Thursday, September 30, 2010

Eating Cheaply

I've been on a bit of a budget recently, so as you can imagine the parcel I received from Germany was very welcome indeed and saved me a bit of money. This week I've been mainly trying to make all my ingredients last a long time. For example, using all the canned chopped tomatoes in stews and bolognaise, and using up a lot of several sorts of frozen veg and coconut milk by making Thai curries. Dried goods such as pasta, rice, buckwheat and pulses are so handy and also make for warm, filling and comforting food for colder Autumn weather and they go a long way. I've also tried to get into the habit of cooking a little bit more than necessary at dinner time so I can have the leftovers for my lunch the following day. It definitely saves money doing it that way. So in my attempt to live cheaply this week, here are a few things I've been eating, using mostly dried, canned and frozen ingredients... I successfully made all the ingredients in my cupboards last for about 2 weeks! 

Thai curry using some okra I got for €1, green beans and mushrooms:

Grilled Mediterranean vegetables with vegan pesto and brown pasta bows in my lunchbox:

Heinz Lentil and Vegetable Broth soups were on offer and handy to take to work:

Paella made with with fake chicken pieces, mixed beans, mixed veg and lots of seasoning:

I also had some nice vegetable cous cous from a packet, mixed with some lovely tender fresh cubes of squash which I didn't get the chance to take a photo of, as well as some yummy tomatoey lentil stews.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Irish-German Vegan Exchange

I don't really know very many vegans in Ireland. I know a couple of vegetarians who occasionally dabble in veganism and raw food, and people who eat healthy organic food, but nobody who is a dedicated vegan. This is why I decided to suggest to my friend in Bremen that we do a little vegan exchange by post, for fun!  I've been to Germany a few times, but I wasn't the most healthy person back then, and I can remember living off takeaway food (pretty much just pointing at something on a chip shop or Chinese menu), bread, and anything basic like beans or pasta that I could buy from local store and cook up at the hostel. So as a result, I've never really had any proper German-specific vegan food.

The package I sent him included a couple of Nakd raw food bars (only really available in the UK and Ireland - I guess I'm to blame for his addiction to them now... sorry about that, man! I'll send you some more if you're good!), a coconut sesame snap bar, a Doves apple and walnut cereal bar, some raspberry liquorice, Nakd cherry flavoured raisins, a minestrone cuppa soup from Lidl, and a cute little strawberry shopping bag from the Asian Market in Dublin.

Now on to the package I received in return. My parcel I sent out seemed VERY inferior in comparison, as the other morning I was awoken by the postman with a HUGE box, with drawings all over the outside, and my treats were all individually wrapped in gift paper and tied up with cute gold ribbons!! Very unexpected, and very cool! It made me feel guilty I hadn't gone to such a huge effort with presentation!

He sent me 12 lovely vegan treats:

- 2 packets of Coconut Sesame Snaps
- some Energy Balls
- Marzipan
- 2 packets of Soup (Lentil Dhal & Vegetable Pasta)
- Toffee Laces from Ikea
- Dark Chocolate with Praline in the middle
- Hazelnut & White Chocolate Marbled Spread
- a Vanilla & Almond fruit bar
- a Coconut fruit bar
- some Strawberry Lollipops

WOW! That's a lot of stuff! Here are some pictures (yes I opened them in bed, is that such a crime?!):

As you can imagine, I was very excited and wanted to try everything and had NO idea where to begin, as there was so much to choose from! I started with the marzipan balls because I ripped through the packet by accident as I was unwrapping them (that's a good enough reason right?!)... they were delicious, but then I'm addicted to marzipan in a serious way, so that was a sure-fire win! I can't wait til Christmas, so I can get to eat marzipan fruits by the bucketload!

I've also tried the soups. The first, lentil dhal, was really nice. They are very quick to make soups, sort of like a cuppa soup that takes a bit more boiling. You basically pour in 500ml of water over the mixture and bring it to a boil in the pan for a few minutes. The dhal soup had lots of tumeric, curry powder, cumin and coriander in it, so it was really nice. The red lentils made it quite mushy and filling as well. The vegetable pasta soup was fun to eat because the pasta pieces were in the shapes of tiny letters of the alphabet ^_^ I felt like a little kid eating them, but it was so yum! The only thing I'd say about these soups is that they are quite salty (sea salt is listed on the ingredients) so they wouldn't be something to have on too regular a basis. I love salt though, so that's fine by me!

