Tuesday, 22 November 2011


Gosh, it feels like ages since I posted - oh yes, it is!

So here is a lovely cowl-type pattern I improvised (lace pattern derives from the 198 yards of heaven pattern - I had just finished one of those for a friend and it was on hand to attempt creating my own lace from!) using 2 skeins of Sirdar Big Softie in Cherry Pie (mmm, pie). It's a transcription of a few scribblings on a piece of paper so please feel free to point out errors, omissions and plain rubbishness, if you spot any.

Tools: 8mm needles, 10mm needles, 100 yards of super bulky yarn, and some buttons. Gauge appx 2sts = 1".

To fit a 14" neck loosely, or a bigger one more snugly. With 8mm needles, cast on 35 stitches in whatever way you please.

Working a 3 stitch garter edge at both ends throughout (I will not include instructions for this in any of the subsequent rows, but every row begins and ends with k3), begin by knitting 7" stocking stitch, or as long as you want to neck portion to be.

Increase row: *k1, yo* to last stitch, k1 - 63 sts.

Switch to 10mm needles. Purl one row. Mark centre stitch.

Lace section (apologies for writing it out longhand - I haven't figured out an effective chart-making system yet)

Row 1: k2, *yo, p1, yo, k5* to last st, yo, k1
Row 2 and all even rows: work as sts present themselves - purl the purls (and yarn overs), knit the knits.

Row 3: k2, *k1, p1, k1, yo, k2tog, k1, ssk, yo,* to last 2 sts, k2
Row 5: k1, *k2, p1, k2, yo, sl2 as if to k2tog, k1, psso, yo,* to last 3 sts, k3
Row 6: k3, *yo, k2tog,* to last 2 sts, yo, k2.

Bind off loosely, with a bigger needle if you have one. It's possible that I used a 15mm for this, as I have a problem with loose bind offs! Weave in ends, attach buttons to one of your selveges (I put far more than necessary on, mainly because I like buttons), or lace it up with ribbon, whatever you like, and you're done. I hope.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

A Departure

I feel like a bit of a flake, but I'm afraid I have to announce my retirement from the challenge. My apologies, Raven and the Vegan Culinary Institute, it was a lovely idea but after 2 weeks I've come to the conclusion that this challenge just isn't, well challenging enough! I'd consider myself an intermediate to advanced amateur cook, and the recipes in La Dolce Vegan are just a wee bit tame for me. I feel, rather than being inspired, that I'm wasting my time and my money.

I do plan to take up anotyher similar challenge at some point in the future, though - this time I'm going to go way over my head and cook my way through the vegan and veganisable recipes in Terre a Terre's gourmet vegetarian cookbook!

There are about 52 by my rough count, which gives me one recipe a week. Easy, you may think, but some of these recipes are several pages long and involve up to six or seven sub-recipes! And some of them involve making pickles, home-made stock and so forth. I hope I can inspire a few others to join in with me.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Day Twelve: Cumin Rice

I made this a few days ago to bulk up the spinach salad for dinner. One of my favourite restaurants, Planet India in Brighton, serves cumin rice with everything and it's absolutely delicious, so a little piece of me was secretly hoping that this would be the recipe to replicate it. It's not (though part of that could have been to do with my using short grain brown rice instead of basati), but still rather tasty. Even better the next day too. I didn't have any parsley to top it with - I planned to fry up a little fenugreek (which I did have) and dollop it on top instead, but I forgot. NVM, as the kids say.

What has happened to my days?!

They have got all mixed up. I'm not sure where I skipped ahead, but I'll go and check and correct my errors to save confusion! Oops...

*Edit* No, no they haven't... It's our dear Raven who's losing her marbles, not me ;) That's a relief!

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Days Ten and Eleven: Espresso Cake and Burrito Pie

A two-in-one blog/food bonanza!

Today was the end of a 6-day week at work for me, so I've had a lovely day off, getting up late, dashing around for last-minute ingredients (fortunately, for some reason my corner shop now sells silken tofu) and making a royal mess of my kitchen.

 For some reason, Mexican food incurs a maximum amount of mess and bowl usage. By the time I'd got this thing in the oven there was quite literally not a square inch of counter space left. It didn't help that the cake was sat on one of the hob rings (not lit, obviously), and my other half was busy frying tempura veg at the same time.

I've renamed this dish Mexican Lasagne due to its layered construction. For once I also ventured into vegan cheese territory, normally avoided like the plague, and in fact it worked rather nicely. It was even fed to a non-vegan with success. The whole thing was very delicious, despite some of my misgivings about baking avocado and pureeing salsa.

The tortillas fitted perfectly into the bottom of the dish, but the slight taper meant that by the time I got to the top the avo was poking out around the edge.

On to the cake.

Having had a slight advantage in being a day late in that I could read the other challengers' comments about this recipe first (is that cheating?!), I adjusted some of the ingredients a little to avoid over-heavy pitfalls. It was still on the solid side, but in a good hold-it-together way, rather than a lead-in-your-stomach way. I added a little baking powder, doubled the apple sauce (to which I added some Chinese brown sugar block in order to cut down on the white sugar), and increased the amount of flour by a touch to compensate. It was only as I was mixing the whole lot together that I realised this is a fat-free cake! My apple sauce wasn't smooth so there were lumps in the finished product, but that didn't matter. I did add a bit more soya milk too to get it to mix better, it looked far too gungy for my liking. Difficult to get into the tin - in my experience cake batter is normally a lot runnier. And as others have said, it didn't really taste of coffee, though I suspect it added a little je ne sais quoi.

