go down a treat lathered in mustard and ketchup, as well as their Chicken Style Burgers, which taste rather like a childhood favourite of mine at the house of Maccy Dees (I know, I know, but it was so hard to resist the happy meal toy...).

Now I was going to tell a wee white lie and say that I have sampled all of their products and that they are all amazing, but alas there are still a few I have yet to get my mitts on - namely their Chicken Style Nuggets (even the picture is making me hungry).  Never the less I am confident they will deliver like the others and hopefully, for my little taste buds, very soon I can let you know!

For ideas on how to use their different meat style strips have a wee peek at my Curry Fried Noodles and Malaysian 'Chicken' Curry recipes.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Malaysian 'Chicken' Curry

As part of a year long cultural exchange in Malaysia, I spent a month living with an Indian family in a suburb of Kuala Lumpur, where I gave most of my days to sleeping off the amazing banquet I had scoffed down the night before.

Originally only vegetarian a few days of the week, the whole family stayed away from meat while I was there, and, as they didn't really eat dairy anyway, everything my host mother cooked was vegan, and utterly mouthwatering - lets just say I was one VERY happy camper. 

Thinking I shouldn't let the opportunity slip me by, towards the end of my stay I managed to drag myself and my belly out of bed in the mornings and spent hours in the kitchen watching my host mother whip up this dish and that, and while I can never quite get any of them just as she did, I have managed to nearly master a few of my favourites, including her amazing mock chicken curry.




Malaysian 'Chicken' Curry

Ingredients (enough for a nice sized bowl):

Vegetable oil
3-4 cloves of garlic, grated
1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated
1 cinnamon stick
3-4 star anise
5-6 curry leaves (I use dried because I can't find fresh ones)
1 med onion, finely chopped
4 tbs curry powder (I use Babas Meat Curry Powder, it is AMAZING)
3 med tomatoes, chopped
4 med potatoes, cut into small chunks
Mock chicken meat (I use Frys Vegetarian Chicken Style Strips cut into smaller bits, but if your not into mock meat you can always just skip it and add more potatoes)
2-3 tbs tamarind juice (you can pick it up in Tesco's 'Ingredients' section)
¼ cup coconut milk
¼ cup water
salt to taste

Method:

Heat a small amount of oil in a wok and fry the chicken style strips until crispy, then repeat with the potatoes and set aside.

Add a good bit of oil to the wok and, when hot, fry the cinnamon stick, broken in two, along with the onion, garlic and ginger for a few minutes.

Add the star anise next, along with the curry leaves and stir to mix.

Next mix the curry powder in a bowl with a little water, enough to form a thick paste, and add to the wok - let it cook for a minute or two, using ample oil.

Add the potato, tomato and mock meat and fry for a while to mix, adding the water to keep it from getting dry.

When the potatoes are nearly cooked through, add the coconut milk, tamarind and salt to taste.

Served sprinkled with fresh coriander - yum yum!

Note:  For a different twist on the same curry, soy yogurt works really well in place of the coconut milk.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Vegan in Lisbon

A few weeks back the fiancee and I jumped on a plane and headed over to Lisbon for a wee city break.  Sick of being so close to Europe and not getting to see her, I was VERY excited to get some sun, check out some sites and sample the local cuisine.  Before heading away however I did do a little research to see just how vegan friendly this trip was going to be and the signs weren’t looking good.
How was it when we actually got there?  Let’s just say, I was wise to pack some snack bars…

Day one saw us try to get right into the local cuisine.  On the recommendation of our peppy hotel receptionist we headed up the road to a hole in the wall local eatery, with mosaic tiled walls and old men sitting watching Portuguese soap operas - we were pretty sure this was the real deal.  The waitress spoke some English and on mention that I was ‘vegetariano’ I was offered a ‘salad with olive’, which my starving self readily agreed to.


