While I was never one for cooking, I used to bake all the time. Whether it was a birthday, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Thursday… there was something about the progress I enjoyed, and always went down a treat. It helped when I couldn’t think of what to get someone, and everyone appreciates home made cake, right?

cakey

I’d tried my hand at gluten free baking before, and it turned out pretty well- my mum was having some friends round at Christmas time and I had various intolerances to work with. There wasn’t a crumb left, but thankfully I’d used some of my excess batter to make cupcakes.

cakeys

I made my dad cookies and a birthday cake, with two different kinds of frosting. For my boyfriend’s birthday I’d sprung for two tickets to see The Cure in London, so in order to save pennies I made Valentine’s Day muffins. If there was an occasion, I would bake for it, I guess is my point.

Vegan baking should’ve been a relatively easy transition, but there was a reason why baking was always a cheap alternative: I pretty much had all of the staples at home anyway. I just had to add embellishments. Vegan baking meant buying in a whole load of new ingredients, and from the offset it seemed like it could be pretty costly. Alot of cake recipes seemed pretty oil-heavy too, which I wasn’t keen on.

When my best gal Claire asked folks to bring along food-shaped treats for Sheri‘s surprise birthday, I was a little stumped. Surely most folk’s instincts would be to bring sweet thangs? Should I just bring hummus? Does anyone like ‘that guy’?

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After agonising over some recipes I’d printed off, it hit me. I’d pretty much perfected my ol’ brownie recipe. I’d always managed to nail the crust on top/chewy on the inside ratio. Adapting it to a raw, vegan recipe was just crazy enough to work. I’d also found a three-layer cake recipe which I, umm, borrowed my idea for a base from. Not only that but it tasted exactly like a Nakd Cashew Cookie bar, meaning I’ve stumbled upon a way of saving myself a fortune. A little late and unsurprising, really- the Nakd bars have all of two ingredients. Why I never thought that before, I dunno.

These aren't the vegan brownies- they were gone so fast I didn't manage to get a picture. Which can only be a good complaint, no?

These aren’t the vegan brownies- they were gone so fast I didn’t manage to get a picture. Which can only be a good complaint, no?

I wasn’t sure about flavour combos: when making brownies before, I’d tossed in some cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. But I’d also tossed in eggs and milk. Without this, or actually baking the recipe, the dark chocolate taste was pretty strong. Then I remembered I had some peanut butter to use up and raspberries are in season, so PB&J it was. Necessity is the mother of invention, after all.

PB&J Raw Vegan Brownies

For the base: 

100g(ish) dates

150g cashews

Desiccated coconut (optional, but damn tasty)

1 tbsp peanut butter

For the Brownies:

150g coconut oil

150g cocoa powder

1 punnet of raspberries

2 tbsps peanut butter (or however much you want, really)

100g(ish) dates (I could’ve used more than I did, but I’d only bought one packet so…)

  • Soak the dates and cashews in some warm water for at least 20 minutes to soften them a wee bit (in separate bowls, that is).
  • Chop the dates to make it easier to blitz, and mix them with the cashews and coconut. Give it a good seeing to with a hand blender- any blender is fine, but I only have a hand blender, and it’s easier to gauge consistency.
  • Stir in the peanut butter to retain its crunchiness, mix well and spread the whole lot in a tray. Put it in the fridge or freezer until it sets. Mine didn’t set properly because I added the chocolate mix too quickly, so don’t rush it.
  • Put some hot water in a bowl, and put your coconut oil in a jug. Put the jug in the bowl until the oil has completely melted, or it’ll be weird and lumpy.
  • Put the cocoa powder in a bowl with the dates, and add the coconut oil. Give them a quick blend until they’re all nicely mixed.
  • Toss in the raspberries and peanut butter and blend until they’re as smooth as you like.
  • I tossed the raspberries in some sugar before adding a couple of teaspoons in. If it’s a wee bit on the bitter side, vanilla extract or liquid sweetener will sort that right oot.
  • Spread on top of the (hopefully now set) cashew base and leave in the fridge until firm. Sprinkle some icing sugar over the top, cut it into squares and try not to eat the whole goddamn tray.

As I said before, I didn’t leave my base to set for long enough. It wasn’t a total disaster as I flipped the brownies and claimed it was frosting, but I’ll definitely leave it longer next time- I just didn’t leave myself enough time to do so.

The best thing about sick days as a child was comfort food. Not junk food, but stodgy nutrition to get me through the worst of whatever ailment was afflicting me that month (I got colds alot, as well as several nasty bouts of tonsilitis). Even as recently as last year, when I went through seemingly endless rounds of dental trauma, I wanted nothing more than Heinz tomato soup and sugary tea.

