Sunday, 23 February 2014


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I always love to know that people are reading and enjoying my blog, so why not follow me (either by email or using Bloglovin') today, and be sure to comment on any of my posts to let me know what you think - I love getting feedback!

Bread, Bread, and More Bread

Completely unexpectedly, I found myself at a bread-making class this week, thanks to my lovely friend, Lynne, who is quite the expert cake-baker, and one of her friends. I jumped at the chance to join them at the last minute, when another friend was no longer able to make it - and I'm so glad I did, as the class was absolutely excellent.

Run by The Cookery School, which is hidden away down Virginia Street in Glasgow city centre, this was an evening class that taught the basics of making your own bread by hand. No fancy gadgets or bread machines here! We were shown how to mix and knead our dough (thinking of the gluten as the 'scaffolding' which would stop our beautifully risen loaves from collapsing), and advised that kneading is not so much about the pummeling and punching of the dough that I somehow always thought it was, but more about stretching it out (building that scaffolding a bit taller!). We then got to work at our stations, and all produced a wholemeal loaf and four white rolls with various delicious toppings by the end of the night. It was brilliantly done - taught in a fun but informative way, and with expert bakers there to help out as you test out your new skills (we had a lot of questions and moments of minor panic - 'is my dough too dry?; 'is this kneaded enough?'; is my water the right temperature?'!).

The Cookery School offers a variety of different courses and cookery demonstrations, ranging from evening cocktail-making classes (might be the next one to try, I think!), to five-day cookery courses, and even classes for children. There are also specialist courses in knife skills, working with herbs, and the like. Prices vary depending on the course you choose, but the bread making one I attended would usually cost £50 (we got vouchers from one of the daily deal sites - though I'm not sure which one - so these are worth looking out for in case they run a similar deal in the future). I would highly recommend this class and The Cookery School (although they don't appear to do any specifically vegetarian cookery courses, which is perhaps something they could consider for the future).

As a result of my dalliance with bread-making, I decided that I had to practise my new-found skills this weekend, and so made a batch of 6 bread rolls last night. These are so easy to make once you are familiar with the basic techniques, and there's something so satisfying about baking your own bread, not to mention the delicious aromas that waft through your home as it's in the oven!
The finished product!

Simple White Bread Rolls

(makes 6)


350g strong white flour
1/2 tsp sugar
a 7g sachet quick-acting yeast
two pinches of salt
250g tepid water (don't worry if you have to use a little more or a little less)
extra flour to prep surface and your hands with
1 egg yolk
a little water
toppings of your choice to sprinkle on top - I personally LOVE pumpkin seeds, or you could try some mixed spices, sesame seeds, or sunflower seeds (optional)


Sift your flour into a mixing bowl. Add sugar and yeast, and mix well. Add the salt and mix again. Add the water, a little at a time, stirring as you go, until the mixture comes away from the sides of the bowl in one ball of dough. It should be a little tacky to the touch without actually sticking to your hands.

Lightly sprinkle some flour onto a clean work surface and put the dough onto it. Lightly flour your hands. Now comes the fun part! To knead your dough, use the very back of your palm to stretch the dough out - first one way, then bring it together in a ball again, then stretch a different side of the dough, then bring it back. Like I say, it is more about stretching every part of the dough to make it really supple than it is about beating and pressing it, which is what I'd always thought you were supposed to do! Knead it this way for approximately 10 minutes, or until your dough is lovely and soft and supple. Place it back in the mixing bowl and cover with cling film. Leave in a warm area to prove for about half an hour or until doubled in size.

Proving for the first time

Once it has doubled in size, gently punch (see, I knew there was punching involved somewhere!) the ball so it collapses. Take it out of the bowl and knead for a further 10 minutes. Roll it out into a long sausage shape and divide into 6 even pieces. Form each piece into a little ball, and place on a lightly floured baking tray. Mix your egg yolk with a little water and, using a pastry brush, brush this glaze over each of the balls. Make sure you don't use too much, or the yolk will run onto the baking tray and you will end up with baked egg attached to your rolls - not so appetising. Once you have glazed the rolls, you can add toppings if you wish, or just leave plain. Leave to prove a second time, for about half an hour. Towards the end of that half hour, switch on your oven at 200ºC to pre-heat.
Proving for the second time

Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, or until the rolls sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Leave to cool on a wire rack.

