Thursday, May 24, 2012

Here Comes The Summer...

You know the weather is good when... 

 - your shorts make an appearance.

 Your kids are playing in the garden by 7.30am - waaaaaaaaay before they need to be ready for school. And you decide to have a barbecue! 
I, like so many others, can be guilty of making too much food when barbecueing cos, lets face it, it would be a shame to waste the coals once you've lit them, right? (n_n)
But, bearing in mind that I didn't have tons of time to prep I decided to streamline our barbecue experience.

anti-clockwise from left: cucumber raita, jerk tofu, quinoa and rocket salad, maple-glazed squash, coconut sambol.

I made jerk tofu (in a hot-as-all hell jarred marinade - I love the numbness!) along with coconut sambol and cucumber raita - both from The World Food Café and both absolutely delicious, but I'll save that for another post - and maple-glazed squash.
But the star of the show was my quinoa and rocket salad. I LOVE quinoa and am fortunate enough to be able to buy it in mahoosive yet reasonably-priced bags from Costco because one of my workmates has a membership.
I toasted 2 cups of quinoa, then added stock and let it cook for fifteen minutes on the hob, switching it off and letting it steam up to make the quinoa really soft and flavoursome. I combined it with quartered cherry and grape tomatoes, handfuls of flat-leaf parsley, 1tsp garlic flakes, chopped rocket leaves, lots of lemon juice and coarsely-ground salt and black pepper.  This was delicious - zingy, fresh and a perfect accompaniement to everything else on offer. It was SO good, I'm making it again when my Mother-in-Law comes up to visit this weekend for the kids' Big Dance Show.
Unfortunately, we didn't end-up having the barbecue as this happened:

The appearance of the inimitable Scottish weather!

Oh well, maybe the rain will keep off so we can barbecue on Saturday... here's hoping...

Monday, May 21, 2012

Leftovers are Friends... Not Food!

 Not quite what I mean, but you get the general idea! 
In my house, leftovers rule. I baulk at the idea of throwing anything away, no matter how small the portion, because I just know, that with a little ingenuity it's possible to incorporporate it into the next delicious - or at least satisfying - meal. Plus, if you're throwing perfectly good food away because you don't know what to do with it, you're throwing money away. And that's just not-acceptable in our house! There are certain dishes that are more forgiving when re-hashing leftovers. Like hash. (n_n) Also, soup is usually a winner, as is pizza, and in our house, fried rice. 
Today I was busy doing laundry - can't turn your nose up at a rare sunny day in Bathgate - and the time just got away from me. Before I knew it, I had to go pick up the kids from school. Looking in the fridge, I saw I had half a block of cauldron firm tofu, several lacklustre veggies and half a bag of curly kale. In my freezer I always keep a few bags of frozen veggies for just such an occasion, plus I had a can of mock duck from the Chinese supermarket in the cupboard. This is one of my favourite 'secret' ingredients for adding a bit of bulk to stir-frys and fried rice. My house is full of wheat-meat haters, however I have used a small can of finely shredded mock duck as a filler many, many times and I've yet to have a complaint from any of them. I don't know what they do to the gluten to make it so delicious, but it's all I can do to stop myself from eating half of it while prepping.
I put two cups of basmati rice into my microwaveable rice steamer with three cups of boiling water, 1/2 tsp of salt and a good pinch of turmeric - I swear, my compulsion to add turmeric to rice is so bad my kids think rice is naturally yellow - and set it to cook for 13 minutes. When I'm making rice for stir-frys I want it slightly drier, so my ratio of rice to water is 1:11/2. If I want moist, fluffy rice for curry or stew, I prefer a 1:2 ratio. 
Once we were back from school, I made the obligatory veggie prawn crackers. These were a bargain about two years ago - I got a big box from the Chinese supermarket for £2.49 and we have been eating them every since as a side to chinese and thai food, as a snack, a lunch box filler... you name it! Once I got the hang of frying them up - I now do them in a frying pan rather than my wok, using less oil - I had them means to make an inexpensive side that has completely ruined my kids. They LOVE them! 
 Then, I heated my wok over a medium heat until smoking and added a little oil and my sliced onions. A couple of minutes later I added a heaped teaspoon of minced ginger, lots of garlic flakes, 1/2 tsp chilli flakes, 1/2 tsp 5-spice powder, sliced green pepper and celery, carrot sticks, cubed tofu, 1 tsp of shredded kefir lime leaves and the kale. I cooked it for about 5-minutes, until the veggies were tender, before adding peas and sweetcorn and the shredded duck. I kept cooking until the frozen veggies and duck were warmed-through before adding the rice, 2 tbsps light soya sauce, a generous drizzle of sesame oil and 4 tbsps lemon juice. Stir-stir-stir... Done.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Thrifty Kicks