By the time we'd finished our mains I was ready to glaze the cake, but alas hadn't read the instruction about putting it in the fridge for an hour to set! So instead I served it as warm chocolate sauce, yum. I halved the amount of margarine though because frankly it sounded a little disgusting. It wasn't. Though I'm not convinced that I'd ever use this again over a simple ganache.

Despite this, as you can see it all came together rather deliciously:

There was a little soya cream drizzled over too, but my picture of that step didn't come out so well. Alas though despite our guest quota there's still half a cake left in the fridge... (But not for long, I suspect)

Saturday, 10 September 2011

IOU one chocolate cake

Today I will mostly not be baking coffee and chocolate cakes with disgustingly decadent glazes. Mainly because I'm on a late shift at work, but also because I'm planning a luxurious lunch for my Sunday off tomorrow, involving burrito pies followed by the aforementioned cake. I may even make custard. In fact I'm drooling a little bit already just thinking about it.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Day Nine: Noodle Salad with Spicy Nut Dressing

Another one I didn't want to do! But before we get into that, here is a cookbook condition update, as requested by Raven:

It got splatted with nut dressing while I was mixing it! The first casualty was the banana blueberry muffin page, decimated within minutes - and the Dilip page, as I discovered yesterday, actually became stuck to its neighbour... I've never been known for my neatness.

Back to the cold noodle salad. This inspired me with a chilly, glutinous feeling akin to accidentally putting one's foot in a puddle.

(That's a dressing? Really?)
But this time, I really was quite glad I made it. Even though I lacked coriander (I knew I lacked it, but after work I just couldn't face traipsing round the city in search of the bizarrely elusive herb), and couldn't be arsed to toast and chop any nuts to garnish with, this salad was a genuinely new and pleasant experience. I will no longer grimace at the thought of cold noodle dishes.

My noodles were thai rice noodles, because that's what we had in the cupboard, peanut butter, and my pak choi/bok choi/sui choy or whatever you call it was in fact romaine lettuce (thank you, veg box).

 Not quite so pretty after the sauce had been mixed in:

As a side note, I watched Julie & Julia this evening, as I felt somehow I ought to visit the origins of this challenge, and was pleased to discover Meryl Streep is capable of delivering a performance without her customary air of self-congratulatory Bono-style smugness. Not exactly gourmet film-making, if you'll pardon the expression, but entertaining enough.

Day Eight, a day late (hehee): Baby spinach and apple salad

The way I feel about salad recipes can be summed up in a single, effortless syllable: meh.

It's not that I don't like salads, a good one can be a joy and mid summer I often crave mountains of raw, crunchy, delicious green stuff. It's just that 1. I find it a faff to make them (all that chopping, grating, washing, bleh), and 2. the best ones are made off the cuff! There are a lot of ff's in this paragraph. So ordinarily this recipe would have been quickly skimmed past in search of bolder and more innovative, toothsome concoctions.

I'd like to say I'd been proved wrong and how glad I am that I was forced into making it, but I can only use mediocre words to describe the end result. Even though I love sweet things in salads, I just didn't really feel like this was a mixture worthy of a slot in a cookbook, and probably could have come up with something a bit more enticing without Sarah's aid, this time. It wasn't bad, I didn't dislike it, but it was 'nice', rather than fabulous.

It probably didn't help that it wasn't exactly a bright summer's day either - rather more Manchestery than is ideal for eating cold food. The north western gloom puts one more in mind of the solace of chips, gravy, puddings and custard...

Oops, I nearly forgot the picture!

(As you can see, I forewent the expense of pine nuts in favour of almonds.)

I'm late, I'm late, I'm late!

Unfortunately I don't have an enormous fob watch to check, but I do know I'm late with yesterday's blog post! Double whammy this evening, then.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Day Seven: A Dilip of some kind

The first week is complete and I'm already feeling the pressure! Mainly because of lots of other mean and stressful things happening in my life at the moment (mainly to do with teeth and houses), but I am worried I'm going to struggle when I start having to move house, visit places, etc.

Back to today's recipe: Blueberry Dilip.

What the hell is a dilip? Dilip, phillip, pillock... All these words were used by my partner to describe it as he filmed me baking the muffins the other day (boy + new toy = silly videos). I don't know if it is a 'thing', like Apple Charlotte or Eton Mess over here, but I'd never heard of it anyway. No blueberries here - I managed for the muffins, but 4 cups?! No, sorry, I draw the line there. And Raven, Challenge Master Extraordinaire over at the Vegan Culinary Institute, said substitution was A-ok. So I used whatever soft fruit looked good and reduced in price. Which turned out to be a mixture of cherries and greengages.

Interesting, and yummy.
I'm pretty sure I didn't have quite enough fruit though, because it was immediately enveloped by the rapidly expanding dilip batter when I poured it in. I managed to leave the batter on top of the hob, ie on top of the preheated oven, while I prepped the fruit, so by the time I got back to it it was bubbling away already! Oops.
The mixture of sweet cherries with tangy greengages and their slightly bitter skins was actually really good, although I was a bit startled by the bitter bits at first. I would have liked to serve it with ice cream, but we don't have a freezer! So soya cream it was. The dilip was served to a non-vegan, after the portobello pot pie, and the entire ensemble met with grand approval. Hurrah.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Day Six: Simple Leek and Potato Soup

Leek and potato soup is one of my all time favourite things. It was probably one of the first dishes I learned to cook for myself, and subsequently I haven't looked at a recipe to make it in more than 10 years.

