Root vegetable tagine with lemon infused cous cous.

I’ve gotten into a bit of a food rut recently; I tend to rotate the same few dishes each week. Without fail, I throw sweet potatoes into my trolley during the weekly supermarket trip but usually stick to making soup or curry with them so I fancied trying something different. My mum made me a delicious root vegetable tagine a few weeks ago so this was my attempt to recreate it.

For the tagine:

1 onion, finely chopped

3 sweet potatoes

1 cloves of crushed garlic

1/2 butternut squash

3 carrots

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 cup dried fruit

Dice the root veggies. Fry the onion in a little oil until softened, then add the cinnamon, ginger and cumin seeds and the crushed garlic. Cook gently for 5 minutes and then add the root veg. Stir in the tomato paste and lemon juice and then add some water. I didn’t measure the water but I would estimate that I put in around 300ml. You could use more or less depending on how ‘saucy’ you’d like the dish to be. (I actually put in a little too much water but just scooped some of the gravy out towards the end and used it to flavour the cous cous!) Throw in your dried fruit. I used apricots and dates but my mum’s version contained prunes; all work well with this dish so just use whatever you have kicking around your cupboards. Allow to simmer for around 30 minutes or until the vegetables are cooked all the way through.

For the cous cous:

Use 200g cous cous to serve 4.

Place the cous cous in a saucepan with a tablespoon lemon infused olive oil and a dash of cinnamon. Add 250ml of vegetable stock and bring to the boil. Once it has started to boil, remove the pan from the heat and allow the cous cous to absorb the water.

Fluff it up with a fork before serving,throw in a handful of raisins and mix. Serve with the tagine.

 

 

Black Forest Birthday Cake

I’m pretty much of the opinion that all chocolate cake is good chocolate cake – as long as it is cruelty free of course. It turns out, however, that all cakes are not created equal; I’m going to blow my own trumpet here and declare that I, Mrs Babystepsvegan, have created the Grandaddy of chocolate cakes!

But don’t take my word for it, try it for yourself.

For the (single) sponge:

4oz of non dairy butter

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup soya milk

2  and 2/3 cup self raising flour

1/3 cup cocoa powder

1 dessert spoon apple sauce

For the icing:

morello cherry jam

non dairy butter

icing sugar

vanilla extract

cocoa powder

NB: when it comes to icing, I NEVER measure the ingredients, partly because I’m lazy, partly because I like to have an excuse to dip a finger in the bowl for ‘testing’ purposes. Hmm, needs more sugar…

Method:

Preheat the oven to 180c.

Melt the butter in a saucepan and stir in the sugar. Keep the heat low as you really don’t want to risk burning the butter.

Mix the flour and cocoa powder in a large bowl. Stir in the soya milk (or other plant milk) and apple sauce. Add the melted butter/sugar mix and stir gently but thoroughly – do not beat. Pour the cake mixture into a greased cake tin and bake for about 40 minutes.

Now, you could leave it at that, but I was making this for a special occasion – my son’s birthday – so I thought that we could justify a second layer. I baked a second sponge using the method above.

After leaving the cakes to cool, I spread a very generous helping of cherry jam on top of the first sponge. I then added some vanilla icing (made by beating some ‘butter’ and adding icing sugar and a touch of vanilla extract until I had a nice thick texture which was easily spread on top of the jam.) Gently place the second sponge on top to make a ‘sandwich’ and using a palette knife coat the cake with a nice thick layer of chocolate frosting (made in the same way as the vanilla icing but replacing the vanilla extract for cocoa powder – the more cocoa powder you add the richer the chocolate flavour will be).

I covered the cake in vegan chocolate beans (at my son’s request) but I think it would be even better covered in fresh black cherry halves.

If you’re being ‘virtuous’ (and that’s a very loose interpretation of the word!) and having a single layer cake, simply spread the jam over the top of the sponge and then cover with chocolate icing.

I’m tempted to try replacing the vanilla icing for a layer of vanilla ice cream next time. In fact, now that I’ve suggested it, I feel it is my duty to conduct just such an experiment. I’ll let you all know how it turns out!!

Onion and redcurrant chutney.

I’m really happy with this recipe. Mostly because I kind of made it up on the spot and it turned out to be amazingly good. Which was a relief because I was catering for family visiting for my little vegan’s 4th birthday party!