I tried the praline chocolate as well, it was nice and smooth and creamy. I've never come across anything like this before, as we don't seem to have a very exotic choice of vegan chocolate here in Ireland. I love hazelnuts so the filling of this chocolate was right up my street and I had to take a rein check to make sure I didn't devour the whole 100g bar in one sitting!

So being a huge fan of hazelnut chocolate you can bet the chocolate spread went down well too! My friend said that my "tastebuds will explode" when I try it, and they pretty much did! I was only just saying last week how it was disappointing that we can't get a vegan white and hazelnut chocolate spread, I really never knew it existed, so it was a nice surprise to unwrap this treat. I'd also just run out of chocolate spread, so you can imagine how greatful I was to receive it! I had it on a bagel this morning and it was extremely difficult to put it back into the cupboard, because I just wanted more and more... I'm going to try to make it last as long as possible, but I doubt it will even last a week in my house! When it's finished I'm going to take the empty jar to a few health food shops in Dublin and see if they can stock it. The company is from the Netherlands and I'm sure it can't be that difficult to import?

I still have to work my way through quite a few of the products. I'm looking forward to the coconut, date, and nut "Energy Balls" and the other fruity bar. I tried the vanilla and almond one (pictured below) and it was quite dense and naturally sweet like a Nakd bar. I loved it!  We definitely have to do another exchange soon, maybe in a few months' time, nearer Christmas... it was just so amazing to get to try out what other vegans from different parts of the world eat for snacks on a daily basis. So thank you, my lovely friend, for making my tummy very happy these last couple of days! ^_^

Germany is so vegan friendly, especially Berlin, from all the posts I've been reading about the city over at the Vegan Backpacker, and I'd really like to go there next summer for a vacation. However I think I'd have to stay about 3 months to get around to trying out all the lovely cafés and restaurants in the city!

And last but not least, here's a photo of me putting my feet up, relaxing while eating my snacks... I got these shoes yesterday for €4 at a charity shop. They are vegan and are exactly like these Converse boots. THEY ARE AWESOME! I've been wanting a pair like this for so long, so they were a great find :)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Irish Breakfast Roll

If you're Irish you've probably had / heard of the famous Irish Breakfast Roll at some stage. It's the main thing I see people (especially hungry construction workers!) ordering at the deli around the corner from my workplace in the morning. For those of you who aren't in-the-know, a breakfast roll is a white baguette filled with loads of greasy fry-up food of your choice, such as bacon, eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms, black pudding, white pudding, hash browns and sausages, smothered in a large amount of ketchup. A hearty feast, and probably one that contributes greatly to the obesity problem! I see nothing wrong with a large breakfast, in fact I do believe it's the most important meal of the day, seeing as you indeed do need most energy early in the morning when you're out and about and working hard. I actually do prefer a larger breakfast and lunch to a larger dinner - it makes sense, seeing as usually in the evenings the average person is relaxing in front of the TV and not burning off any calories.

My breakfasts usually consist of things such as bagels, toast or crumpets, covered in something like jam, peanut butter or hazelnut chocolate spread. Or maybe porridge with jam, or some banana overnight oats. Occasionally I might also have baked beans and potato waffles. Whatever I make, it's always something quite quick, but I'll always make sure that it's enough to keep me going until at least mid morning (when I usually devour a soya yoghurt snack) or until my lunch.

However, I've been inspired recently to make a vegan alternative to an Irish breakfast roll. Not only is it so much healthier for you, what with the wholegrain bread and the distinct lack of animal fat, but it's also just as tasty and would probably be really enjoyed by meat eaters too!

Here's what I've included:

- Vegan Sausage (Vegi Deli made by Redwood)
- Silken Tofu, Scrambled with some Pepper
- Vegan Bacon (Vegi Deli made by Redwood)
- Fried Mushrooms & Onions
- Grilled Tomatoes
- Lots of Ketchup
- Wholegrain Seedy Brown Baguette

I left out the hash browns, because I really think there are enough carbs in this roll without including those as well. Also, I don't really see the need to substitute the black/white pudding in the roll, as there's enough meaty substance in there anyway what with the vegan sausages and bacon. Another reason for not wanting to substitute the pudding is the fact that WHO IN THEIR RIGHT MIND REALLY WANTS TO EAT THAT?! If you don't know what black pudding is, prepare yourself and click on this link. Yup, it's not good.