When said salad arrived I was a little disappointed to find ‘olive’ meant ‘olive oil’ and that my salad of lettuce and a few slivers of carrot was busy swimming in it.  The norm for Lisbon restaurants, we were given bread on our table (which is rather sneakily added to the bill if you eat it) so I made myself a sandwich and filled the rest of my belly with potatoes I stole off my fiancee's plate, a traditional fish creation that was eventually rated ‘meh’ once it had been fully devoured.  Things had not started well for either of us.


Our next culinary stop was down the main city drag of Rua Augusta.  My better half had caught a glimpse of some pretty tasty looking tarts so we popped into a coffee shop and had a wee sample, and by we, I mean him - my lack of any Portuguese words beyond ’perfavore’ which I was pretty certain wasn’t even Portuguese, I had no hope of asking whether ‘there are eggs in that’ and so settled for an espresso, which was rather delicious if not a little sad without a tart to accompany it.


The crappy weather brought us indoors later in the afternoon where we spent nearly two hours at Lisbon’s Aquarium, the second largest in the world, watching fish hypnotically swim past us in a huge main tank.  Now I know such things are not regarded as very vegan by some but this place was AMAZING. For someone who doesn’t like fish I walked out of there in love and, after such a long time gawking at sharks, in desperate need of some food. 


We headed back into town and decided to try and find a restaurant on the main tourist strip in Restauradores, a gauntlet of fast talking, menu flaunting touts, desperate for anyone’s custom.
We were approached by countless waiters who gave us a run down of the whole menu, page by page, until we asked if they had something vegan to which a disappointed voice always answered no.   Finally however we ran into one waiter who told us that our search on the main drag was pretty hopeless, as we were fast finding out, but directed us down an ally to Ristorante Valentino (Rua Jardim do Regedor, 37-45), an Italian Restaurant where I had a fantastic cheese free pizza -  Portuguese Food 0: International Fare 1. 

Day two saw us head out to explore some of the main sites of the city.  We jumped on the hop on hop off bus and headed out to Belem where, after a bit of site seeing and snap taking, we landed at a restaurant on the waters edge just in time for the sun to come out.


Getting a bit hungry at this stage, the menu was not looking hopeful but they did have great wine and olives, so I ordered a lot, just to be safe.

After getting lost for a few hours we headed back into town and went in search of Megavega (Rua dos Sapateiros 133), a vegetarian/vegan restaurant I had seen online.  Tucked in just off the main drag, it served a variety of simple salads and mains and more importantly had vegan chocolate cake!  Finally things were looking up!

That evening, after having forced my man to eat lunch at the ‘hippy canteena’, we thought we would give Portuguese fare another shot.  We headed up to Barrio Alto, the bar district in Lisbon, full of funky hideouts and packed with restaurants.  I reluctantly walked past Indian and Thai menus before we settled on a Fado restaurant - traditional Portuguese food eaten to the sounds of traditional singers belting out there sad tunes less than a meter from your plate.


While the singing was pretty impressive I was again not to be wowed by the food as, even though our waitress spoke perfect English and assured me they had vegan food, I was once again presented with a pretty unexciting salad, along with a rather lackluster vegetable soup that I'd say wasn't even vegetarian... Portuguese food 0....

Feeling the tourist in every respect now we decided to up the anti on day three and head on a guided tour to Sintra, a delightful little town over looked by a fantastic Disneyesque old royal summer palace, as well as a few spots on the Portuguese coast.  We stopped in Sintra village after roaming the castle and had what I concluded to be one of the best meals of the trip, a fantastically tasty lunch at Bengal Tandoori (Rua Pendôa, 11).  I had a few beers and completely devoured a delicious eggplant curry, the first time I had felt full all week.  Portuguese Food 0: International Fare 2.