 LOVE charity shops - ♥!
 All of my dresses for work are second-hand from ebay or charity shops as, basically, when I went back to work after being at home for four years, I wanted to look nice and professional but I was still - at that point - SKINT.
A sweet colourful dress with my other wardrobe essentials - cheap black leggings from Primark, a black cardi and cheap and colourful ballet flats - and I had a capsule work wardrobe ready to rock.
Over the months I've expanded my wardrobe with a few more choice buys. And today, while I was down in Bathgate buying vegetable oil and salt, I wandered into the Marie Curie shop to get out of the rain and my eye was instantly caught by this red number.
I have been looking for a block-coloured red dress for AGES! When I first met R, I was going through a phase of only wearing red clothes (yes, I was one of those people) and now, even though my colour repertoire has expanded substantially, I still hold the idea of 'The Red Dress' fondly in my heart as a little memento of our courtship.
This dress cost me £3.00 exactly, and once I banish adjust the ruffled sleeves I think I will have a delightful, colourful shift dress perfect for both work and going out.
'Scuse the welly boots, btw - this is how I looked in the changing room trying it on and it amused me so much I decided to recreate the look once at home. I ROCK the wellies, man - believe!

The Skint Vegan Top Tip of the Day:

So, if like me, you go second-hand for your dresses, unless you buy a slinky fitted number you will probably find that some of the the items you buy suffer from what I like to call 'excess baggage' - all that extra material that billows around your hips and belly making you look like you're about to set sail for India, with only a feeble fabric belt to somehow try and pinion it all in at the back.
Forget the fabric belt - unpick it, make it into a boho headband for your firstborn daughter. If you're a seamstress, great! You can adjust the garment to fit! If you're like me, however, and you are only capable of adjusting a garment when equipped with wonderweb and a hot iron, then this is what you do:
Invest in a couple of waist-cincher belts. These need to be wide enough to tame that excess fabric into acceptable submission, and loose enough so you look (and feel) comfortable wearing them, rather than like you've just wandered off a Bette Page tribute shoot.
 The difference?

From this... a little sack-like...
To this... defined, fitted, sweet.

 I think we all know. (-_o)

Saturday, May 12, 2012

When life gives you motorbike accidents, make cupcakes!

Chocolate whiskey cupcakes with fluffy vegan buttercream
It was rainy, very rainy on Friday morning. So rainy, that it came as only a muted surprise to me when I recieved a phonecall at 8.15am informing me that R had fell off his motorbike on his way to work.
Thank Goodness, he was wearing all his bike gear and waterproofs, so bar a bit of whiplash where he hit his head too hard off the road, he had nary a scratch on him and was more shocked than anything else.
The age-old remedy for shock is something sweet.

