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?

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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.

I seem to get ill at annoying times of year. I can go all winter without as much as a sniffle, while everyone around me drops like flies. Sure, I might get stuck at Phase One: The Blocked Sinus for weeks at a time, but it never develops any further. I’m either in the very early stages or none at all. I drag myself through freezing cold, ice and rain to work and other places (I’m always extra pious when I walk to the gym in winter time).

But by the time summer rolls around, it hits me. The bugs everyone else has shed along with winter coats somehow find me. It sucks. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the biggest fan of the sun- we get so little of it here that I feel guilty for admitting that- but I like to at least go a lunchtime stroll. Or start running, like I keep threatening to. Instead, I’m currently writing to you surrounded by discarded hankies and Lemsip capsules.

After my recent bout of ill health, I admit I fell off the vegan wagon a little. I’d sworn off all things non-planty after Easter, but before eating my eggs. Whoops. I was feeling pretty crappy when disaster struck. My Hello Kitty shaped egg toppled from a high shelf in my cupboard and got decapitated. I couldn’t leave her like that. Plus I was feeling pretty crappy. Not to say that it’s an excuse: it’s like with any transition, though. You trip up, make mistakes. Show me someone on a diet who’s never guiltily nibbled a biscuit. All that happens is that you pick yourself back up again.

In any case, I was determined to get back on track, but with ill health came a delay in exercise. I know, boo, hiss. I’m racking up the black marks all over the joint here. So I skipped a week of classes to let antibiotics work their magic, and over the weekend picked up a nasty cold. Missing classes is something I don’t want to make a habit of- despite my hesitation in the beginning, I now enjoy them. I find any form of exercise a great way to clear my head, and classes give me structure. I need them as opposed to the gym: if someone isn’t telling me what to do, I will sit on a spin cycle and read (and believe me, I’m speaking from experience).

My week of indulgence last week culminated in a trip to the pre-opening of Usha’s, a new vegan and vegetarian Indian restaurant on Byres Road. The place was packed, and the banter was flowing… as was the free champagne. It was a great evening, and my first experience of meeting up with other bloggers- but that’s a post unto itself. My thumping head the next day ruined my good intentions of double class Sundays and instead eased in the dawn of the cold.

This quickly went from a delicious bubbly treat to the personification of Pure Evil.

So here I am feeling lethargic, snuffly, low on energy and on a bit of a downer about my general health and fitness. What’s a girl to do in such a situation? Make a pick me up, of course. And what better way to do so than with something not only healthy, but a wee bit on the naughty side too. I’d read countless peanut butter recipes, and felt like a big ol’ glass of smoothie would be a good idea. I also wanted to incorporate some fruit and a teeny bit of sweetness. The results weren’t too shabby- for a first attempt, anyway!

Peanut Butter, Banana and Chocolate Smoothie

  • 2 tablespoons of smooth, no added sugar peanut butter (remember and check its got palm oil from a reputable source too- Whole Earth are a good brand and their peanut butter is pretty damn guid)
  • One ripe banana (I like ’em ripe because they’re sweeter. I hate the taste of green)
  • 2 teaspoons of cocoa powder
  • 250 mls of non dairy milk (I used sweetened almond milk, because it was all I had)
  • A sprinkle of cinnamon

Slice up the banana into smallish chunks and put it in a pan. Add the peanut butter, cocoa powder, cinnamon and give it a mash with a fork.

Add the milk and blend it all together until smooth. That’s it. It’s THAT easy.

I think I’d like to make this again but play around with the consistency. For a start, I added a pinch of salt to bring out the chocolate flavour but with the peanut butter, this wasn’t necessary. I also think I added a wee bit too much peanut butter- I know, I never thought I’d say so too.

The sweetened almond milk worked well; unsweetened might have been a bit too blarg. I’d also make a point of picking up some agave syrup, for some added sweetness to counteract the peanut butter and bitterness from dark chocolate cocoa powder.

Still, it was a decent stab at a first attempt and it lifted my mood and energy… until about an hour ago. I’m now back in bed, alternating between napping and watching Batman: The Animated Series. Because I’m ill, and I can do what I want.

She's a gal after my own heart.