The Sausages were really good, they were "pork style" and my favourite way to eat them is heated in the microwave, otherwise they get a little too dry under the grill. I'd say they would be fine fried up or marinaded in something then done on the barbecue. I've never tried vegan bacon before either, so I didn't know what to expect. I'm sort of in two minds about it, it was very tasty and had that smoky, salty bacony taste, but under the grill it went like cardboard even though I brushed it in oil. They did much better in the frying pan however, so I'd do them like that in future. All of it combined together was lovely though, because the softness of the scrambled tofu, fried onions, mushrooms, grilled tomato and layer upon layer of ketchup contrasted really nicely with the more solid sausages and bacon. I heated the roll up a bit too before putting everything inside, so it was nice and fluffy. It was quite messy to eat... but what breakfast roll isn't?! I'll definitely be having it again, and the next morning I had the scramble with the sausages, bacon, mushrooms and some baked beans. YUM!

So there you have it, a nice vegan version of one of my country's favourite sandwiches :)

Looks far tastier, healthier and more succulent than this, and far less likely to give you a heart attack!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

What's the Story?

I'd love to know how everyone who reads this blog became a vegan, a vegetarian, a raw foodist, or simply why you choose to eat the way you do (I'd even like to hear from you if you're an omnivore and maybe choose to eat meat and dairy from a traceable source).

I first heard about veganism through music. I was into a lot of hardcore and straightedge bands during my postgrad degree in Bristol university (many of which I can't even remember the names of now seeing as that was about 10-11 years ago!) and through that way of life I began to research more and more into the vegan lifestyle. My current partner at that time was a vegetarian, and we decided to go vegan together, not just for the animals and the environment, but for our health.

Being a vegan in Bristol was great - it was a very vegan friendly city, with lots of good health food shops and options for eating out and even veggie and vegan fairs (see below). It was also handy that my partner was a pretty good cook and enjoyed making anything from caramelized onion tarts, to sushi, to curries, to salsa dips. Back then I had absolutely no interest in cooking, so he did almost everything... not that I was lazy or took him for granted, I think he just enjoyed it, and when he was vegetarian I used to do all the cooking, so it was a welcome change of roles.

This lasted nearly two years, then I moved to Ireland. Back in 2003, "vegan" was not very well understood or catered for here in Dublin. I went from having copious amounts of health food shops with a wide range of dairy alternatives, to virtually having nothing. Even the local supermarkets didn't stock soya milk or butter back in those days. I was also so busy all the time that I had no time to search for ingredients and cook from scratch, so my diet slipped back into vegetarianism, then eventually pescetarian (a vegetarian who eats fish)... and finally... omnivore. This continued for a while. I was constantly on my bike, riding, travelling, and eating on the go.

However, in January 2008 I decided I had to do something about my diet. I was larger than I wanted to be, and although still very fit and energetic, I knew I could do a lot better for myself. This is when I began researching more into organic, low fat and vegan foods again. I was never really thin as a vegan the first time around - just because you adopt a vegan diet doesn't mean you will lose weight as there's a lot of vegan junk food out there, and you can still overlook portion sizes - so I didn't do it to become skinny, but more because I knew it was better for everyone and everything on this planet as well as for myself.

Dublin was also beginning to recognise vegetarian and vegan diets more and more, and there were health food shops springing up all over the place, as well as eateries to cater for people with coeliac diets, lactose intolerance, etc. Supermarkets now also had dairy free sections, so replacements and other ingredients were so much easier to come by, without having to go to a huge effort to travel somewhere further afield and haul everything back with you.

... So, I began by cutting down my dairy and my meat slowly. I didn't miss milk or butter or eggs at all, but I found I still wanted to eat cheese. I cut out meat until all I was really eating was raw fish (in sushi and salad) and cured ham. Eventually I managed to cut out cheese, fish and ham completely but can definitely say that it was much easier to cut out dairy from my life than it was to cut out meat. For most people, it's the other way around, but believe it or not, eating dairy always made me feel strange seeing as we're the only species that takes the milk from another animal, and the only species that drinks it after infancy. I always thought that was a bit strange, and then realised that when I did actually eat too much dairy I felt a bit sick, bloated, heavy and often had a stomach ache. It took me a while to become vegan again, so much so that I have no idea of the exact date of when I became vegan. It was a gradual process that involved a lot of research into animal cruelty, a great deal of learning about cooking from scratch, and re-discovering the benefits of the lifestyle. I think this is maybe why my choice to be a vegan is working this time: instead of going head-on into a hardcore vegan way of life, I've taken the time to educate myself about it and my body has thanked me for it. I've re-adjusted my tastebuds and no longer desire to go back to eating the way I used to. And, as a nice beneficial side-effect to becoming vegan and eating healthily (AND exercising) I am now a size 6-8, rather than a size 14-16, and have, at last, found my natural, comfortable body shape.