But I did! I was good and followed the instructions. Except that I used the whole leek, not just the white and pale green parts (really Sarah, so wasteful!) - and I couldn't resist adding my customary pinch of nutmeg at the end. I confess I actually made this about a week ago, because we had all the ingredients in the house and I'd broken a tooth (eating muesli!) earlier that day, and it seemed like a good time to make soup.

The 'croutons' are actually cubes of 5 spice tofu, but it turns out that 5 spice tofu does not make particularly good friends with leek and potato soup, so I fished mine out and just ate them on the bread.


Monday, 5 September 2011

Day Five: Estrella.com Peanut Butter Fudgie Mounds

I've always hated peanut butter, and neither am I fond of peanuts themselves, so until a a year or two ago these little offerings would never have passed my lips! Since becoming vegan, however, I've discovered that as an ingredient, especially in sweet things, I'm actually rather partial to the butter. I still can't face it alone though - ditto tahini.

These things were extremely difficult to photograph without appearing obscene - at a distance they resemble owl droppings, and close up they look like surplus disembowelling effects from a bad B movie. Which amount to rather the same thing now that I think about it.

Despite these cosmetic drawbacks, they made a very successful appearance at an impromptu dinner at a neighbour's this evening, where almost the entire trayful was consumed with delight all round.

Again I used palm sugar instead of granulated, because I simply couldn't face using an entire cup of sugar in a recipe - I could feel my dentine shrivelling up in anticipation just looking at the ingredients list. It has a caramelly flavour (palm sugar, not dentine), so it worked pretty well. Unfortunately I discovered, to my horror at 6.30 this evening, that we were out of peanut butter, so I had to buy inferior stuff from the corner shop (containing sugar and palm oil, yuck) in order to make the recipe in time. We also didn't have enough porridge oats, so about 1/3 of the oat quota was jumbo, meaning the mixture didn't stick together quite so efficiently. No detriment to the flavour, however.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Day Four (aren't we getting along!): Gerry's Artichoke and Basil Pasta

Ok, it's not difficult to make something delicious from artichokes, basil, tomatoes and pine nuts, is it. So as tasty as this dish was, I don't really consider it a great culinary achievement! Alas not very photogenic either, sorry about that. I used really small pasta because that's what we had in the cupboard, and it worked rather nicely. The sauce:pasta ratio was a little meaner than intended as I cooked far more than 2 portions. Well, far more than Sarah's idea of 2 portions. I'm rapidly coming to realise that her '2 large portions' is significantly smaller than my 2 large portions... If I made this again I think I might give it a bit more of a twist - some tamari, a drop of tabasco and maybe even a squeeze of lemon juice.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Day Three: Portobello Pot Pie and All Purpose Crust

MMMMMMMMM...... Pie! Us Brits love a good pie. And this was a good pie. I had to resist adding a pastry case though, it's not quite right over here to just have a lid and no sides!

What I also found very difficult to resist was ignoring the pastry instructions altogether and just going my own way (it's one of those things I make a lot and rarely follow a recipe for). I made one change, which was to use olive oil instead of margarine, but followed the rest to the letter. Except that I found I had to double the amount of soya milk to get the dough to come together. I've got to say though, Ms Kramer, that I'm afraid your recipe doesn't produce quite such good results as my usual method - a combination born of Nigella Lawson and Isa Chandra Moskovitz. It was perfectly respectable, not soggy or flabby, but a tiny bit more on the chewy side than the flaky side for my taste.

The filling was really excellent though, I made no changes to it at all and it came out delicious. I luuurve mushrooms and so rarely take the opportunity to go all out with some really big meaty ones. They can be hard to find and alas I had to forsake the local shops this time and go to the hated supermarket to get my portobellos. I bought double the amount though, while I was there (in for a penny and all that), stuffed mushrooms coming up next!

Friday, 2 September 2011

Day Two: No Salt Shaker

Today's challenge recipe is very simple, and here it is, pictorially, for your viewing pleasure:

I had a lot of trouble getting these pics to line up like this, horizontally instead of vertically, and in the end I resorted to grafting them in GIMP before uploading the whole thing as one image! And even then I couldn't get around blogger's stupid automatic image borders *tooth grind*. My intention was to have the ingredients = the seasoning, but clearly I was far too frazzled by the whole operation to realise they were the wrong way around until I (feeling rather pleased with my handiwork) hit save for the final time. D'oh. Still, as a logical certainty it works either way around! Now, what shall I sprinkle it on first...

Thursday, 1 September 2011

La Dolce Vegan Challenge, Day 1: Wolffie's Banana Blueberry Muffins

Well boys and girls, here we are on Day One of the Vegan Culinary Institute's 'La Dolce Vegan Challenge' - isn't it exciting?!

I decided, in honour of the first recipe, to splash out and buy the blueberries, for an authentic start. Well, sort of. I omitted the granulated sugar in favour of palm sugar (non-refined, more subtle flavour - a bit caramelly), to make the muffins a bit more breakfast-friendly. Maple syrup would probably have worked nicely too as a substitute, but it's about 10 times the price. Instead of adding it to the dry ingredients, I just put it on with the wet instead - it's not really wet, but it is sticky!

Strangely, having consumed many sweets made with palm sugar (t'other half uses it a lot, especially in his favourite black rice pudding), this was the first time I've ever actually cooked with it. It comes in little cakes, which are rather solid. My blender sounded like it was trying to grind a golf ball. In hindsight I should have dissolved it first in some warmed soya milk - in fact I think that was my original plan, but after a long day at work (12-8, got in at 8.30, ate some dinner, sat for 5 mins, got up and made muffins) my gameplan dribbled out of my ears somewhere on the bike ride home.