Ta-dah! You have just baked your own rolls! These are delicious fresh out of the oven, or can be kept tightly wrapped in tin foil for a day or two - or frozen, if you want to keep them for longer.

Do you bake your own bread - and if you do, do you have any delicious toppings or flavours you'd recommend I try? Or have you been tempted by this post to try your hand at this for the first time? Let me know how you get on!

Homemade pumpkin seed roll with brie

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Cake Challenge: Eggless Victoria Sponge

Eggless Victoria Sponge
Last week at work, we had a mini bake-off. When I say mini, I mean it was only between me and my manager, and we only baked one thing each: lemon drizzle cake. It was a fun challenge! Neither of us had every made lemon drizzle cake before, so it was a learning experience - especially since we both struggled to get the thing to cook the full way through! And that was with two different recipes. But, ever the professionals, we both managed to turn out a pretty delicious cake for the competition, and we both got plenty of compliments for our creations. However, my cake was voted the winner, so I was really pleased and surprised (my manager is an excellent baker)!
The winning lemon drizzle cake!

However, one person in the office was not able to enjoy either of the cakes, as I found out that he has an egg allergy. Not satisfied with just having completed and won the bake-off challenge, I decided to set myself another challenge - to bake an eggless sponge cake! I think because I'm vegetarian and sometimes people have to make an extra effort to accommodate my dietary requirements, I like to be able to help out other people when they have dietary requirements of their own. So this was the perfect challenge.

I spent the following few days researching different egg-free recipes and tips. Some people suggested straight substitutions - fruit purees and juices in place of the eggs - some simply altered the quantities of other ingredients in the sponge recipe. I would like to try a few different versions, to find which I like best, but today I started with a simple but effective recipe from Jude's blog, No Eggs. This recipe didn't call for any unusual additions, so looked like it would come out tasting closest to an 'ordinary' Victoria sponge. I very slightly tweaked the recipe (I almost never buy caster sugar, for example, so all of my cakes are baked with granulated sugar, and I omitted the vanilla extract from the icing, as I felt it was tasty enough as it was), so I have included my version below.

Eggless Victoria Sponge


For the cake:
280g self-raising flour
170g granulated sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
300 ml milk
150 ml vegetable oil
3 tbsp golden syrup
1 tsp vanilla paste

For the filling:
100g butter, slightly softened (but not melting!)
140g icing sugar
a drop of milk
5 tbsp raspberry jam


Preheat the oven to 180ºC, and grease and line two 7-inch cake tins. Sift the flour into a large bowl. Add the sugar and salt, and mix well. Make a well in the middle of the bowl by stirring all ingredients to the side. Mix one tablespoon of the milk together with the bicarbonate of soda and then add this to the well. Next, add the remaining milk, oil, syrup and vanilla pasted. Using an electric mixer, if you have one, beat the ingredients together until they form a batter. (If you don't have an electric mixer, simply use a wooden spoon - this will still work perfectly well, but will just take a bit longer and will require a bit more effort.) Divide your batter between the two prepared tins and put in the oven for 25 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.
Looking good...other than the imprinted lines!

Once the cakes are cooked, place the tins on a wire rack for 5 minutes, then take the cakes out of the tins and place directly onto the wire racks to cool completely. TIP: Don't be silly like me, and put your cakes face down to cool on the rack - this will leave you with the pattern of the rack imprinted into the top of your cake! Not a problem if you're going to cover it with icing, but we're not. So put at least one of the cakes face up on the rack.

Whilst the cakes are cooling, make your buttercream. Beat the softened butter with a wooden spoon until it's smooth. Gradually sift the icing sugar in, beating as you go, until fully combined. Add just a drop or two of milk to loosen the mixture and make it more of a whipped cream consistency (but not too much - you don't want the icing dripping off the cake!). Spread the buttercream over one of the cakes, then spread the jam on top of the icing. Place the second cake on top, and sprinkle a little icing sugar over the top to decorate. Finished!