I am the first person to admit though, that I'm not perfect. I make mistakes, I slip up. Sometimes knowingly, other times totally obliviously. For example if a friend goes to a special effort to cook something for me and hasn't understood fully what my diet entails, and includes a small bit of dairy, I won't ever throw that back into someone's face. I'd still eat it (as long as it wasn't covered in dairy!) and would inform them for the next time what to do differently. Then there are times when I'll be out somewhere and I'll see something and I'll crave it, especially if there is nothing else around, and I'll very occasionally allow myself to have it. I don't see the point in denying yourself something all the time. I would, of course, not want to eat a steak or an egg or a lump of cheese, but if something you really have always loved has some small amount dairy in it, I have no problem with treating myself, if it's something I cannot make myself or get an alternative to elsewhere. I'm not sure what other vegans will think of this, as everyone has a different approach to veganism and where to draw the line. I know that I do my best 99% of the time with my diet, I don't buy leather, and don't wear or use animal products (unless they are old items of my own, or sometimes recycled from a charity shop), do not use any cosmetics tested on animals or with any animal ingredients, and I cycle everywhere. I know that I do my part for the environment, animals and my health, and I think that if everyone does their best then that is what counts. There's no point in having a go at someone for something they don't do... we should appreciate people for what they do do.

So, go out and have fun with your food. Experiment, learn how to cook, explore new ingredients. Make little adjustments one at a time. A vegan lifestyle is definitely very healthy - don't listen to peoples' bullshit about how you need to eat meat and dairy in order to survive, because you don't! If you even just adjust your lifestyle to eating organic and free range products, including more fruits, vegetables and pulses, and trying a few different types of milk it will all make a bit of a difference. If everyone just changed a couple of things in their lifestyle, the world, its inhabitants and your own bodies would be so much better off. You don't need to become a full-blown vegan to make a difference.

Monday, September 13, 2010


Yesterday I went out to Ikea. We usually cycle, but the weather has been a bit dodgy recently so we decided to go by bus, which was quite interesting as I've never really been so close to Ballymun (Dublin's most infamous affordable housing estate of tower blocks, most of which have now been demolished). I can't believe people still live/squat in the remaining burnt out, abandoned, wrecked flats. I shuddered as we passed them, seeing faces peering out of some of the windows, gangs of junkies hanging out in the horrible, dark shells of the buildings, stick-thin mothers with pushchairs and toddlers running along behind them as their mothers go score their next fix... nasty. I'm really fascinated by Ballymun though, as I've read "Dying to Survive", the autobiography of the well known recovered drug addict Rachel Keogh, who went from this to this. It's incredible how some people manage to turn their lives around.

Photo credit Ross McDonnell

But anyway - on to Ikea!

Foodwise, there really isn't much out in Ikea for vegans, but if you have a poke around you can find some pretty decent stuff. From their café I bought a large 100g dark chocolate bar (49c), a small pack of ready salted crisps (45c), a salad bowl (€1.95) and a bowl of vegetable soup (€1.75). How's that for value! I've had the dark chocolate many times before and have used it in recipes such as my dark chocolate peanut butter stars. It's quite sweet for dark chocolate, which is probably why I like it so much. The crisps were quite like Kettle crisps and were really crunchy and flavoursome. My boyfriend later bought a huge bag of their crisps which were sour cream and chive flavour, which I helped him devour once I discovered that they were also vegan! The salad bar is very good value, especially if you're good at piling your bowl high - a talent I acquired as an impoverished student! There's sweetcorn, beetroot, carrots, onions, tomatoes and cucumbers in there. Their vegetable soup was nice too, I didn't get a chance to check the ingredients but it didn't taste like it had any dairy in it and I've heard online that it is vegan, although I cannot totally guarantee it. It was so busy there that the staff were running all over the place and I couldn't corner them to question them. Other vegan options from the café section would be the pasta with tomato sauce, a plate of chips, a plate of veg, or some of the items from the breakfast menu such as hash browns, baked beans and grilled tomatoes. The lack of vegan desserts is disappointing, but at least there is the option of crisps, fruit or chocolate. Their free refills on all drinks policy is great too!