For some reason my muffins rose spectacularly, like rocky outcrops with exploded blueberry rivers. More scone-y than muffin-y in shape. Flavour and texture-wise they were very good, though I under-palm sugared them a bit, and IMHO they could stand a bit more banana. But then I always think things could stand more banana. I also had to add a bit more soya milk, because the mixture became so solid once I started combining the wet and dry ingredients that I was literally unable to mix them together. As a result the batter probably got rather more glutinous and stretchy than it ought, but they certainly weren't tough.

Tomorrow: No Salt Shaker - but on what... (Actually, I'm having some people round for dinner tomorrow, so I'm going to cheat a bit and get a few more of this week's recipes ticked off the list while I'm at it! For continuity, though, I will blog about each recipe on the proper day.)

Thursday, 25 August 2011

I'd forgotten about...

the blueberries.

T -6 days, and the first week's schedule is revealed! Exciting, nay? Yes, and I rush to the book to check out the recipes. Oh, wait, what is that? Blueberries. They cost a lot. In America I think they must be pennies, because all American cookery books seem to involve them in copious quantities!

Looks like I'm going to have to start tightening my yarn belt in order to purchase ingredients :(

Never mind all that potential knitting time I'll be spending in the kitchen instead! I wonder if there is a way to knit and cook simultaneously... *envisions a nuclear facility-style set up involving rubber gloves and plastic bags*

Ok, so I need to focus on the up side of all that lovely food we'll be eating! Consider, if you will, artichoke and basil pasta, and peanut butter fudge. For starters. Not literally. And not together. Ok it's clearly much to late for blogging, I'd better get back to my knitting while I still can!

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

CLF offerings of a very tasty nature

Having been galvanised into action by the challenge, I've finally got round to posting some cake that I made! I've got a big backlog, but this was the most recent batch - and IMHO some of my best ever.

Made for the Cake Liberation Front meet last month, may I present Lemon and Raspberry Sandwich-Drizzle cupcakes:

I used Isa's basic vanilla cupcake (with oil) as a blueprint, added 2 tablespoons of lemon zest (to the batter after combining) and a tablespoon of lemon juice (to the soy milk-vinegar mix - also means adding a touch more baking soda). They rose so spectacularly that I changed my original raspberry topping plan to a raspberry filling. I sliced off the tops, made a lemon drizzle mix (just lemon juice and sugar - 1 lemon, 40g sugar) which I poured over both cut sides, then spread them with a layer of delicious raspberry goo based on the pineapple cupcake topping. 1 punnet raspberries, a few spoonfuls water and lemon juice, 1/4 cup sugar, 1 tbsp arrowroot, 1 tsp vanilla, mixed together and cooked until bubbling and thick, stirring all the time. A dollop of soya whipping cream on top for decoration/good measure, as I had some leftover in the fridge.

I also made a black forest gateau style batch, which was pretty much just the basic chocolate cupcake with amaretto added to the batter (couldn't find kirsch - anyone know of a source in Manchester?!), amaretto/cherry jam glaze and an amaretto whipped cream topping with a dollop of cherry jam in the middle, covered with grated chocolate. In retrospect I should have either added the jam before cooking, to sink into the middle, or at least dug a hole in the baked cakes to squish it into. But I was feeling lazy and couldn't be bothered! They were pretty good though.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

A potentially foolhardy vegan gourmet-a-thon

For some reason I have decided to sign up to the 'La Dolce Vegan challenge' posted by the Vegan Culinary Institute blog. I can't even organise myself to post the last 40 or so round of baking experiments I have waiting to be written about, so I don't know how I think I will be able to keep up with cooking and blogging 395 recipes in 365 days... But it did say challenge. And I do like finding new recipes. And I've been considering buying the book for a while. One suspects I will fall off the bandwagon quite quickly, being that I'm about to buy a house that needs totally refurbishing! Silly girl.

But stay tuned - I will attempt to continue for the whole year even if I do fall behind with the deadlines.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Breakfast magic

I have many a post to catch up on here, but right now I'm consuming a delicious chocolatey breakfast (for the second morning in a row) that needs documenting! I got a massive bag of bananas from Hulme market for £1 on Monday (end of day stuff), which has prompted this spell of semi-decadence. I've made this concoction before, but never for breakfast, and it was surprisingly sustaining. Normally even a big bowl of porridge and raisins leaves me starving by 12 (lunch is at 1 at work), but yesterday I wasn't really much more than peckish by the time lunch came round.

So, breakfast chocolate-peanut-banana milkshake. You'll need a blender! Throw in some soya milk, some oats (do these first so the oats can soak while you assemble the rest of the ingredients), a sliced banana, one teaspoon of unsweetened cocoa powder, a drizzle of maple syrup or other liquid sweetener of your choice, a small handful of raisins and a spoonful of peanut butter. Blend. Adjust quantities of chocolate/banana/peanut to taste. (Yesterday I got carried away with the chocolate and had to add another banana to balance it out...)

Yummy yummy yummy! And not altogether unhealthy either.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Happy birthday, Daddy!

20th April would have been my dad's 74th birthday. For those of you who don't know, as I haven't mentioned it here before, he died in November last year, so this is the year of first Dad-less things!

Now, my dad was a man who liked his cake.