That evening we met up with some friends in town and thought we'd give traditional Portuguese food one last shot.  On our hotel receptionist's recommendation we jumped in a cab and landed in a traditional Portuguese seafood restaurant, where I was once again forced to eat some rather boring salads, some pretty manky broccoli (how you make broccoli taste bad I don't know) and a plate full of french fries.  One plus though that I must concede, the Portuguese are not shy on their free pours and so what lacked on my plate was well made up for in my glass. Still, Portuguese food 0:  International Fare 2.


Day Four saw us meander round the centre of the city, adamant to tick off the remaining sites left to us.  After a very hot slog up the hill to the Castelo de S. Jorge I was promised no repetition of the previous night’s meal and so set my sites on eating Thai at a restaurant we had passed in Barrio Alto a few nights before.

After arriving in the bar district once more we were disappointed to find that nothing was open during the day, so wandered into the neighboring district of Chiado.  A hip shopping area full of open air cafes and parks, we were surprised to find a Japanese temaki bar Koni Store and, dying of heat at this stage (it was nearly 22 degrees, the height of an Irish summer!) we gladly plonked ourselves inside.  I ordered the vegetarian spring roll and teriyaki mushroom temaki, which was fantastic and so filling for its size.  Portuguese Food 0:  International Fare 3.

That evening, as if to say sorry for all the french fries and salad I had been subjected to during the week, the choice was again mine to decide dinner and so we set out to find what was apparently the best vegetarian/vegan restaurant in Lisbon, Terra.  Set in an old house with a delightful alfresco dining area shaded by trees and filled with the sound of running water, we knew we had found something special.

The food was a mixture of Portuguese and Mediterranean cuisine, served buffet style, and our waiter spoke perfect English and was extremely helpful in pointing out what was and wasn't vegan, the majority of which was.  He didn't think this was enough however and promptly got the kitchen to especially cook me some seitan kebabs - I was completely smitten! It was only at the end that I realized they even had vegan dessert but was far too full at that stage (I see buffets as a challenge) to even venture another bite.  And so, at long last, Portuguese Food 1! 

The next day we didn't even kid ourselves and headed straight for an Indian restaurant around the corner from our hotel, Restaurante Grill House, where we tucked into some pretty decent fare, pushing the final tally to Portuguese Food 1:  International Fare 4.



So overall it was a pretty mixed bag when it came to being vegan in Lisbon. Vegan or not we were sadly not very impressed with the traditional food we found at all but I imagine if you can speak Portuguese beyond my meager three words I'd say you have a chance at finding a bit more.  It's not all bad news though as Lisbon is full of all sorts of international restaurants (and apparently quite a few more vegetarian restaurants than we were able to find) and if all else fails they make excellent wine and are not shy on the free pouring of spirits - and at the price, compared to ol' 'rip-off Ireland' anyway, you can afford to indulge!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Muhammara

In my quest to convert the heathens, uh, I mean, non-vegans, I have found one of the best ways is through a subtle invasion of the taste buds.  Not a fan of pushing my beliefs on others, I much prefer the sly approach - a strategically placed plate of cookies at a potluck, a surprise vegan birthday cake, slipping flax seeds into my fiance's coco pops...

One sure fire hit that at least gets the non-vegans to ponder, even for a second, that this whole vegan thing wouldn't be as bad as they thought, is the amazing dip, Muhammara.  Pronounced 'Mu ha ma ra ra ra' (just kidding, I have no idea how to pronounce it) it is an amazing dip made with bread crumbs, roasted peppers, walnuts and spices. 

Originating from Syria, each bite is a mini taste explosion, and for someone who knows her dips (New Zealand as a country has a slight obsession) this one is well up there, competing with the best hummuses and baba ghanoujes around.  



Muhammara

Ingredients (for one hefty portion):

¾ cup roasted peppers (I usually use Tesco brand jarred peppers - so much easier than roasting yourself!)
The bread crumbs from one slice of pan slice bread
1 handful of walnuts, toasted and chopped (just over a third of a cup)
2-4 cloves of garlic
1 tbs lemon juice
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp red pepper flakes (or more if you like things spicy)
Olive oil (or the oil from the jarred peppers)
Salt to taste

Method:

Blend the bread slice in a blender until it forms small crumbs.