We browsed the shop for a while and bought a lovely new duvet cover, a cute tray for the kitchen and some freezer bags, even though we said we wouldn't buy anything! Then we went to their "Taste of Sweden" section and got a few small goodies to take home. I bought their Lingonberry Jam, Roasted Onion Salad Sprinkles, Singoalla Raspberry 'Creme' Biscuits, and Ginger Orange Thins. The only item I've tried so far is the raspberry biscuits, and they are quite like Jammy Dodgers but way nicer! I was surprised to see that the creamy filling is made from vegetable fat margarine and sugar with vanilla flavouring. I can't see any animal products listed in the ingredients so if anyone knows otherwise please inform me.

Ikea's policy on animal welfare and food standards can be found here, but I do not find it very encouraging at all. They say they "encourage and support" organic farming, although I really can't see how, at such low prices, this can be the case. Their meatballs are so processed that I just feel so disappointed whenever I see anyone eating them - not only because they are made from dead animals, but because they are so far from being fresh, organic or healthy for you. At least they do set some standards though, and publish them on the site for everyone to see.

I do so love Ikea though. As a new home owner it has made furnishing the place so easy when it did eventually come to Ireland. We must have spent a fortune on designer Italian and Norwegian furniture before Ikea showed up! Now that I only work part time it's good there's somewhere more affordable to get some really nice, modern and well designed bits'n'bobs :)

Here I am trying to squish all the goodies I bought into my bag. It didn't go so well!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Bitta Pitta Pizza

This weekend I've been experimenting with fake cheeses and meats. I decided to make some mini pizzas out of pitta breads, cut in half, smothered in BBQ sauce, then topped with tomatoes, fake Taifun Tofu Weiner pepperoni slices and Cheezly Mozzerella style fake cheese.


I remember trying fake cheese a long time ago, back when I was vegan first time around, in university... it was disgusting. However, I'm much more of a foodie now and thought I'd give it another go to see how my tastebuds would react: verdict = positive! Cheezly really does melt like real cheese, I also prefer it to real cheese as it's not as strong tasting or as stringy, so it's not overpowering and it's soft and easy to eat. I was unsure of how long to actually cook it, so I think my first pizza was a bit undercooked, but it was still melty and really delicious. I've included a close-up photo of my second pizza, and you can see that the cheese has gone bubbly and slightly browner, like real cheese does. However, it was horrible when it was uncooked, straight out of the packet. I don't think I could bring myself to eat any fake cheese product which hasn't been cooked. I think this is what may have put me off fake cheeses when I was back in university!

I'll definitely be using this again, but I won't be keeping it as a staple item in my fridge, because I simply don't see the need to eat replacement products all the time.

I haven't used the Vegi Deli Chicken Style Pieces yet, but have had them before and they are really nice in stir fries. I was going to put them on a pitta pizza, but just decided to stick with the pepperoni in the end.

Another quick thing to do with the Tofu Sausages is chop them up and put them in BBQ Baked Beans and heat them for a minute... it's really nice for a super-rushed breakfast, and they taste so much better than the real canned mini hotdogs in baked beans. In fact I'd definitely say these babies taste almost exactly like real hotdogs. The over-processed, soft texture is exactly spot on, and they taste smoky too, like the real thing... but better!

I picked up some more noodles from the Asian market as well this weekend, as I want to make mixed vegetable Ramen soup again this week. I could spend forever looking at all the different types of noodles in their crazy, bright packaging. There are rows upon rows of them in our Asian market, and they're all so cheap at around 35-40c each! I opted for the Mama Artificial Chicken flavoured noodles that I got last time, as they were good, as well as Mama's rice noodles. I had these the other day for a quick snack and I was NOT impressed. I always put all the flavouring in straight away, but there was something funny tasting about these ones, and the chilli powder burnt the roof off my mouth!! I had to wash some of the flavouring off, it was that bad. I suppose I should have checked the taste as I was adding it, but most of the time it's fine so I really didn't think to check. I won't be getting these again.