 So once we etablished he was ok - it was the bike that needed fixing (u_u) - I pulled out my trusty copy of Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World and whipped up a batch of simple chocolate cupcakes with Isa and Terry's trademark fluffy vegan buttercream icing on top.
The substitutions I made were as follows:
  • I used wholemeal flour because I genuinely prefer wholemeal flour in chocolatey baking.
  • I used corn oil to give mp cuppies that dark chocolate look.
  • I used chocolate rice milk in place of soya milk. In retrospect, if I was to do this again, I would cut the sugar down by about 2 heaped tablespoons, because the milk is sweetened already and I found the resulting cupcakes good, but tooth-achingly sweet when combined with the icing.
  • I replaced the 1/2 teaspoon of almond extract prescribed in the recipe for whiskey extract - as another remedy for shock, is reputedly alcohol! (n_n)
These cupcakes went down extremely well with all in the house. A well-deserved treat for all under the circumstances.
And as R had survived unscathed, I felt it only right to make Evel Knievel cupcake toppers - as once the concern passes, it is only right for the gentle mocking to begin...
Which leads me to:

The Skint Vegan Top Tip of the Day:
Cupcake toppers are a cheap, simple yet effective way to personalise your cupcakes to the intended recipient. Half an hour spent printing out some suitable images, gluing them onto card for reinforcement and then cutting-out and attaching my little banners to cocktail sticks with some sellotape leads to a visually striking adornment. I think you will agree, with minimum effort my toppers have come a long way...  (-_o)

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Breakfast of Champions

Did you get home from work at 10.45pm, wired to the moon?

Did you wind down by catching-up on all your crap-telly viewing with a glass of wine, then falling asleep on the sofa and waking up at 3.30am, broken, like a little rag doll?

Are your kids off school today due to a staff inset day? Meaning that the morning rush is for the toilet and the kettle, rather than to get you all out of the house by 8.35am?

And did you read that wonderful post over at Lustrous Musings - one of your favourite foodie blogs EVER - about a fried breakfast? With proper fried bread? Which made you feel hungry back then, but now is like an insistent drum-call to the frying pan? Like when The Master in 'Doctor Who' was tormented by the sound of drums?
I think we all know where this is headed....
Voila! Perfect fry-up:

Linda McCartney veggie sausages - the sausage of choice in our household.
Home fries - made from a couple of baked potatoes left over from Sunday tea and with added cherry tomatoes, NOM!
Fried mushrooms with garlic powder, black pepper and chilli salt.
Heinz baked beans.
And of course -  the perfect fried bread.
All washed-down with mugs of piping hot tea.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Look at my Magic Potato! Also known as: My Pierogi Masterclass

Yes, just like Pepe, I too have magic potatoes.
What can you make with two of the most economical of the staples we keep in our kitchens - a bag of flour and a sack of potatoes?
You can make one of my absolute favourite dishes from my childhood - pierogi.
These are little semi-circular dumplings which can be filled with an infinite variety of delicious edibles. We ate them both sweet - with fruit from the hedgerow that had been stewed into compote or plums from my Babcia Lila's plum tree - or savoury. My favourite filling has always been sauerkraut, but then, it's a well-known fact that I would eat cabbage in some form or other every single day if it was down to me. BIG love - ♥!
But you can also make a cheap, delicious and filling dinner using just potato. Think of it as pasta filled with really, really good mash. And the potential for add-ins is great - pesto for some zing, vegan sour cream, cheese, leftover beans or chilli, stewed curried pumpkin - you can really use just about whatever you have knocking around the fridge to stuff these.
My lovely friend, Krys, over at Two Vegan Boys, has asked for my pierogi recipe loads of times and being the slack puppy that I am, I never got round to emailing it to her. So, upon her request this morning I decided - spur of the moment - to devise a pierogi masterclass and put it up here as a point of reference for Krys and anyone else who might be interested.
You're going to get all my hints, tips and advice here.
And, as a bonus, I'm giving you a video of - whisper it! - The Pinch.
This is the trademark finger manouvre that creates a really good seal on your dumplings and stops them from coming unstuck in the boiling water while you're cooking them!
Normally, I would use 100% plain flour for the pasta, but as I discovered I only had 3/4 cup plain flour I subbed the rest with wholemeal plain flour. Actually, the slightly coarser, chewier texture that this high-wholemeal mix provided was kind of nice, and it was pleasantly filling - I would maybe go for 50-50 plain and wholemeal next time for a slightly lighter texture.