Exhibit A:

So, in his honour, my sister and I decided to bake him cakes. With the added advantage, of course, that this time we get to eat them all ourselves... ;) Well you've got to look on the bright side! Lemon Drizzle was always a favourite of Dad's, so that's what I went with. I think I got the original recipe off the BBC Food site a few years back (possibly for the same reason, to make one for Dad's birthday!), and as I remembered it to have been successful, I decided to have a bash at veganising it. It came out pretty well, if I say so myself! Possibly the best version I've made, including eggy ones. In fact, I think a thin sliver of a cake made from this pre-veganised recipe (just to check out my handiwork), may have been the last non-vegan thing I voluntarily ate.

Vegan Lemon Drizzle Cake

225g margarine
225g raw cane sugar (or whatever you've got/like)
6 tbsp soya yoghurt
1/2 cup soya milk
1 tsp vinegar
zest of 2 lemons (this makes a fairly lemony cake, add more or less if you prefer)
225g self-raising flour (or if like me you only have plain flour, add a good tsp baking powder and 1/2 tsp baking soda)

Juice of 1 1/2 lemons (more if you want it more lemony - mine could probably have used more drizzle - adjust the sugar levels as necessary)
85g icing or caster sugar
And if you're feeling adventurous and you have some knocking about, a tablespoon or two of maple syrup (my own genius addition!)

Preheat oven to 180/gas mark 4. Grease and flour (or line with greaseproof paper if you prefer) a largish loaf tin or other tin of similar capacity (but remember to adjust baking time accordingly - more surface area means less oven time).

Mix the vinegar with the soya milk and leave to curdle. Beat together the margarine and sugar until they are creamed together, fluffy and all that. Add the soya yoghurt and curdled milk, beat again - it probably won't emulsify, but do your best. You can stick it all in the blender for this step, if you have one. Sift in the flour and raising agents if using (make sure you've mixed them into the flour first so that they are evenly distributed), add the lemon zest, and mix together til just combined. Pour the mix into the tin and level it off if neatness is your bag, then bake for 45-50 minutes.

Mix up the drizzle ingredients. Remove cake from oven, and while it's still hot, prick the top all over with a fork or knife and pour on the drizzle, distributing evenly. Leave it in the tin to cool.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Vive le cake!

This weekend was the bi-monthly meet up of the Cake Liberation Front, and as last time I had failed to bake anything, this month I determined to put my baker's hat on and get to it!

First, a little run-down of what it's all about. The CLF is based in Manchester, and is a group started by a small splinter cell of vegan bakers and cake-eaters to promote and eat vegan cake. Free cake from animal ingredients is the general idea. You don't have to be vegan to come along, just willing to eat and/or bake vegan cake! I can assure you that any doubts you may have had about the credentials of vegan sweets will be immediately be assuaged. It's held every two months at the Friends Meeting House behind Central Library, and it's £1 to get in if you bring cake, £2 if you don't. That's a pretty small price to pay for the best selection of cakes and other baked goods that you're likely to find in Manchester, not to mention that all the drinks are free! All the info you need is on the CLF website though, so I won't run on any more - let's get to the recipes.

My first creation was a variation on a tried and tested favourite, Vanilla and Chocolate Marble cupcakes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. I suppose I ought not to post the recipe due to copyright and all that jazz, but frankly if you haven't got a copy of this life-enhancing book yet, you deserve to be duly tantalised until you crack and go and order it.

I'm not generally a fan of icing, so instead (normally I leave them plain but this was a special occasion) I thought up something a bit different. The cakes have quite an almondy slant to them already, so I decided on a creamy-custardy-almondy thing, being as for my next batch I would also require a custardy thing, and as I'm making it already, etc. And I also used another apparently 'patented' Isa trick (though I've been slicing the tops off cupcakes and dolloping icing in the middle since I was old enough to hold a wooden spoon - it's just that we called them fairy cakes back then) to get the custard in: digging out/slicing off a circle of cake, filling it up with as much custardy cream as possible, then popping the little hat back on top.

Ta da!

For the topping, I made up a batch of custard (recipe from The Joy of Vegan Baking, but any custard recipe will do, as long as you make it quite thick), then to give it extra body and toppingyness, I mixed it together with a tub of soya whipping cream, using an electric hand mixer to make sure it was good and whippy. I split the batch (it made tons) and flavoured half just with vanilla extract, and half with some vanilla and some almond.

My second batch was rather more experimental, and requires a bit of tweaking, so I won't post a recipe just yet. Rhubarb and custard cupcakes. Yes, that's right. How have I never thought of this before? I adapted one of Isa's more fruit-based cupcakes recipes for this, but my method lacked a little something. Basically, I need it to be more rhubarby, and more custardy! Plus I stewed the rhubarb for a bit too long - I would have liked some little chunks of fruit in the cakes. And Next time I think I might push the boat out and put real vanilla seeds in the custard.

Here it is.

They'd barely touched the serving dish before they all disappeared! That's a good sign I suppose. The Vanilla and Chocolate seemed to be the winner though, many people asked who made them and said how good they were.

Also, if you're wondering about the baking parchment 'cases' - I only did it because I'd run out of cupcake cases, but they look quite good! I just cut some baking parchment into squares and then gently smushed and folded them into the tray. They did get in a way a bit when dolloping the batter in, and more than one became a bit black and burnt around the top where I'd removed rogue splodges!

