Monday, 30 December 2013

Day Trip to Whole Foods Market

Giant meringues - pistachio and (I think) raspberry flavour
My friend Anna (from Pink Pom Poms) and I had been talking for a long time about how much we wanted to visit Whole Foods. Now I don't mean just an ordinary 'stock up on some organic/speciality ingredients' trip, but our first EVER trip to Whole Foods Market! The first (and so far, only) Whole Foods in Scotland opened just outside Glasgow a couple of years ago, and I had been wanting to go ever since. But it was not until this weekend that I finally made the pilgrimage (in my defence, although it is fairly local to me, it still involves getting two buses and a journey time of almost an hour to get there). I went with Anna and her mum, and it was well worth the wait! We had lunch in the cafe - delicious sandwiches (though challenging to eat due to how fully stuffed with filling they were) and wee cakes (I had pumpkin pie, yum!) - and bought lots of great goodies in the store itself for sampling later.
Our lunch - half demolished!
Whole Foods, for those not familiar with it, offers a luxury and organic approach to supermarket shopping, with a great range of more unusual and varied fruit and vegetables, a bulk bin section with lots of nuts and grains, and plenty of speciality and healthy foods (e.g. sushi ingredients and coconut water). There was also an impressive selection of cakes and sweet delights, including the giant meringues that I just HAD to take a photo of to share on here! Not surprisingly, perhaps, there was a lot on offer for vegetarians - both raw ingredients and ready meals, plus kind of 'in-betweeny' stuff like pre-marinaded tofu. So partially prepared raw ingredients, I suppose you could say. 

I came away with the following:

1. Polenta - I was given a lovely new cookery book (Vegetarian by Susan Abbott) for Christmas from my brother, and one of the recipes I want to try calls for polenta. I have tried polenta in restaurants before, but never actually cooked with it. I thought I'd go all out and actually prepare the polenta myself, rather than get the ready to use that's a kitchen experiment I'll be trying soon. It worked out much cheaper to get the polenta from the bulk bins than pre-packaged (£1.19 per kg in the bulk bins, and I can't remember exactly how much it was pre-packaged, but I think it was about £1.99 for 500g - so a lot more expensive!). 

2. Tempeh - this is something that I have been reading about recently and as a result have been curious to try. As far as I can tell it is somewhat similar to tofu, in that it is a soy product and can be used in place of meat in dishes. However, it has higher levels of protein and vitamins than tofu and apparently a different texture, so I am really excited to try this one out! If anyone has any recipes or ideas of what to do with the tempeh, please let me know. Otherwise, I will most likely just be trying out whatever a wee Google search suggests.

3. Brown lentils - normally I get these from a local Asian grocery store, but I had run out on this particular day and needed them for dinner (my yummy lentil 'meatballs'), so thought I would take advantage of my trip to Whole Foods. Again, I got these from the bulk bins, which is nice to be able to do, as you can buy as much or as little as you like. I can't remember how much the lentils normally cost at the Asian store, but they did not seem overly expensive to me at Whole Foods, at £1.62 per kg.

4. A brew-your-own ginger beer kit. I thought this might be fun for David to try out, as he likes ginger beer, and I always think it's interesting to know how your favourite food and drink is actually produced.

I also noticed they sold Tofurkey, which I wouldn't mind trying one day (though it could never beat my amazing nut roast as a Christmas dinner!), but you could only buy the whole thing for £29.99, which was a bit steep for just wanting a quick taste. Speaking of tasting, we were given some smoothie samples in the store. However, it only served to remind me of the fact that I really don't like smoothies that much. The sales girl was very nice when I said I didn't like it and handed the half-finished shot glass back to her! 

Actually, as well as a great range, I would have to compliment Whole Foods on its great customer service. We were served by a very pleasant lady at the check-out, which just added to the feeling of a real luxury shopping experience. 

I would highly recommend a trip to Whole Foods to any foodies, anyone with special dietary requirements who may need more specialist ingredients, or anyone who prefers to eat as healthily/organic as they can. Overall, we all really enjoyed our trip to Whole Foods, and are just hoping that they open a Glasgow west end branch of the store (though it may bankrupt me if they do!).