My favourite sick day comfort food though, was scrambled eggs. There was just something about it that made me instantly feel better. As much as I tried to avoid being an emotional eater, there was something about ill health that dragged me back into the habit. I hadn’t been feeling well recently- a combination of busy work times, being wiped out with a flu bug, a blocked ear, sinus problems and a late night trip to A&E. I’d also put my back out by over-exerting myself in exercise class and was generally feeling a bit bleurgh.

Sick days aren’t a luxury I can afford to take though: my current job contract is full time but temporary, and there are alot of big projects coming up that I’m taking part in. I needed something comforting, healthy and easy to make. I’d managed to make a decent attempt at roasted sweet potatoes and with mashed lentils and chickpeas- a combination which only took me about half an hour- but I wanted my sick day comfort food.

I made this in half an hour and had even less time to eat it, hence the shoddy picture. Trust me, it was pretty sweet.

I’d read countless recipes for scrambled tofu, but admittedly I was a little sceptical. Cutting it into chunks and chucking it in a pan was easy enough. But I’d made scrambled eggs so often that I wasn’t sure how adapting the technique to something else would fare. As it turns out, it wasn’t any more difficult than using eggs and was all the more delicious for it. I also swapped buttery white toast for something a little more nutritious and tossed a load of vegetables in for good measure.

Alot of recipes were pretty fancy, but I wanted to stick to the basics. I figure if I get good at making vegan versions of current favourite recipes, I can afford to start experimenting further down the line. But for now I’m keeping it simple. I was also pretty hungry when I made it so I didn’t want much fuss- I just wanted it in my face.

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Scrambled Tofu with Veggies and Mashed Avocado

  • 1 block of Cauldron Original Tofu
  • 1 wholegrain rye bagel
  • Houmous (hummus?)- any kind will do but I used plain with sun dried tomatoes because, umm, it was £1.
  • 1 avocado
  • 1/2 a red pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 an onion, chopped
  • A handful of chestnut mushrooms, sliced up
  • A generous glug of oil
  • A decent shoogle of spices: I used turmeric and paprika

Drain and press the tofu according to packet instructions. While it’s drying out, mash the avocado in a bowl with some salt, pepper and paprika.

Heat the oil in a pan and sautee the mushrooms, onion and pepper for a couple of minutes until they’re soft.

Once the tofu is pressed, crumble it into the pan along with the veggies and give it a right good stir, whisking it like you would scrambled eggs. Add in the turmeric and a little salt and pepper and leave it for about 8-10 minutes until it’s cooked through. Stir it every now and then to stir the oil and spices through it.

Toast the bagel and smear it with the houmous. Tip the tofu out and top it with the mashed avocado. BOOM- a mere 15-20 minutes and you’ve got a nutritious, vegetable and protein packed version of an old dairy favourite. Eat it right away because cold scrambled anything is gross.

I was really happy with the results- the tofu was nice and firm, and even when scrambled it held its texture better than regular ol’ eggs. You’d never even notice the difference.

It might be drawing closer to summer time, but Scotland operates on its own weather system. We can be basking in glorious sunshine of a lunchtime, and by home time be marching at an angle against a torrent of rain.

When it is actually nice outside, eating habits change too. Apart from a year-round soup obsession, I don’t like eating anything hot ‘n heavy when it’s warm. Chocolate is out the window too- seriously, is there anything worse than warm, slightly melty chocolate? Blarg.

I figured that since I’ve been getting into the spirit of trying new things that I should update seasonally. If it’s not macaroni weather I need to adapt to survive. After a recent shopping trip, the boy and I returned with a bag full of mango, melon, raspberries and strawberries, all in season and entirely delicious.

(If we sound like a pair of smug dicks, let me assure you: this is only a very recent occurrence). There really is a marked difference in buying fresh produce seasonally: there’s something weird and perverse about buying strawberries at any other time of year. I’d also picked up vegan onion and black pepper cream cheese, and I was determined to use it in EVERYTHING.

I came up with a really quick and easy comfort food, because as usual I couldn’t be bothered cooking. I spread the cream cheese on rye toast and topped it with some mashed avocado and cherry tomatoes, which I seasoned with cayenne pepper and paprika. I couldn’t get it in my face fast enough, and alas, it was gone too soon.

After this I wondered what else I could work cream cheese into. I had a notion for something pasta-y, and the most popular seasonal recipe I found was pasta primavera (I remembered enough of my Standard Grade Italian to know why this was suddenly popular. And who says you forget everything after school?).

Some recipes just involved pasta and green vegetables. As per, I didn’t have all of the ingredients to hand so just adapted it and swapped out some things for others. There were other recipes for a creamy version involving cheese, which I opted for in lieu of having asparagus or soya beans handy.

I’ve been trying hard to try new things but when taking on a big change, some degree of familiarity is nice. The recipe itself is a change for me: macaroni aside, I’ve never been a fan of creamy sauces. To me you can’t go wrong with a tomato-based sauce. Cheese and white sauces always seemed like more work. But since I’m out of my comfort zone as it is, I thought I’d give it a try…

It's pretty hard to take a decent picture of food this colour...