Add all the other ingredients except the oil and blend together. 

Add enough oil until you reach a paste like consistency and season with salt. 

Serve with crackers or crusty bread pieces.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Cookbook - Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World

I’ve always had a thing for cupcakes. Far less scary than baking a cake, you feel like you’ve achieved so much more (it’s like twelve mini cakes!) and can cover any mistakes with so much less (just a little icing covers all…).  So when I bought Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero’s wee book Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World: 75 Dairy-Free Recipes for Cupcakes that Rule I was very excited to help the little bite sized treats do just that - making myself look fantastically skillful in the process.


Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World: 75 Dairy-Free Recipes for Cupcakes that Rule
When it comes to me and vegan cookbooks there are a couple of things that make all the difference in whether a book becomes either a battered favourite or an untouched addition to my bookshelf.  Firstly, I love pictures - lovely, coloured, glossy pictures.  We’re not living in the 80s anymore, where a sketch of a scone will do the trick – it's all about high definition colour to get me in the baking mood!

Once I'm in that mood attention turns to the recipes themselves - simple steps for a simple girl, nothing to complicated or hard to read and I'm all over it.  And lastly I look at the ingredients - if I have to go gallivanting around for weird ingredients that end up costing a small fortune, the book has a very short life span.

So how does Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World stack up?  When it comes to lovely, glossy pictures, this book is truly a winner.  Nearly every recipe comes with a fabulous shot of what your cupcake should look like -  as opposed to what most of mine turn out like (I’m not so handy with a piping bag…).  The recipes themselves are well laid out with witty little intros, a trademark of the two Brooklyn culinary queens, and handy hints litter the pages, delightfully called ‘sprinkles’ (Queue: awwwww).  

A definite plus for my scale-hating self, all the measurements are in spoons or cups, and while the temperatures are in Fahrenheit, you thankfully only need to remember one.   The girls have really done very well at making the whole book look as pretty as one of their cupcakes, but do the recipes themselves cut the mustard?

Currently munching my way through the many pretty pages of this book – halfway in, my answer is a resounding yes.  With about half a dozen recipes now part of my official cupcake rotation, the Carrot Cake Cupcakes, Gingerbread Cupcakes and the little peanut butter number lurking in the middle (pictured below – looking rather fabulous, if I do say so myself) are definitely worth buying the book for alone.  High on my list to try next are the rather delectable sounding Mucho Margarita Cupcakes, as well as the Toasted Coconut Cupcakes, which I’m going to tackle just as soon as I find out where to buy coconut oil….  

Which brings me to the only, somewhat minor, niggle I have with this book – weird ingredients.  Certainly not as bad as other books I’ve seen, some of the more interesting cupcakes sadly call for things I just can’t seem to find.  Coming from Brooklyn, with the population of a small country, finding things like agar flakes and matcha tea powder is probably not a hassle for the authors, whereas myself, currently living in a small city in Ireland, these such things just don’t exist (or are out there somewhere but I’m too lazy to find them…probably the latter).

Overall though this is a wee gem of a book - smudged and smeared with all sorts at this stage, it takes pride of place in my collection and, even if vegan cupcakes eventually don’t take over the world, they certainly make me look good at parties – and in the end, isn’t that what really matters!?    

Friday, April 22, 2011

Ode to the Golden Coconut Bar

An ode to a chocolate bar I hear you say?  Yes, it is that good.  Am I actually going to write an ode? No, I am not that talented.  What I am going to do though is tell you just how AMAZING this chocolate bar really is.


First discovered when I arrived in Cork, I found this most delicious of bars lurking inside a health food store, hidden beside something made with carob (dry retch) and something else that looked suspiciously too healthy for my taste.  I nearly walked right past it and would never have known the magic that is the Organica Golden Coconut and Dark Chocolate Bar. 