She’s a gal after my own heart.

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.

OK, I confess, I had a three day weekend (thanks May for the endless Bank Holidays) and remembering to blog sort of fell by the wayside, to be replaced by catching up with my boyfriend, our extensive list of programmes and films, sleep and even a cheeky visit to the theatre.

(Incidentally if you’re in Glasgow with an evening to spare and a hankering for some culture, I can’t recommend The Libertine at the Citizens Theatre highly enough… but maybe don’t take your nan).

However, after Saturday, one side note is that I’ve noticed that my tolerance for alcohol has gone way down. Not saying I could hold it especially well before, but I feel like it’s taking me even less to hit harder. Which, coupled with my new found distaste for smoking, can only be a good thing. I suppose. Begrudgingly.

One thing I didn’t let slip was actual cooking. I’ve been looking up loads of recipes and bought a couple of beginner’s guides and cookery books to help me get started. I discovered that, with a few alterations, many of them weren’t too different to what I’d made before.

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Picture source: amazon.com

My biggest problem with recipes is that I tend not to follow them. I’ll stick to them for the most part- particularly with baking which is so much easier to go wrong. When it comes to soups, stews, pasta dishes and giant pots of things, I tend to just chuck everything in and add enough spice that I can’t feel my own face.

I found this great wee article about vegan lunches, and decided to start with the most basic of basics: soup. I eat alot of soup. I’m fairly sure if I gave blood, I’d just be donating a pint of lentils. What’s not to love? As long as you choose wisely it’s an easy way to be super healthy and not feel too full. I used to make it all the time when I lived on my own and was short on cash. I’d bulk-buy veggies, make a pot and freeze it in individual batches. That was a while ago, and I decided it was time to try again. The boy and I made some pretty spectacular pumpkin soup last Halloween. In lieu of pumpkin, I went for the next best thing and adapted this recipe for butternut squash soup.

This is a slow cooker recipe, which is fine if you’re making it before you go out of a morning. I wasn’t: I was hungry and I was hungry NOW. However, I wasn’t hungry for celery (yuck) or nutmeg (which we didn’t have to hand). I’d also bought some sweet potato for a different recipe, that we didn’t have time to make. Waste not, want not: in place of celery I bunged in some sweet potato to balance out the spices too.

As well as posting the original recipe, here’s my adaptation… and remember, I like things spicy and I tend not to follow conventional cooking methods. Like measuring. Any spices listed below weren’t measured using a teaspoon, I just gave the pot a liberal shaking.

Spicy Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato Soup

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Picture source: fitsugar.com

1 butternut squash, peeled and chopped

3-4 small sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped

1 large red onion, peeled and chopped

3 spring onions, chopped

3 carrots, peeled and chopped

2 sweet peppers, chopped and deseeded

2 cups of red lentils

1.5 litres of vegetable stock or boullion 

2 tsps Very Lazy Smoked Garlic

A healthy glug of oil (I used chili rapeseed oil)

Spices including turmeric, onion salt, cayenne pepper, paprika, cumin and coriander

  • Heat the oil in a large pot. Add the onion, sautee until soft and stir in the garlic. Sautee for a couple extra minutes.
  • Add the butternut squash, carrots and sweet potato, give them a good stir along with the onions and garlic and add a wee bit more oil if need be.
  • Add the peppers, shake in your spices and add your stock.
  • Pour in the lentils, give the whole thing a stir.
  • Stick a lid on it and leave it to simmer until the vegetables are soft, checking and adding more stock or water if you need it.

I accidentally added a little too much water, but there are ways of compensating for this: I quickly microwaved some frozen diced turnip and stirred this in with the blended final product. I also added some crumbled up Ryvita crackers (I tried it to replace bread with soup a while ago and never looked back).

Initially I was a bit hesitant about posting a recipe, especially as I have such a lax attitude towards following. In the end I figured it was a good way of tracking my progress- in terms of how much more preparation and thought I put into cooking. I also thought it’d be a good way of showing how you can take a recipe, adapt it and still get tasty results. As long as you don’t include celery.

I’m also always on the lookout for more adaptations and recipes, so if there are any other suggestions I’d love to hear them!