Honestly, the chutney was so good I could have happily eaten it on its own straight out of the pan (ok, you got me, I actually did have a few sneaky spoonfuls) but if you are slightly more refined than I am, I have a few suggestions of how to use it:

Cheese and onion rolls:

Roll out some Jus Rol puff pastry (or other vegan puff pastry) and cut into about 9 squares. Add a dollop of chutney to each square and add a piece of vegan cheese. Fold each square over to form a triangle and then bake in the oven for about half an hour or until the pastry is fully ‘puffed’ and golden and smelling so good that you just have to have some now. These are great additions to a buffet (I discovered!) or make a lovely starter when served with a little side salad.

Sausage-less rolls:

Again roll out some puff pastry and cut into squares. Place a spoonful of chutney onto each square and add a vegan sausage. You could use Linda McCartney’s mini sausages but I made my own sausages using a packet of meat free Chargrill burger mix from Asda. Follow the instructions on the packet but form mini sausage shapes instead of burgers. Fry the sausages for a few minutes to brown each side and then add them to the pastry squares. Roll up and bake for 30 minutes.

Bruschetta:

Toast some ciabatta slices, drizzle with a little olive oil, and top with chutney and a few rocket leaves.

Now finally, the chutney recipe:

3 onions, thinly sliced

1 teaspoon brown sugar

2 dessert spoons vegan redcurrant jelly

1 dessert spoon olive oil

Fry the onions gently in a saucepan with the olive oil. Add the sugar once the onions have softened and cook for another couple of minutes. Spoon in the redcurrant jelly and stir until the jelly has melted. Cook on a low heat for about 30 minutes or until you have a nice sticky mixture. Be sure to check the pan frequently and stir occasionally. I’d love to tell you how long this would last if kept in the fridge but trust me, this is not a question you will need to ask – it’s so good it won’t even make it to the fridge!

Cheesy Apricot Stuffed Loaf

Ok, so I’m a bit late in sharing the recipe for my Christmas Loaf; I’m guessing the diets have started and the last thing you want to get your chops round is a big juicy, flaky slice of pastry heaven. Are you sure?

This loaf was actually such a hit in the babysteps household that I couldn’t in good conscience consign it to the the list of Christmas time only dishes. It deserves more! So I think this will be baking in my oven any time we have a family occasion…or any day with a ‘y’ in it. Served with some roast spuds, veggies and redcurrant jelly, it’s an ideal replacement for the traditional Sunday roast.

My Mum made me this dish every Christmas Eve (well, the vegetarian version) when I was growing up. The whole family tucked in and then Mum saved a slice for me to have on Christmas day when the rest of the family began the traditional turkey massacre. It comprises an apricot and oatmeal stuffing, layered with creamed spinach and a mixture of carrot and ‘cheese’, all wrapped up in puff pastry. It has evolved over the years to reflect our family tastes – I actually have no idea what the original recipe was like or even where it came from. So, if you don’t like the sound of one of the layers, change it. Only let me know so that I can try your version too!

What you need:

1 packet of Jus Rol puff pastry. (Yes, I’m lazy, I’m the first to admit it)

Stuffing:

60g dairy free spread

1 chopped onion

60g oatmeal

125g white breadcrumbs

juice of half a lemon

90g chopped dried apricots

1 dessert spoon of apple sauce

1 teaspoon of dried thyme

salt and black pepper

Creamed spinach:

I used frozen because my fridge was stuffed full of parsnips and sprouts but of course you could use fresh spinach.

6 blocks of frozen spinach

pinch of nutmeg

1-2 dessert spoons of vegan cream cheese

black pepper

Carrot and cheese:

3 medium carrots, grated

1/3 of a block of vegan cheese (I used Sheese, strong cheddar style)

What to do:

Preheat your oven to 180c

Roll out the pastry and set aside. In a saucepan melt the ‘butter’ and then fry the onion very gently until soft. You don’t want it to brown, just soften. Add the breadcrumbs and oatmeal and stir thoroughly, add the lemon juice and cook for about 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the herbs, apricots and some seasoning. Add the apple sauce to bind together. Place the stuffing on the pastry and spread on to the pastry, leaving a little room around the side.

Heat the spinach until completely thawed. Drain the excess water and add the cream cheese. Mix thoroughly and then add the nutmeg and a little black pepper. Layer this on top of the stuffing and spread it evenly.

Grate the carrots and cheese, mix together and then place this over the spinach layer.

Bring up the sides of the pastry to form the loaf. If you are more talented in the kitchen than I am, play about with lattices and the like. Or, if you’re a tad more ‘rustic’, don’t worry about the shape but just make sure that all of the stuffing layers are encased in the pastry. Chuck it in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes or until the pastry has risen and is golden brown.