Vegan chocolate bars tend to be limited to super rich dark chocolate, with the occasional hint of orange or mint, if your lucky.  Organica however have taken things a massive step further and added coconut, my most favoured of all chocolate fillings - that's right, they have made the vegan bounty bar, and it's better than the original.  Sweet, delicious coconut wrapped in luscious dark chocolate (that doesn't make you reach for a glass of water with every bite) this is one delectable treat.

In Ireland it can be found in most health food stores or you can buy it online from a number of UK sites.  Venture Foods, who make and distribute the bar, also have a website with more such tasty treats, like vegan white chocolate, oh my!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

I'm the Only Vegan in the Village

An odd thing has happened lately that has caught me rather off guard – I’ve met other vegans.  I had always known they were out there, somewhere.  There were web sites claiming of whole societies of vegans, who had get togethers and ate cupcakes.  Hailing from the middle of nowhere in New Zealand, even in the bigger city where I went to university I never once came across any of these so called vegans, let along whole groups of them. And then, all of a sudden, they were EVERYWHERE.

My first inclination was to feel threatened; I was the only ‘vegan in the village!’. (Refer to: Daffyd, from Little Britain) I mean, did I have to share my dark chocolate now!? 
 
My second was to be suspicious – vegans in my mind (myself excluded of course) were all tree hugging hippies, obsessed with E numbers and how long they could go without shaving their arm pits.  What if people start associating me with these weirdoes!??

My third was fear.  Not the perfect of vegans, I have a few grey areas when it comes to my chosen lifestyle – would they lynch me for eating potato chips at the pub which I know contain lactose?  And heaven forbid to think what they would do when they find out I work at a café, a normal café, where I secretly experience a buzz of satisfaction when I get the cappuccino froth just right??

And so it was with great wariness that I got to know these other ‘vegans’.  I shook hands with them at a distance, and waited for them to comment on my semi leather shoes.  I sat in silence wondering who was going to regale me first with tales from their latest night time raid on battery hens.  

Much to my surprise however no one smelled like a ten day old sock, and there wasn’t a greasy dread lock in sight.  Everyone drank alcohol like I did and confessed to small grey areas of their own.  Could it be? Could they be normal!??

With great surprise, that quickly turned to delight, I now claim to know a whole host of vegans, and am even part of a vegan group.  More importantly, the prophecies were true!!  We eat cupcakes and go to restaurants together; we share recipes and invite each other over for dinner.   All my fears were unfounded.   The suspicious, stereotyping vegan in me was quashed!  Well, almost… I'm still distrustful of dreadlocks.

Are you a vegan in Cork, Ireland?  There are others like you!  Visit the Cork Vegans Meet.up Group and prepare yourself for cupcake action!  

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Stir Fried Lettuce 炒生菜

The one thing I both love and hate about Chinese food is the variety - if you can put soy sauce on it, you can eat it – nothing seems to be out of the woks greedy reach.   The Chinese themselves have a saying that they’ll  ‘eat anything with four legs besides the kitchen table, and anything that flies that’s not an airplane’, which ultimately leads to some pretty disturbing menu items:  stir fried dog meat, grilled scorpion, hot pot chicken feet, barbecued chicks still in the shell…. (insert dry retch here).

But while a lot of the stranger food items for many people would border on disgusting, there is one little treasure that is so simple and so delicious it’s a wonder no one but the Chinese seem to have thought of it before:  stir fried ice-berg lettuce.

I first came across this wee gem while working at my local Chinese restaurant in New Zealand.  While the customers were busy ordering their Chicken Chow Meins and Black Bean Beefs (which I never saw being eaten in China in all my years there, ever) I was busy munching into some more authentic fare with the boss. And while I was undeniably sceptical at first, I soon came round to his way of thinking.  This is definitely one for the repertoire.