Friday, 4 March 2011

Old-fashioned recipe for old-fashioned chocolate cake

In a terrible act of complacency, I have totally overlooked writing up my most-used, fallback, failsafe vegan chocolate cake recipe. The closest I've come is this coffee and walnut-ish variation. I don't remember where I found it, though there are many versions of this method online - it's sometimes called 'three hole' chocolate cake for some bizarre reason. It's a wartime recipe, when eggs and dairy were rationed and most people were effectively eating vegan. And it certainly does make for effective eating! No one will ever know it's vegan - I was serving this happily to omnivores before I was even vegan myself. You can also modify the recipe to incorporate any number of other flavours, using the appropriate essence along with or instead of the vanilla, adding nuts, dried fruit, orange rind, and so on to the batter; and of course adding/filling the cake with whatever topping you like. My favourite thing to do with it is split it horizontally and fill it with raspberry jam, then sprinkle the top with icing sugar or spread it with a thin layer of chocolate ganache.

A word of warning though: the quantities given here make for an astounding quantity of batter - enough to fill my round 12" tin, which serves about 20 people quite large pieces of cake. For a normal sized tin, go for two-thirds to a half of the amount. Or make sure you have two cake tins handy!

3 cups flour
2 cups sugar
6 tbsp cocoa powder (this is the most important part - even if you use supermarket basics brand for the rest, use the best cocoa you can find, Dutch processed if possible - I normally go for Equal Exchange cocoa powder or similar)
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt

3/4 cup oil
2 tbsp vinegar (any kind will do, even balsamic if that's all you have!)
2 tsp vanilla essence
2 cups cold water

This is so easy it's silly. First make sure you're oven is on, set to 200C/400F/gas mark 6, and that you have greased and floured your cake tin(s). Flouring is a cunning and important step that is often overlooked in baking recipes, but will prevent your cake from adhering permanently to the bottom of the tin.

Get two mixing bowls, at least one of which needs to be pretty sizeable. Combine your dry ingredients (except the sugar) in one bowl - don't worry about sifting, just use a whisk to mix it all together and remove any big lumps before adding the liquid, but make sure you do mix them up thoroughly because you want to minimise mixing of the batter once it's wet (overmixing causes the gluten strands to develop and makes for tough cake). Combine all your wet ingredients, and the sugar, in the other bowl. Now mix the wet ingredients into the dry. If you only have one big bowl, combine the dry ingredients first, then add the wet directly into the mix. Stir with a spoon or a hand-held whisk (no need for electric gadgetry here) until the dry stuff has been fully incorporated. Pour into your tin(s) and bake in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes*, or until the cake is springy on top and a knife/skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Once you've removed the cake from the oven, leave it to cool in the tin - if you try to take it out too soon, I cannot vouch for its integrity. Once it's cool it will be much firmer and the structure more coherent.

*A note on baking times: this will vary depending on the amount of batter you have made, and the size and shape of your baking tins. The more surface area the cake has, the quicker it will cook - so with my large, shallow 12" pan 30 mins is fine, but if I were to put the same quantity of batter into a smaller but deeper tin (which I have done in the past), it would take much longer - up to an hour. Less batter in a tin of similar proportions probably will take less time. I'm sure there are complicated mathematical formulae to work out this sort of thing accurately, but a quick peek in the oven is a perfectly acceptable way to do it! As long as you don't peek too early on in baking process (leave at least 15-20 mins before checking), it shouldn't cause the cake to sink.

I should also add a note on 'cups' as a measurement. They are fairly well known in the UK now, with the recent influx of cross-pond baking recipes, but to clear up any confusion for the staunchly British, a cup is a volume-based measure, equivalent to 284ml. So find a receptacle that measures roughly this amount of liquid, and use this to measure out your ingredients. Or if you're feeling pedantic, find an online conversion calculator to ascertain the exact weight/measurement of each substance contained within a cup, or portion of a cup.

Happy caking!

Finding an old friend


I've just been re-discovering old blog posts that I made a few years ago - some are completely cringeworthy, but others are surprisingly witty and compelling. Funny how I can have written these things, and have almost no memory of them. There are a whole host from pre-vegan days too, which are interesting to read. I feel I may have lost some kind of acerbicity (is that a word?) and lucid enthusiasm. Here it is, if anyone is in the slightest bit interested: http://sophym.livejournal.com

The reason I started this trawl through the annals was to check whether or not I had actually ever written up the chocolate cake I am always referring to. It seems not, and this is a massive oversight. I've noticed that there are many posts in which I mention the super-easy never-fail chocolate cake, as though everyone knows it already (doubtless because it is so familiar to me) - but I've never posted the recipe!

I must rectify this situation immediately. Even if I'm wrong and it is there hidden away somewhere I just can't see for looking, it's not really possible to post too many recipes for chocolate cake, is it.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Off the Cuff fingerless gloves

Anyone who knows me knows about my obsession with fingerless gloves. I'm rarely seen without a pair, even in summer, and even in bed during this brisk season! Normally I favour a long length, but I had a single ball of bulky weight yarn knocking about, in a variegated shade that I wasn't fond of, and felt the need to knock up some quick, short, about-the-house hand warmers. You'll notice my cunning punnery when you look at the loose, casual fit of these gloves combined with the loose, casual method of constructing them.

Partly I just wanted to see if the yarn was any more likeable knitted up than on the ball, looking all orange and brown and grey and mangy. Here it is on Ravelry. Looks fine in all other colours as far as I can see, but mine was part of a gift from a well-meaning but slightly misguided friend.