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Christmas Nut Roast

The finished product!

One of the most common questions I get asked when people find out I'm a vegetarian, especially at this time of year, is 'but what do you eat for Christmas dinner?'. People seem genuinely interested in hearing about this, and lots of people tell me that they could imagine giving up meat to a certain extent, but could never give up their Christmas turkey. All year round I can meet people who say they can't imagine giving up meat, but I think that these feelings are magnified at Christmas time, when the contemplation of a meat-free Christmas dinner is just too much for some!

So I am really excited to tell you all about my stilton and nut roast, that I made this year and last year, and thoroughly enjoyed both times. The best thing is that as I'm the only one eating it, there are always plenty of leftovers, which is good, as it's really delicious! The recipe comes from a book called The Vegetarian Cookbook: From Earth to Table by Nicola Graimes and Fiona Biggs. I love this book, and have tried a few of the recipes so far, but after years of searching for the perfect Christmas dinner recipe, it is their nut roast recipe that I love the most. I have made some minor changes, so the recipe below is not the original, but the slightly tweaked version. 

A few things I love about this recipe:

It calls for roasted chestnuts. So now I have an excuse to roast chestnuts on Christmas Eve and eat the leftovers....yum! This really gets me in the Christmas spirit - such a simple, old-fashioned tradition - and so tasty. Sadly I do not have an open fire on which to toast them, but even in the oven, they're still good.

I prepare this nut roast the day before, getting everything chopped, mixed, and layered into the tin and covered with foil, but I don't cook it until the next day (Christmas Day!) - so all the more time to chill out and enjoy a bit more time with the family on the day. No matter how much I or anyone else loves to cook, who wants to spend Christmas Day slaving away in the kitchen?

Making my own nut roast may take a little time, but I feel that makes it all the more special to eat on Christmas Day. As soon as I have got the raw ingredients in the tin on Christmas Eve, I can't wait to get my Christmas dinner the next day!

It is very forgiving - as I already mentioned, I have changed some ingredients and quantities from the original recipe. But I even adjust the oven times and temperatures to suit the turkey that my mum is cooking in the oven at the same time. And the nut roast still turns out great*. 

I should also admit something that may shock cheese lovers here, but will appeal to anyone who is a savvy shopper watching their pennies: I used Morrisons Savers blue cheese rather than actual Stilton....and it tasted great! So even with more budget-friendly ingredients, this roast is still a yuletide winner, and it won't break the bank.

* It's best if you can adhere to the times and temperatures in the recipe as this makes the roast hold together better, but if you can't, due to conflicting temperatures of other food in the oven, it is still possible to cook the roast nicely and it will still taste lovely.

I hope that you all had a very merry Christmas, and that Santa was good to you. I'd love to hear what all the other veggies out there eat for their Christmas dinner - please leave a comment below and let me know! And if you are looking for new inspiration for next year's Christmas dinner, or simply a nice vegetarian roast to serve up at another time of the year, then look no further than the following recipe.

I made the mistake of not lining the tin...

Christmas Nut Roast


2 tbsps oil, plus extra for greasing tin
2 onions
5 garlic cloves, crushed
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
150g roasted and peeled chestnuts (about 250g unpeeled, uncooked chestnuts)
200g mixed chopped nuts
55g ground almonds
55g fresh breadcrumbs
215g Stilton (or another blue cheese), crumbled
30g Cheddar cheese, grated
a handful of fresh basil leaves, chopped
1 egg, beaten
salt and pepper
1 red pepper, finely sliced
115g courgette (for me this was about half a fat courgette), cut into rough chunks


If you are cooking the roast on the same day as preparing it, start by preheating your oven to 180ÂșC. If you are cooking it the next day, leave the oven off just now; you're not going to need it. Lightly grease and line a 900g loaf tin.

Finely chop one onion and fry in a little oil with the celery and three of the crushed garlic cloves over a medium heat. Fry for about 5 minutes. If you are making your breadcrumbs from a slice of bread, this is  a good time to make them in the food processor, while you wait for the onion, celery and garlic to cook. 