It’s pretty hard to take a decent picture of food this colour…

  • 150g pasta (I used gluten free conchiglie, because it was the only gluten free one I could find in Tesco’s )
  • 1 or 2 ripe avocado, mashed
  • A few scoops of vegan cream cheese (mine was onion and black pepper to give it some much needed flavouring)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • ½ red pepper deseeded and chopped
  • Meat free chicken (about 70g is enough, I have no idea how much I used since I dumped in what was left of the bag)
  • 2 tsps Very Lazy Smoked Garlic
  • A wee glug of olive oil
  • Some grated smoked vegan cheese
  • 1 spring onion, chopped

Boil the pasta as per the packet instructions. Gluten free takes a little longer so you have some time to play with.

In the meantime, chop the onion and pepper. Heat the oil, add the ‘chicken’ and one tsp of garlic. After about 2-3 minutes, add the onion, pepper and remaining garlic. Most recipes call for garlic gloves, but I like the smoked taste of this one. And also don’t have a garlic crusher. Ever tried doing it by hand? They smell rank afterwards and you never get it chopped up small enough.

Fry up the veg and chicken until soft. Mash the cream cheese in with the avocado and season well. I also added some cayenne pepper, to add some edge to the creaminess. When the veg and chicken are nearly done, scatter in the smoked cheese and stir until melted.

Once your pasta’s ready, chuck it all together and mix it over a low heat. I also sprinkled some raw spring onion through it once it was cooked, just to make it a wee bit crunchy.

The results? This was a pretty easy recipe, although in hindsight I would’ve made some changes. I used two avocadoes as they were both on the turn and I had to cut bits out. I reckon one might have been enough. I’d have added some more fresh chillies too, or at the very least more pepper.

There are more traditional recipes for pasta primavera that don’t involve cream cheese, and I’d be inclined to just ditch it altogether to make the final result a little lighter. However, it was a nice wee filler and a change from my usual. I also think I’m starting to find uses for the vegan smoked cheese!

Today marks the one week-aversary of taking on the 30 Day Vegan Pledge. It was a bit of a shaky start, considering I went into it completely unprepared. However, in the past week, I’ve found myself enjoying cooking- which, when it’s just for me, is usually a chore I avoid. My fruit and veg consumption has increased by an embarrassing amount (embarrassing considering how little I ate before), and I’ve even noticed a difference in my skin and energy levels.

After a couple of days withdrawal, I even found I didn’t miss chocolate and snacks that much. There are plenty of readily available, vegan-friendly snacks, and I never felt the urge to reach for anything naughty. (Were it not for Alpro Soya chocolate desserts, I feel this might be a totally different story). I was surprised at how many foods both were and weren’t vegan friendly: a lot of convenience soups, my usual lunchtime staple, contain milk and cream, but there are so many other options that I haven’t missed them.

Thank you, vegan gods.

I used to either skip out on breakfast, or eat something pseudo-healthy like a Go Ahead bar and sugar-laden bottled smoothies. Honestly, I had no idea how bad for you they really are. I thought they were doing me good, but they were also probably contributing the dreaded 4pm slump. Instead, I’ve seriously upped my water game and even managed to cut down on coffee. I’ve also cut down on smoking too- my one real remaining vice.

Of course, there was no way I could do this without any support and a tonne of research. I haven’t been quite as adventurous with cooking as I could’ve been, but I’ve been thinking about what I’m using more. A part of me thinks my body might go into serious meltdown from upping my fruit and vegetable intake, and that maybe I should’ve eased myself in more gently. I figured there was no sense in doing anything by halves- I’d have been as well staying vegetarian!

I ordered the PETA starter guide and, after looking into a load of different books, got Becoming Vegan. The PETA guide is really good for helpful ideas to get started, and offers a wealth of information on further reading. It also details the horrific treatment suffered by farm animals- even those used for dairy products and not meat.

It confirmed for me why it’s important to stick to the challenge, even when I feel like I’m hitting a wall. Becoming Vegan has been a worthwhile purchase as well, and it’s easy enough to dip into. It reads a bit like a textbook, and can be a bit matter of fact. It gives a good overview of vegan and vegetarian diets, from their earliest forms to today’s more widely accepted, mainstream diets.

So overall, not a bad start to the challenge… I feel like I could be more adventurous with cooking, and I actually feel like I’ve been eating more than when I started. At least it’s all good things though- it pacifies the guilt a wee bit! I’ve noticed a decrease in tiredness during the day, and a definite improvement in my skin and energy levels. My system is still getting used to the change I reckon, but in the long run I’m hoping it’ll pay off… and if it sees me cut down in smoking even more then all the better!