So I checked glove patterns against yardage on Rav, but found inspiration to follow/adapt, so decided to wing it. You know when you see a pattern for a garter stitch scarf, or the most absurdly basic gloves ever? Well, that's pretty much what this is going to be, but I like to feel all creative and that by 'writing' patterns, so maybe it'll help someone out in some small way. I'm still not over-keen on the yarn but as I've barely taken the things off since I made them, there must be something in it... I particularly like the way the loose fit around the wrist enables me to look at my watch, without having to employ my left hand to wrestle them out of the way!

I've knitted these flat for ease of thumbiness (for this, see laziness). They are also quite roomy, which was intentional, but if you prefer a snugger glove or have bigger hand than mine (7.5" around), you may want to ass or subtract stitches according to your tastes. I really wouldn't recommend the Sirdar Crofter though, it's not only vile ('beautiful Fair Isle effect spray dyed onto the yarn' my arse), but after only a week of use it's pretty much felted. Warm though.

Materials: One ball of bulky weight yarn - I used Sirdar Crofter Chunky, which has 86 yards/50g. Size 4.5mm needles (I think that's what I used though of course you may need to experiment for gauge anyway - note these are much smaller than suggested for a yarn of this weight, this produces a thick, firm fabric). A yarn/tapestry needle.

Gauge: 14 sts per 4" (in stocking stitch)

Cast on 32 stitches. Leave a nice long tail for seaming up later. *Work stocking stitch for 3 rows (knit a row, purl a row, knit a row). Work reverse stocking stitch for 3 rows (knit a row, purl a row, knit a row).* Repeat * * twice more - you will have 3 'welts' on the RS of the work. Continue in reverse stocking stitch for 22 rows (just over 3" for me), or for a long as you'd like the hand part of the glove to be. Switch your stocking stitch again (back to ordinary st.st) for 3 more rows, then bind off all stitches, again leaving a seamable-sized tail.

Now you can either make a second glove and then seam both at the same time, or seam this one first, then make the second. Up to you.

To finish, take your tapestry needle and seam the sides of your glove. Work from the top and bottom using the tails, leaving a hole for the thumb. To be more specific, working so that the right side (the side with the 3 welts at the cuff and the 'V's on the hand) is facing you, mattress stitch the sides together. Start from whichever end you like, but make sure you leave enough space for your thumb, and in the right place! I allowed mine to be quite roomy, for knitting in, obviously, so I made about a 2.5" seam from cuff to thumb, then from the top made a seam of 1.25", weaving my respective ends into the seam afterwards. I know a lot of people really hate seaming, but it really does give you a neat little spot to hide your ends!

Friday, 25 February 2011

With God as my witness, I'll never eat parsnips again!

Or swede, or cabbage...

It's the long hard slog through the seasonal lull of exciting local produce. Michael and I get a veggie box each week from a very small local organisation who source all their veg so locally that they think onions from Lincolnshire (we are in Lancashire) is too far. As cheap, marvellous, ecologically/ethically sound, etc, as this all is, it does mean we have taken a step back about 125 years or so in vegetabley terms! Between November and April it's potatoes, cabbage, swede, carrots, leeks, onions, a lettuce if we're lucky, and, of course, parsnips - every single week.

The other night, as we were stoically consuming another bowl of parsnip soup/mush for dinner, Michael said: 'some people talk about looking forward to the first tomato of the year - for me it'll be the last parsnip'! For most people they no doubt only make an appearance roasted at Christmas or in Sunday roasts, and occasionally in cafes as spicy parsnip soup. For us it's a relentless fight against the mounting piles of the bloody things in the fridge.

Funnily enough his parsnip-weariness came just after I had once more reconciled myself to this oft-shunned vegetable. I'd become annoyed by their ubiquitous presence because of their capacity to permeate and taint with evil any dish they might be haplessly thrown into - never, I repeat, NEVER, just chuck a parsnip into a mixed vegetable stew or soup, unless you want it to become a mixed vegetable soup or stew that tastes unmitigatingly of boiled parsnip. They are mostly experienced roasted or spicy-souped for a very good reason. The parsnip may be a humble root, but it is no delicate wallflower - it demands centre stage in whatever dish it is contained within. My mother hates them, so perhaps I have an advantage in that I've had a limited number of years of exposure in which to tire of them...

But the reason I'd managed to steel myself once more to eating parsnips until what will be probably some time in May, is a blog post I stumbled on when on a desperate recipe hunt. Here it is: Roasted parsnip, garlic and mushroom soup. Now, quite apart from the fact that this sounds delicious, and I'd never considered putting mushrooms with parsnip before, the thing that was so curious about this article is that this woman had never eaten a parsnip before. Can you imagine?! I was struck with shame and upbraided myself inwardly for lamenting my pitiful, parsnip-filled lot, when there were others in the world who had never eaten a single one! Like a more compassionate Mr Creosote suddenly being presented with images of starving children in Rwanda. True, the author does live in Mississippi, where overwintering root vegetables are presumably not prolific, but the idea of a parsnip being something new and exotic really re-invigorated it for me somehow.

Still, I'll be glad when the season turns and we get the first batch of non-parsnip infested vegetables!,

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

A woolly conundrum

Not many people understand the objection to using or wearing wool. Least of all in the knitting community, in which I have recently become immersed.

I've gone into knitting shops, and mentioned that I wanted non-woollen yarn (or, on my first visit, green and naive 'do you have any wool that doesn't have any, um, wool in it?'), to be looked at with pity, incredulity and confusion - and then the sales assistant patronisingly says to me 'they don't kill the animals to get it, you know'. Sigh. It's too much of an effort to explain, so I just smile calmly and carry on perusing the cotton/bamboo/acrylic section.