Put the onion, celery and garlic into a food processor and add the breadcrumbs, all the nuts, half the Stilton, the Cheddar and the basil. Pulse until combined, then add the egg and gradually blend to create a stiff mixture. Season with salt and pepper.

Finely slice the remaining onion and fry over a medium heat in a little oil with the courgette, red pepper and remaining garlic. Fry for about 5 to 10 minutes, or until vegetables are softened, stirring occasionally. Take off the heat and season with salt and pepper.

In the tin, ready to be cooked!
Place half of the nut mixture into the loaf tin and smooth down. Next, add the courgette and pepper mixture as the middle layer, crumbling the remaining Stilton over the top. Finally, top with the remaining nut mixture and smooth down. Cover with foil. If you are cooking the roast the next day, pop the tin in the fridge at this point, until you are ready to cook it.

Bake in the oven for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for a further 25 - 35 minutes, or until cooked and firm to the touch.

Slice and serve with roast potatoes, carrots, parsnips, Brussels sprouts, bread sauce, cranberry sauce, veggie gravy, veggie stuffing.....and anything else that is part of your favourite Christmas dinner!

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Deli-Style Aubergine, Roasted Red Pepper, Mozzarella and Pesto Sandwich

I haven't blogged in a while, probably due to general laziness brought on by the festive season. Christmas - the perfect excuse to eat too much, drink too much, not go to the gym, and just generally laze about doing not too much at all. I love it! Anyway, despite not blogging much, I have been busy in my veggie kitchen, and today I thought it was about time to stop being so lazy and actually write about some of the yummy food I have been creating.

Going hand in hand with the whole 'taking it easy' part of Christmas, I took a couple of days off work this week. On days when I'm not working, I love that I don't have to plan and make my lunches in advance, and so yesterday I took advantage of this by popping to the supermarket for a few random ingredients and experimenting to come up with what may now be my favourite sandwich EVER! Aubergine, roasted red pepper and mozzarella all go together so well and instead of butter, I used pesto to really make this sandwich something special - like something you'd order out of a deli. I loved it so much that I also figured out a way to turn it into a packed lunch (well, almost - a kind of cheat's packed lunch) which I'll explain after I've told you the main recipe.

Deli-style sandwich - ignore the fact that the pepper looks like a tongue
(thanks to David for pointing this out!)

Aubergine, Roasted Red Pepper, Mozzarella and Pesto Sandwich

Ingredients (per sandwich):

2 slices (sliced lengthwise) aubergine
1 ciabatta roll (or other fancy bread roll)
1 tbsp pesto
2-3 slices mozzarella
1/2 roasted red pepper (from a jar, unless you can be bothered roasting your own, which I never can - wash it under running water first to get ride of all the oil, then pat dry so it doesn't soak into the bread)


Pre-heat a griddle pan and place your aubergine strips onto it. Wait until the lines are charred into the under-side, then turn over and cook on the other side until also charred. Remove from the griddle pan. At this stage, you may like to chop the strips into smaller pieces, to make them more manageable to eat once they're in your sandwich (I find that, much as the whole strips look prettier, when I take a bite out of my sandwich, the whole strip can get dragged out, rather than just the bite I wanted to take!). Cut the roll in half and spread the pesto over the bottom half. Layer all remaining ingredients on top - aubergine, then mozzarella, then red pepper. Close the roll and there you have it - the perfect sandwich!

Packed lunch method:

If you want to make the filling ahead of time, simply place the aubergine (definitely chop it into smaller pieces, in this case), mozzarella, red pepper and pesto into a small plastic tub and mix together. To get the full deli effect, if you work close enough to a supermarket or bakery where you can buy a fresh bread roll at lunchtime, buy the roll just before you prepare your sandwich. Ok, so you still have to pop out to buy it, but you only spend 30-50p as opposed to £3-£5 on a full deli sandwich. If you don't have the option of popping out to buy a fresh roll, I would suggest taking a roll with you and only assembling the sandwich right before you eat it, rather than putting the filling on at home and allowing it to soak into the bread. This way, you still feel like you're eating a fresh sandwich rather than a crushed lump out of the fridge.

If you try making this, please let me know what you think. What other deli-style sandwiches have you made DIY versions of? I'd love to hear your ideas!