Stir Fried Lettuce 炒生菜

Ingredients (for one large plate):

1 medium head of ice-berg lettuce, roughly chopped
3-4 large cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
1 tsp sugar
Salt
Sesame oil
Vege oil

Method:

Heat the vegetable oil in a work and add the garlic.

Fry for about a minute before adding in the lettuce, sugar and salt to taste.

Stir-fry until the lettuce just begins to wilt (I like it best still slightly crunchy), add a generous dash of sesame oil, mix a few times and serve with rice.  So simple!

Notes:  Probably not a dish that’s going to really fill you up on its own, it's best served alongside a couple of other dishes, in the classic Chinese sharing style.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Chunky Strawberry Jam

In my quest to become the best vegan house wife (to be) ever, I recently ventured into the realm of jam making and if I’d known just how easy it was, I would have definitely attempted it far sooner.  If you ever wanted to feel accomplished like a 1960s housewife this is the ticket!  Now all I need to do is learn how to darn socks... (I’ve already mastered vacuuming with a martini – I don’t spill a drop).

This recipe uses frozen strawberries…that I bought at Tesco….ahem – but I promise my next batch will be from an organic farmers market, in season (or from my very own garden, in a few years time when I get the itch to become the best gardener EVER – watch this space).    

The best thing about jam though is that the jars look so pretty with a bit of ribbon and some old cloth and make the perfect gift - an excellent excuse to show off just how accomplished you are! 

Strawberry Jam

Ingredients:

All you need are frozen strawberries and their weight in jam sugar (or a little less if the fruit is very sweet).  For example, I used 800g of frozen strawberries and 800g of jam sugar (which you can find in the supermarket).











Method:

Tip the strawberries onto a pot and defrost over low heat.

Once the strawberries have defrosted, add the sugar and stir gently, until dissolved.

Bring the mixture to the boil and boil until it has reached the setting point (when a wee teaspoon of jam on a cold plate wrinkles if you push it - about 8 minutes for my 800g batch), always keeping an eye on it so it doesn’t spill over.

Once it has come to the setting point, take it off the heat and leave it to cool before popping into jars.

Notes:  I love whole fruit jam, but if you prefer yours smooth, you can always crush the berries before adding the sugar.  For fresh fruit, slightly under ripe fruit works best, because they have more pectin, which helps jam to set.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Northern Style Potato, Eggplant and Peppers 地三鲜

As part of my university degree I spent about a year and a half studying at a language institute in Dalian, a coastal city in Northeast China, where I soon discovered the wonders of Northern Chinese cuisine, and became promptly addicted.   



In the space of two months I had gobbled my way two sizes larger, mostly due to this little baby 地三鲜 (Di San Xian).  Literally ‘earth three fresh’ it's a wonderful mix of potatoes, eggplant and green pepper.   The embodiment of all things good about Northern Chinese food, it’s deliciously oily and loaded with garlic. You won't find this at your local Chinese takeaway.


Northern Style Potato, Eggplant and Peppers    地三鲜

Ingredients (for one large plate):

1 large eggplant
2 medium potatoes
1 green bell pepper
2 spring onions
3 tbs soy sauce
2 tbs sugar
1 tsp salt
3 cloves garlic
¼ cup vege stock
corn starch
cooking oil

Method:

Peel the potato and eggplant, and, along with the pepper, cut into rough chunks. 

Heat a good bit of oil in a wok and deep fry the potatoes until lightly browned, followed by the pepper.

Coat the eggplant in corn flour (this gives it a crunchier texture when deep frying) and deep fry until just browned.

Discard most of the oil used for deep frying (I tip it in a jar to use for a different dish) and, using a little of the remainder, fry the garlic and spring onions for a few seconds, before adding the stock.

Into the stock, add the soy sauce, sugar, salt and finally the deep-fried vege and stir.

Mix a few tablespoons of water with a teaspoon of corn starch and add a few teaspoons of this mixture to the wok and fry until it all starts to come together.

Plate up and serve with rice.