Leave to cool for a few minutes before slicing. And enjoy!

This is actually nice when eaten cold too, so wrap up any leftovers and take them with you to work for lunch the next day.Mmmm, serve with some roast spuds, sprouts and redcurrant jelly.

Now it’s your turn…

I’m sure you’re all sick of hearing me babbling on so I thought it would be refreshing to hear from some other vegans. First victim/interviewee is an inspiring young vegan, Emily Bennett. Like me she is relatively new to veganism but extremely passionate about it, taking part in demonstrations and grasping any opportunity to share her vegan enthusiasm – to good effect. Thanks to Emily, several people, including her own mum have now adopted a vegan lifestyle. So let’s find out more about her:

1. How long have you been vegan?

8 months (since early April 2011)

2. What made you decide to become vegan?

I made the decision to go vegan 8 months ago and I can honestly say that it’s one of the best decisions that I have ever made. There are so many good reasons for going vegan but my main reason was for the animals. Having been vegetarian beforehand, I read up on the dairy and egg industries and was outraged to find that as much suffering to animals exists there as it does within the meat industry. I came to the realisation that if I’m truly a person who does not believe in cruelty to animals then I just shouldn’t fund it, on any level. With so many vegan alternatives to all kinds of products (from chocolate to ice-cream, cheese, milk and even cream), I’ve found the transition from vegetarian to vegan quite straight forward. Shopping for new foods that are free from animal ingredients has proved exciting and I’m enjoying experimenting with new dishes and adapting old ones. I’ve even shared my new-found knowledge with my mum who has embraced the vegan lifestyle with me! As vegans, we have never felt healthier or happier. But the best part, for me, is knowing that animals have not been harmed in order for me to eat and drink. Going vegan is the single most important thing that you can do for the lives of animals (not to mention your own health!). I would urge anyone to give it a try; you’d be surprised by how easy and rewarding it is.

3. Was it a gradual transition or an overnight decision?

Overnight. I pledged to be vegan for 30 days and gave myself a start date of the 2nd April 2011. I had it in mind to be as strict as possible for my 30 days and to monitor the effect of how I felt. At the end of my 30 days I found that I had enjoyed my vegan journey so much that I just wanted to carry on. I did not have strong enough reasons to go back to being vegetarian so I decided to keep up being vegan. 8 months in, I’m still going and I feel very happy.

4. Did you encounter resistance to your decision and if so, how did you overcome it?

At first my partner was not happy about my decision to go vegan as he felt that it would make things very hard for us when eating out. This proved not to be the case however and I love all the veggie/vegan friendly restaurants that I have visited so far! In my experience, most people’s resistance to veganism stems from knowing very little about it. Veganism means making conscious decisions that aim to minimise suffering to others (both animal and human) as much as possible. Sometimes people may have the perception that choosing vegan living is odd and that’s because sadly in our society (ab)using animals is the norm. Vegans can be accused of being extreme but if you look at what’s happening in the meat/dairy/egg industries, then that’s what is actually extreme. Factory farming is extreme and it’s seriously damaging the Earth. Veganism is about living a life that seeks to exclude suffering; what could be so extreme, or odd, about that?

5. How would you define your veganism?

This is a really great question. For me being vegan has become a part of who I am. I feel much more connected to animals now that I no longer use them. I feel at peace knowing that animals don’t suffer for me. I empathise and sympathise more. I feel I have a new outlook on life now that I have learnt what it fully means to respect and love all sentient beings: animals have evolved with us, not for us. Veganism gives me a foundation and grounds the most basic of morals (like responsibility and compassion) into my everyday living.

6. How has it changed your life – negative and positive?

The only negative that I can think of is that sometimes I feel overwhelmed by having a more realistic understanding of how badly animals suffer at human hands and on the staggering scale that this exists. I am now aware of so many issues that had never crossed my mind, and some days I feel down when I think of the millions of animals living in battery cages, in slaughterhouses and on dairy farms worldwide. On the positive side, I feel relieved that despite the horrors which persist I can say that I no longer contribute to their misery as I choose food, clothing and toiletries that do not come from cruelty.

Veganism has changed my life in countless positive ways. As before, I feel more connected to animals and I have a stronger ability to empathise with others. I also feel more at peace with myself knowing that I am not making animals suffer in order for me to live. I have met so many wonderful friends since going vegan and this has been a major positive – meeting like-minded people and knowing that others share my passion for helping animals and minimising harm. On the health side of things, I feel more energetic within myself because I eat more healthily. I have glowing skin and I sleep better. Lots of positives!