I also picked up some artificial chicken flavoured Pho Ga noodles. These must be my favourite instant noodles of all time. Yes, a bold statement to make, but they are really that good! They are super-thin and flat rice noodles and you get a really decent amount of flavouring, herbs and garlic oil included in the packet. I remember eating these exact ones as a student in Bristol and was really excited to discover that our Asian market stocked the same ones. I should have picked up more! I have been searching for another flavour that I used to love, but I haven't been able to find it yet. I remember it being bright reddy-pink and I think it may have been pickled cabbage flavour, or something like that. Sounds revolting, but it was sooo good!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Lentil Love

I recently purchased some courgettes. I love having them on their own, steamed with a blob of soya butter, all soft and mushy. Eating them really brings back memories of my mum's cooking, when our garden used to yield copious amounts of this vegetable, along with many larger marrows! To me, a courgette is, along with butternut squash, one of my ultimate comfort foods.

Not really knowing what to do with all the courgettes I bought (apart from the obvious but rather boring Ratatouille), I googled "courgette recipes" and was also recommended another by a friend. I don't use lentils enough either, and they are usually sitting in the cupboard for months, so both recipes enabled me to use up my leftover pulses and veg.

The first recipe is for Courgette & Lentil Stew. This garlicy, tomatoey, nourishing stew is perfect for a snuggly Autumn night in. I've been feeling a little poorly lately, so soft, comforting food is very welcome. The recipe I googled wasn't very informative, merely stating to throw in, bring to the boil and then simmer :

- 2 cups of cooked lentils
- 1 can of stewed tomatoes
- Half a can of vegetable broth
- 4 small courgettes (diced)
- 2 cloves of garlic
- Pinch of salt & pepper

I played around with the amounts of the ingredients a bit, and tossed in some paprika for a bit of extra taste.

The second recipe was for Lentil Spaghetti Bolognaise. I used the left overs from the recipe above, then added some stirfried onions and mushrooms, cooked carrots, extra tomato purée, and some marjoram. I served it over some wholewheat spaghetti and will be taking it into work tomorrow for my lunch. Gorgeous :)

I should have added the secret ingredient that I add to all my bolognaise dishes: CELERY! Alas I didn't have any in the fridge. Celery, grated into a bolognaise, really adds to the flavour. I know a lot of people who hate celery, but sneak it into a bolognaise and they're raving about it!

Remember, if you are cooking dried lentils it is advisable to soak them overnight (or for at least 6 hours), rinse them well, and then cook them for 30 minutes before eating.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

"It's too Orangey for Crows!"

Today I made a Butternut Squash and Carrot 'Cobbler' for dinner. It's the same recipe as my father's friend cooked for us when we were in Wales, and is meant to be done in a slow cooker, but I don't have one so I decided to just make it as a casserole. I also realised, half way through, that with the amount of veg I had, if I were to make the topping as well, it would probably feed a family of four, for two nights running! So I have now renamed this dish: Butternut Squash and Carrot Cobble-less Cobbler! The original recipe calls for blue cheese in the topping, which could be easily veganised, but for tonight I decided to do without. It would be just as nice eaten with some bread or brown scones.

The result is a perfectly sweet, tasty, super-bright-orange casserole. I didn't cook it for as long as it recommended so the carrots still had a bit of a bite to them, which I was happy with as I don't like my veg completely soggy.

Casserole ingredients:

1 whole onion, diced
500g butternut squash or pumpkin, deseeded and diced
500g carrots, diced
400g canned chopped tomatoes
250ml vegetable stock
1 teaspoon of caster sugar (optional)
Season with a pinch of salt, pepper & rosemary to taste

For the topping:

150g (5oz) self-raising flour
pinch of salt
50g (2oz) butter
75g (3oz) blue cheese, diced
4 teaspoons finely chopped rosemary
4 tablespoons of water


1. Preheat the slower cooker if necessary. Heat some oil in a frying pan and add the onion and fry for 5 minutes until lightly browned.

2. Add the squash, carrots, tomatoes, stock, sugar and seasoning. Bring to the boil, stirring.

3. Transfer the vegetable mixture to the slow cooker pot. Cover with the lid and cook on 'high' for 2.5-3 hours until the vegetables are tender.

4. Meanwhile, make the topping. Put the flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Rub in the butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Mix in the cheese ans rosemary, if using, then stir in enough of the water to make a smooth, soft, dough.

5. Pat the dough into a round 18cm (7 inches) in diameter then cut into 8 segments. Arrange these on top of the vegetable mixture. Replace the cooker lid and cook for another 30 minutes until the pastry is well risen and puffy. If the slow cooker pot fits under your grill, brown the topping before serving.