Potato Pierogi 

(makes 53 using a 4-inch cookie cutter)


Pierogi Dough

4 cups plain flour
2 tsp salt
2 tbsp potato flour/instant potato flakes/1 small cooked potato, grated
4 tbsp vegetable oil
11/2-2 cups cold water


8-10 medium potatoes, boiled until soft.
1 cup vegan cream cheese/dairyfree yogurt/or 1/2 cup soya cream
4 spring onions, finely sliced then chopped again
2 heaped tbsp vegan margarine
Coarsely ground black pepper, 1/2 tsp
Salt to taste


To Make The Dough:

Put the plain flour in a large bowl. Add the salt and potato flour or grated cooked potato and stir together. Add the oil and gradually add the water while mixing the ingredients together until you have achieved a dough which has cleaned the sides of the bowl and is pliable and well combined without being wet.
Now - cover the bowl and set aside for at least 30 minutes to make the dough softer and easier to handle.
In the meantime you can make your filling.

To Make the Filling:

 Cook your potatoes until soft and then strain, return to the pan and steam over the hob to drive off as much water as possible. You want your filling to be dry as when you boil the pierogi later, it will heat-up and become more liquid anyway.
Then mash. Mash until it's as smooth as possible.
Sautee the chopped spring onions in the two tablespoons of marg over a gentle heat for about five minutes until soft but not too coloured. Add into the potato mix, along with the pepper, salt and your 'liquid' - cream cheeze, yogurt or cream - and mix well. Season with salt to taste and remember, it's better to go everso slightly over with the salt than to underseason with pierogi as once the filling is in the pasta it's saltiness isn't so potent.
At this point you can also add grated cheeze if you like - I did this today because there was a nubbin of cheeze winking at me from the back of the fridge, about 1/2 cups worth. This is where you can really improvise with your add-ins!
Before you start making the dumplings, get two baking trays ready for putting your finished pierogi on - flour them lightly and get a couple of clean teatowels to cover the dumplings with so they don't dry out.
Then lightly flour your worksurface and your rolling pin.

Divide your dough into two to four sections - this really depends on the size of your workspace, mine is TINY! - and roll it out as thinly as you can.

4" pierogi cutouts
 Use your 4" inch cookie cutter to cut out as many circles of dough as you can. Remove the excess dough, then place a heaped teaspoon of filling into the centre of each circle.

 Now, The Pinch!

You take your pasta circle and fold the two sides over to meet. You then go round your little semi-circle with your thumb and forefinger - I don't pinch between fingertips, I use my thumb tip and press the dough against the knuckle-area of my forefinger to get a good seal. The best way to get a good seal? Use 'The Pinch' and don't get any filling between the two bits of dough you are pressing together. In the video you can see I press the filling back into the dumpling as I go round to make sure of this, otherwise, when cooking, you will end-up with a soggy, floppy semi-circle of pasta and a scum of filling in the cooking water! (u_u)

Put your assembled dumplings on the prepared baking trays making sure they don't touch each other and stick. When you fill the tray, cover over with a folded tea towel and stack your next bunch of dumplings on top. You can then use the other half of the towel to cover your second layer of pierogi. So on and so forth. Once you've made them all up, you can set your pierogi to one side as forget about them until it's time to cook them.

This is your cooking equipment:

l-r: covered pierogi, colander in serving dish, cooking pan filled with salted water, slotted spoon and wooden spoon.
Bring your pan of salted water to a rolling boil, then add your dumplings one by one. I normally cook about 12-15 at a time in this size cooking pan.

Once you've dropped-in your pierogi, use the bottom of your wooden spoon to gently stir sround the base of the pan to loosen any dumplings that might have stuck.