7. What are your top tips for anyone considering veganism?

Understand what being vegan means and understand your own reasons for wanting to explore it. Make changes little and often, for example by choosing a plant-based milk (e.g., rice milk or soya milk) the next time you shop instead of buying dairy milk. Take your time to check out the vegan options that your local supermarkets and health food stores have to offer by reading packaging carefully and making cruelty-free purchases as much as possible. Focus on what you can have, not what you can’t have, and stock up on plenty of natural, fresh food like fruits, vegetables and nuts. Countless vegan alternatives exist for literally any non-vegan item that you can think of, so feel free to rely on good alternatives like veggie sausages and dairy-free chocolate. Online shopping is also wonderful – Goodness Direct is a treasure trove for all kinds of vegan products and you can even search to see vegan items only (http://www.goodnessdirect.co.uk/cgi-local/frameset/diet/V-Vegan.html). Enjoy making new dishes and adapt old ones. Share your veganism with others. Rejoice in knowing that you are choosing a lifestyle that seeks to cause as little suffering as possible whilst reaping the benefits of improved health!

Top websites to explore:

http://www.chooseveganism.org/index.php

http://evolvecampaigns.org.uk/evolve/default.aspx

http://www.govegan.org.uk/

Thanks Emily!

Letter to my children

To my beautiful boys,
Your Grandma called me recently and told me about a programme she watched on TV. The narrator claimed that we are in serious danger of mass world starvation – not in a few generations but in twenty years. Twenty years! You will be 24 and 21. You will barely be men.
I can’t be sorry for having you though. I just can’t.
You are beautiful, kind, loving boys and you bring joy to my world and the world of all those who know you.
Yet your very existence is tinged with regret and sadness.
I am sorry that previous generations have raped the planet, have used up almost all of the resources we have.
I am sorry that I have brought you into a world so devoid of compassion, where peoples’ only thoughts are for their own wellbeing and comfort. A world where our tastebuds are of more importance than a life.
I am sorry that I have brought you into a world where rainforests are being cleared not to grow food for people but for cattle, for livestock, while children your age die needlessly of starvation.
I am sorry that by the time you are my age you may have to fight your neighbours for food and survival rather than wave to them as you pass by in the street.
I am sorry that you may never have the chance to experience the joy of having children of your own.
I am sorry that you may not have the chance to grow old.
Most of all I am sorry for the part I have played in this.
So here is my promise to you.
I am going to fight for your world.
I am going to fight to show people that it doesn’t have to come to this. That if we act now we can salvage our planet. That if we use our resources to feed people, not livestock, if we stop destroying the oceans just so we can have fish on the side of our chips, NONE of us need know hunger.
You’re going to resent me at times. When your friends are going to McDonalds. When our Christmas table is devoid of the dead bird. When they judge you for your differences, for your compassion. You’ll probably think I’m nuts, wearing my vegan t-shirt to the supermarket. You’ll consider me an embarrassment.
But please remember;
I am doing this, not just for the animals, not just for the world, but for you.
 Always for you.
 So that you don’t have to fight for food and shelter.
So that you don’t have to grow old in a world of darkness and despair.
Until the last breath has left my body I will fight for your future.
I love you.
Mummy.

Date and Sultana Cake

Fellow vegan Jenny Hynd posted a variation of this recipe recently on a forum, having adapted it from a non vegan recipe from her mum. The original vegan version has 1 cup of sultanas and I’d like to say that it was a strategic decision to sub the dates but the truth is I just ran out of raisins and had to search the cupboards for a replacement! I have to say though that it worked rather well and of course dates are extremely nutritious – I’m having a bit of a love affair with dates right now so I’m happy for any excuse to use them and to get the kids eating them too!

2cups self raising flour

1 cup caster sugar

4oz vegan margarine

1/2 cup sultanas

1/2 cup chopped dates

1tbls apple sauce

Preheat your oven to 180

Melt the margarine and sugar in a pot but be careful not to let it boil. Add all the other ingredients, folding together rather than mixing. The original recipe calls for grease proof paper to line your baking tin but I had also run out of that (not doing so well today am I?!) but my non-stick loaf tin handled the job nicely and after 40 minutes in the oven, the cake slid right out of the tin. We each had a slice after lunch while it was still warm and it was AMAZING!!

I think next time I may try a variation with some chopped fresh apple and some cinnamon added. Because you can never have too much cake…

Thanks to Jenny for allowing me to share the recipe with you lovely folks.