If anyone out there has a savoury cobbler topping recipe that is vegan, without the cheese, please let me know. Maybe the dough would still be ok without the cheese? I'll have to try it next time and report back!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Thai Yellow Curry

I just made a lovely Thai yellow curry, using curry paste from Tesco and some coconut milk, mixed stir fry vegetables (baby carrots, baby corn, beansprouts, bamboo shoots, broccoli & onions), the green chillies my friend gave me from her garden, and some fresh coriander... it was delicious and SO quick to make, served with tasty, soft & fluffy wholegrain rice. It was so good I want to make it again tomorrow - I love spicy, fragrant Thai food. Tesco's yellow, green and red Thai curry pastes are all vegan. I think I've come across a Massaman curry paste there before as well which I discovered was not vegan. I used to love Massaman and was quite surprised to find that their paste contained anchovies - I'm not sure if this is the norm??

It's been raining like crazy these past few days, the Autumn has really kicked in over in Ireland - torrential rain, interrupted with brief, warm, sunny spells (actually that pretty much sounds like Ireland all year round!) with the leaves falling from all the trees. I'm sad that the summer is finally over, but also looking forward to darker days, wrapping up warm in my cosy Winter clothes, and cycling my bike down cold, deserted streets...

I bought this cute fake fur hat today, ready for the cold weather. I look like a little lepoardy-bear in it :)

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Work Barbecue

It's really been barbecue weather recently so on Friday our bosses treated us to a barbecue and free booze-up! It was great - they even let me go and buy my own vegan burgers! I'd never tried Dee's Organic Homemade Spicy Bean Burgers before and have heard people rave about them online, so I thought I'd give them a go. WOW they were good! For €3.99 for two, I'd definitely get them again. They didn't fall apart on the barbecue and actually had a really nice texture and held together in the bun really well, along with some tomatoes, lettuce and onion. All the sauces we had were (luckily) vegan, so I put some spicy tomato relish onto the burger and marinaded them in red pepper sauce before cooking them.

As I was coming back from the shop with my burgers this kitty spotted me and I spent 10 minutes tickling its tummy. I could spend days tickling kitties' tummies!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

I'm Back from the Valleys!

I had a lovely 5 days in Wales and ate so much good food. Dublin airport is pretty vegan-friendly, as a lot of bloggers (such as Vegan Backpacker) have already commented on. The cheapest vegan deal we came across, which was excellent value for money, was the Boots lunch time deal of a drink, snack and sandwich for €3.99. We opted for Fresh's carrot & hummous sandwich, with a vitamin water drink and some pineapple. Other vegan possibilities for food in the airport range from a custom made bagels to snacks from the Nutz stall.

One of the best places I ate in Wales was the Mulberry Bush in Lampeter. This little vegetarian café is at the back of a big wholefood store and has many vegan options at really decent prices. I was always very satisfied after eating here, not just with the taste, but with the quantity of food they piled on the plates! It has a deli type arrangement, like in Dublin's Cornucopia, so you can only really choose from what is on display at the time. We arrived quite late in the day and it's a popular spot to eat, so there wasn't much left. My father and I had a delicious vegan Lasagne, which came with cous cous salad, red cabbage salad and a tofu, olive & cucumber salad. My boyfriend had their butternut squash, tofu and sweet potato Thai Curry, which was very aromatic and tasty (yes I stole some while he wasn't looking!). I decided to take out some vegan Chocolate Torte because I was too full to eat it right away. This had a crunchy biscuit base and the chocolate topping was presumably made with a blend of tofu and was nice and creamy. However, it was a little more bitter than I was expecting, which was rather a disappointment, as I really fancied something sweet.

As you can see, the store itself is huge! I was very impressed by the array of products they stocked and preferred it to any health food shop in Dublin. Their refrigerated and frozen cabinets had a great range of fake meat products that I'd loved to have tried if I was staying longer. I did however pick up two new products - the Provamel Vanilla Soya Yoghurt, and a bar of vegan White Chocolate by Organica. I will definitely be buying these again. The yoghurt had a thick consistency, quite like the Irish made Glenisk gourmet vanilla yoghurts. It was a nice change to come across a soya yoghurt that wasn't too runny or lumpy. My father and the boyfriend both loved it. They also loved the white chocolate, which was pretty spot on! It had the sweetness and texture of dairy white chocolate, and the little black specks of vanilla pod added even more flavour. It was quite expensive though, at £2.99 for a 100g bar, but I just had to try it!