It's a subject I've given a lot of thought to, and not just since taking up knitting with a fervour. When I first went vegan, I was mentally confounded by all the ethical implications of wearing wool, silk, leather, etc - so I decided on a course of action: I would not wear any of the aforementioned materials, new or second-hand (excepting stuff I already owned - my 'pre-gan' things), in order to clarify the situation, both for myself and other well-meaning gift-givers. I think this was a good idea, because from this point of absolutely no compromise, I was able to properly consider the issues at stake, and the way I felt about them. Many vegans will not wear these materials second-hand despite the ethical problem having been removed, because they feel it 'advertises' that product as attractive and acceptable for wear - and for the most part I do agree with this, certainly when it comes to leather. But in actual fact it's probably more ethical to wear second-hand leather than it is to buy new non-leather shoes made from either non-organic cotton or oil-derived plastics.

I digress. Wool is the main subject of my post, and largely relating to knitting. At first I stuck to acrylic and cotton yarn, lamenting inwardly at my limited range and gazing lustfully at the stunning range of textures and colours available to those who use animal fibres. It's not that I desperately want to use wool - rather like lamenting the lack of choice for an evening meal in a restaurant doesn't mean that I secretly wish I could eat meat - because I don't really like it all that much. I generally find it sweaty, smelly, itchy and a bit greasy. There's no getting away from the fact that there's nothing like it for warmth, though! I am just annoyed that there isn't a better range for those of us who don't use it. And it's not just vegans either - many people are allergic to animal fibres. Eventually I had the idea that if I were to buy it second-hand, it would probably not be too bad. So I began to trawl ebay... and here I went a little mad. After (rather more than) several purchases online from other knitters' destashings, I came to my senses. Again I berated myself over the ethics of the thing and yo-yo'd back and forth from 'well, having second-hand wool isn't really unethical', to 'no, but you shouldn't use it, it's just not vegan!'.

After Christmas, in my pauperly state, I implemented my new 'yarn rules' in order to control my spending and burgeoning stash:

1. Yarn will only be purchased second hand, from charity shops and NOT on ebay.
2. Unless I am buying for a specific project, which must already have been planned!

Shortly after that, I discovered the joy of unravelling, and largely thanks to this I have more or less stuck to the rules. As long as buying sweaters in charity shops to harvest yarn from falls within the remit of the first rule! The issue still haunted me though, as I unravelled my cashmere, silk, merino, etc sweaters, purchased at absurdly cheap prices. I decided that it was ok to knit with wool, but I probably oughtn't to wear it myself - but then isn't that just being hypocritical? Like it would be ok for me to make a toasted cheese sandwich just for the pleasure of it, as long as I don't eat it myself.

This is getting to be rather an unruly post, so I should get to the point and wrap it up. The rambling length of it does reflect my feelings on the subject accurately though!

So my recent conclusion. I have decided to stop worrying about it. My original reason for being vegan, before I even called myself vegan, was to lead an ethical life, to not consume products that caused harm to other things. Is it harming anything to use yarn from an old, abandoned woollen sweater? No. Henceforth, I've decided to give myself a break and just use it. If all I'm really worried about in using second-hand wool is the criticism of others who may point fingers and tell me I'm not vegan enough, or some such foolishness, then that really is just vanity - and frankly, those people can go and take a flying leap, because who are they to judge my choices?

The end.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Cosy collar

As promised, a little late!

I acquired a single skein of this gorgeous yarn from ebay - it's Gedifra 'Easy Wear', really chunky and soft, comprising an open, barely-twisted single ply, held together by a contrasting thread running through it. I knew I had to make something really great with it, but it took me a few trues to get it right. First I tried a pixie cap type thing with a long point, but decided it wasn't right. A few more non-starters later and I accidentally came up with this cowl. You can find it on Ravelry - here's the link: my cosy collar cowl.

Materials: 9mm (10 would work too) knitting needles; one skein of super bulky yarn; large eyed yarn needle; buttons and elastic or thread as desired.

I'm afraid I don't know what my gauge was, but this thing is quick and simple enough to play around with. I'd estimate around 5 sts to 4".

Cast on about 20 stitches. Knit stocking stitch until the work is about 7" long, or the height desired for one's neck. Mine was longer to fold over like a collar. I think I knitted about 13/14 rows for this, and possibly threw in some drop stitches to show off the plumpness of the yarn. Bind off all stitches.

For the panel: Cast on about 12 stitches - more or less depending on how wide you want it. You could even use a contrasting colour for this part. Knit seed stitch until the work is a little bit shorter than the main piece - 5"/6", or as you see fit. Bind off all stitches.

I then picked out 12 lovely old translucent buttons from my stash, in colours to complement the yarn - 6 pink, 6 purple. I tied each pair together with elastic (leaving a gap of about 1cm between them, though maybe more of a gap would be better so they don't pull through so easily) so that each 'toggle' was pink on one side and purple on the other. I pushed these through the fabric, three on each side of the seed stitch panel, and then attached it to the main piece. Ta da!

What I really like about this cowl is that it's totally adjustable - by merely popping out the button toggles and putting them back wherever you like, you can adjust the fit and the look of the collar. At the top you see it buttoned closely for a funnel-neck, battened up against the cold sort of thing - and in the second picture it's at full length for something more casual, and showing off the contrasting texture of the panel.

Here it is reversed for another different effect:

You can even get away with wearing it as a headband for maximum ear coverage - and a 'little Dutch girl' look:

Hope you like it - happy knitting!