Notes: Depending on what kind of stock you use, you may not need a full teaspoon of salt.  I often add just half at the start and taste an eggplant before adding in the starch, just to see if I need to add a wee pinch more. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Curry Fried Noodles

When I was seventeen I went to Malaysia on a student exchange and, after a year of sweating, eating and sweating some more, went back to New Zealand a little worldlier, a whole lot heavier and with a mad addiction to curry!   This curry noodle recipe is super easy, but only tastes so good because of the Malaysian curry powder I use, Baba’s (aka the best curry powder EVER) that might not be so easy to find.  

Recipes that call for odd ingredients annoy me greatly, and I’m sorry to make this ‘one of those’, but if you can find this stuff at your local Asian Supermarket, I promise a new love affair will ensue.  I don’t know what makes this powder so much better than others, as the ingredients list ends rather mysteriously with ‘and other spices’ but I guess every relationship has its secrets!

Curry Fried Noodles

Ingredients (for one person):

3 Tbsp oil
½ an onion, sliced
¼ red chili, deseeded and sliced
½ a carrot, thinly sliced
A handful of Vegetarian Beef-Style Strips (I use Fry’s, but any meat substitute will do)
1 packet of noodles (I used udon noodles this time, but often use small or even flat noodles)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar


 

Method:

Heat the oil and fry the onions and chili for two to three minutes. 

Add in the carrot and Beef-Style Strips and stir fry until the strips start to brown up slightly.

Whack in the noodles, add in the salt, sugar and curry powder on top and give them a good stir around for about four to five minutes, adding in a little water if it gets too dry.

Pop them in a bowl and you’re ready to roll.


Notes:  I like my noodles hot, so sometimes add in even more of the powder.  In Ireland noodles come in packets for one person ready to add to the wok, which are about 200g.   I currently have a small addiction to Fry’s Beef-Style Strips but if fake meat isn’t your thing, you can substitute with tofu, or just add in some different vegetables. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Far From the Perfect Vegan

I must admit I’ve been a little hesitant to start a blog about veganism.  For one, I don’t exactly have a very good track record when it comes to vegan friendly professions: Chinese takeaway lackey & wonton deep-frier extraordinaire, hotel receptionist come all day breakfast cook (which did not turn out well, for anyone involved!), service trainer… for a burger bar….hmmm, let’s just say if there was such a thing as vegan hell, I’d be right down there, rotating on a spit.

And now once again I’ve found myself stuck in a rather unveganly (?) job, waitressing at a café where I spend my day up-selling chicken salads… and little chunks of my soul, sunny side down.  So definitely not the best vegan out there – and seemingly not the best person to be writing about veganism – but really, is there such a thing as the perfect vegan?

Vegans are commonly split into two categories, those who avoid animals and their by-products in their diet only and those who avoid them in all aspects of their lives.   Obviously I am having a few issues moving towards the latter category (insert meek, guilty face here!), but it my defence I think it might just be humanly impossible to be a perfect vegan.  

As anyone who has researched the topic will know, animal by-products are in EVERYTHING.  I remember when I first ‘made the change’ I was rather taken aback at the multitude of places where they could pop up  – apparently there was bone ash in my sugar, ground up hooves in my shampoo, crushed beetles in my lipstick and cow uterus in my skin cream – I mean, what the!?  It seemed if I wanted to become a true vegan I had to 100% dislocate myself from society and live in a cave… eating air.

I think though, when it comes to anything in life (especially making yourself feel better about a half-assed attempt at something…ahem) there is a great wee saying by British political philosopher Edmund Burke which comes in quite handy: "No man made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little."  

Veganism can be a little tricky at times and while there is no such thing as a perfect vegan, who cares! It’s a great way of life and a great way to do ones bit in the bid to stop the suffering of animals, and as PETA puts it ‘being vegan is about helping animals, not maintaining personal purity’ (thankfully, as my personal purity is a whole other story!).