Bring the water back-up to a rolling boil, then give the dumplings another 3-5 minutes to cook through. The best way to check for doneness - is to try one! (n_n)

Pull out the dumplings one-by-one with your slotted spoon and place into the colander in your waiting serving dish.

Pour over the melted margarine, shake to coat the dumplings and then tip out of the colander into the serving dish.

All ready to be scoffed!
Then, enjoy!


So there you have it! Easy-peasy! But time-consuming. The results are well-worth it, though.
If you're like me, you'll have a bit of the filling leftover. The temptation might be to stick it in the bin *internal screaming!!!!* but luckily for you I have:

The Skint Vegan Top Tip of the Day:

Any leftover mash makes absolutely fantastic and incredibly quick soup. This is usually a Sunday-night trick for me after our big Sunday dinner, but it came in unexpectedly handy tonight. The 1/2 cup of potato filling I had left was combined with 250ml vegetable stock, 1/2 cup frozen chopped leeks and a good squeeze of soya cream. Heat till piping hot - about four minutes - out comes the stick blender and before you know it, I have hot, delicious soup for 3 people for lunch tomorrow. Now that's a result! (-_o)

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Order and Chaos...

Is a recurring theme through this compilation of minimalistic Detroit techno I have recently bought.

<3 this!

Order and Chaos are also two opposing forces that regularly co-exist in my kitchen.

I'd like to say this was unusual...
And my household in general. Like many parents with busy lives and lively children, it can sometimes feel like you're caught on a hamster wheel, constantly running but not getting anywhere. Not making progress, not moving forward, just keeping from slipping backwards. 
I once watched a programme that explained Newton's Second Law of Thermodynamics. Which is - if you don't keep moving everything's going to turn to sh*te.
THIS is the law I think of when housekeeping! (n_n)
So, on a typically rainy and chaotically windy spring day in Bathgate -

I have HUNDREDS of pictures of raindrops on windows.
I decided that what I wanted, what I really, really wanted, was to curl up on the sofa with a cup of Earl Grey tea and something to eat that was so decadent, so heart-warmingly good, that it would make me feel completely indulged for just a few minutes before I got back to that hamster wheel!
I wanted something gooey, and saucey and chocolatey, but bearing in mind I still had my other household chores to do - washing up, preparing dinner, dusting (groan!) - it had to be easy to throw together.
Cue Sarah Kramer's 'La Dolce Vegan!' and the recipe for Chocolate Puddin' Cake.
This recipe looks like a hot mess when you read it:

 "How much sugar? You pour HOW much hot water over it? You don't STIR??"
But have faith, if you follow the quantities and timings - admittedly, I tend to err on the side of caution and bake for 45 minutes rather than the recommended 40 - you will end-up with a delicious, self-saucing chocolate cake with moist, soft chocolate sponge and a rich, gooey sauce in the bottom.

The substitutions I made were:

Bashed-up almonds in place of walnuts because that's what I had in the storecupboard.
Plain wholemeal flour instead of white - as above. :)
I also used hemp-seed oil because I LOVE my Good Oil - it's delicious, packs a nutritional punch and can be added to both sweet and savoury baking with equal success.

Best served warm with Alpro soya cream.

 And then - just like my moment of midday indulgence - it's gone.

 Which leads to:
The Skint Vegan Top Tip of the Day:

It doesn't have to be an expensive thing to indulge yourself, but the importance of treating yourself every now and again is priceless.
  • Leave the kids with their Dad, lock the bathroom door and have a long hot bath while reading that book you've been trying to start for weeks.
  • Paint your nails while watching a guilty pleasure you've recorded - mine is 'Four Weddings' on Pick TV!
  • Go to your local pool, swim a few lengths and use the steam room - we're very lucky in West Lothian that our municipal facilities are both well-maintained and inexpensive.
  •  Or treat yourself to a spot of afternoon tea instead of running those errands that will still be there a half-hour later! (-_o)