My father catered well for me when I was home. He'd bought lots of food from Marks and Spencers, including falafels, stuffed vine leaves, mixed bean salads, cous cous salads & hummous, and we ate produce from his garden such as cucumbers, sweet orange cherry tomatoes, french beans & baby potatoes. We didn't actually eat very much at home as we went out for quite a few meals. Here are some photos of one of the meals I ate at home: a salad filled onion bagel with caramelized onion relish, giant cous cous & wheatberry salad and a grape & melon fruit salad drizzled with elderflower cordial. It totally slipped my mind to take photos of the other things we ate at his house.

I saw a lot of friends while visiting. One of my friends gave me some green chillies from her greenhouse to take home. I intend to use these in a Thai curry soon. Her little girl showed me their greenhouse and the vegetables they were growing there - she's such a cutie! Their cat was also skulking around looking for some attention.

Another friend we visited went to a great effort to cook a vegetarian meal for us all, which was delicious. I managed to skip on the cheese/dairy in most of the courses, and the Butternut Squash and Carrot Cobbler she cooked for the main course was very fine indeed. I'm going to have to write to her for the recipe and post it on my blog for you all to see. Her dog Tasmin is a real sweetie and likes to carry around a teddy she's had for about 6 years now!

We visited the Mulberry Bush for lunch again the day before we left. This time I had the Butternut Squash & Mango Soup with a brown bread roll and a salad bowl. The salads were lovely - a chinese style one, a homemade vegan coleslaw, a carrot salad, a tofu and olive salad and a bright red vinegary beetroot salad. This was meant to be a small salad, but it was huge... I was so full afterwards that I couldn't possibly even think about buying a take-out dessert!  The soup was one of the nicest I've ever tasted, probably because mango is one of my favourite fruits and squash is one of my favourite vegetables. They are both quite sweet and creamy so they really worked together. My boyfriend had salad with potato wedges, and my dad had the Cashew Nut Risotto with salad. I tasted some and it was indeed very nutty, with a wholesome, earthy flavour.

That evening we went to a restaurant in Aberaeron called The Hive on the Quay. I've been coming to this place since I was tiny, as it is famous for its honey ice cream. Recently though, a friend has taken over the premises and has completely revamped the interior and the menu, and it's now quite a popular place to dine. My father rang ahead of our visit and the staff assured him that there would be vegan options for every course. We met some of my father's friends there and had a very enjoyable evening. I was very well catered for, as promised. I had a salad of chicory, mixed leaves, walnuts and pear for my starter. This was light and fresh, which was ideal seeing as I don't really like feeling too full before the main course has even arrived. It originally would have come with a blue cheese sauce and would have been served as a main, but they adapted this for me for my starter. I think I'd have preferred it if it had come with a different kind of dressing though, to add a bit more flavour. I opted for the (already vegan) vegetable Thai curry with sticky rice for my main dish, which was absolutely gorgeous. I think I drew the long straw with this course, as many of the others were saying that their food seemed far too salty. However, I really couldn't fault the curry. For dessert there was a plethora of sorbets and soya ice creams to choose from. I chose a scoop of strawberry sorbet and a scoop of raspberry soya ice cream. These were heavenly! I have no idea if they were made on site, as their honey ice cream is, so I may email them to find out... I assume they were though, because I imagine getting hold of so many varieties of sorbet and soya ice cream must be quite difficult as I haven't seen so many commercially available in health food shops before. So all in all, it was a very positive experience and I was impressed that a non-vegan specific restaurant could cater so well to my requirements.

While I was visiting, I also tried to cook my father some muffins. I don't know what went wrong - it may have been the baking powder, the muffin tin, the different oven, or the fact that we didn't have digital kitchen scales - but they didn't quite go to plan! After going on to him about how good I was at making muffins my father is never going to let me forget this and they will probably remain engraved on his brain for all eternity now, along with the ketchuppy-pasta concoction I once served him as a student!!

I was really sad to be returning home today. I won't be going home again until Christmas, which will make an interesting blog entry seeing as my father is a wonderful cook and always makes the most amazing Christmas dinners! If I still lived in mid Wales I'd definitely go to the Mulberry Bush on a very regular basis, and am very keen to return, to try out a few well-known vegetarian restaurants in Carmarthen and Aberystwyth.