David and I have both tried a bit, and although I think it does taste a bit different to a 'normal' sponge cake, we both like it! I will reserve full judgement until my colleague tastes it tomorrow though - as he must be the true expert on how a good eggless sponge should taste. 

I'd love to hear your ideas for eggless cakes, or how you like this recipe. 


Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Baked Polenta Cake with Roasted Vegetables and Onion and Sage Gravy

A couple of weeks ago, I enjoyed a lovely meal at one of my favourite local eateries, Cafezique on Hyndland Street. This cute cafe/restaurant is a local gem, serving some delicious and often creative food in relaxing yet atmospheric surroundings. Old school blackboards and plastic seats combine with fairy lights and a shelf full of cookery books to form something really magical (more magical than I can describe - if you live in Glasgow, or are visiting, this is one place definitely worth checking out). It is not cheap, but whenever I walk past it (which I do pretty often), I always smell the delicious aromas wafting out of it and get excited thinking about the next time I will go there.

On this particular night, I was so impressed with my main course that I decided immediately that I would have to try to recreate it - or at least create something extremely delicious based on it - once I was back home and in the kitchen. You may remember that I blogged about my visit to Whole Foods a few weeks ago - well, that visit came in very handy, since I bought my very first polenta there, and that is the base of this recipe! If you haven't tried making polenta before, believe me, it is very easy, and totally worth the effort. I had never made it until a few weeks ago, but it really is simple, and so much cheaper than buying the ready-made stuff.

I won't lie - this is not one of the quickest meals you will make, but it really is delicious, and would be very impressive to serve up to guests. Or, you can just do what I do and make it for yourself as a special weeknight treat. I felt it looked a bit too fancy on my plate as I was eating it tonight for dinner - just me, alone - but then I thought, who cares? As long as I'm enjoying it - and I really was. And I'm sure you will too if you give this a go. I made the polenta base in advance, at the weekend, which cut down on the amount of time/effort needed in the kitchen when I got home from work today.

Baked Polenta Cake with Roasted Vegetables and Onion and Sage Gravy

(serves 4)


For the polenta cake:
650 ml water
1 tsp salt
320g uncooked polenta
100g goats cheese, roughly chopped
approx. 10g chopped chives
a little butter

For the roast vegetables:
4 large parsnips, halved or quartered (depending on size) lengthwise
4 large carrots, halved or quartered (depending on size) lengthwise
4 cooked beetroots*, quartered
a glug of olive oil
a glug of balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper

For the onion and sage gravy:
a little oil
1/2 onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp dried sage
60g flour
60 ml soy sauce
200g water
salt and pepper

* I opted for pre-cooked beetroot in this recipe, mainly because it was what I could find in the supermarket, but it also cuts down on the roasting time. If you wanted to use fresh beetroot, I'm sure that would be really delicious, but you'd have to start roasting it in advance of the other vegetables, rather than adding it in nearer the end as indicated in the method below.


First, add the salt to the water in a large pan, and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to a simmer (DO THIS or your polenta will spit all over the kitchen....I speak from experience!). Gently stir in the polenta. Keep stirring for a minute or two, until the water has been absorbed and the polenta is just beginning to clump together. At this point, add the chopped chives and goats cheese, and keep stirring. Stir for 5 to 10 minutes (or until your arm gets too sore to continue stirring - at this point, the polenta should have fully clumped together, and you are not so much stirring, as pushing the mass of polenta around the pan with the spoon). Transfer the polenta mix to a greased loaf tin and leave to cool for 10 minutes. After the 10 minutes are over, pop some cling film over the tin and refrigerate.

Everything else:
Pre-heat the oven to 200ºC. 

Take the loaf tin with the polenta in it, and turn upside down over a plate, to gently push the polenta out. Slice it in half, first lengthwise (so that you have a bottom layer and a top layer that you could put a filling in between), then half again across the width of the oblong. Lay out the slices on an oven tray.

Lay out your parsnips and carrots in a roasting tin. Drizzle over the olive oil and balsamic vinegar, then season with salt and pepper. Pop in the oven to roast. While they are roasting, you can make the gravy.

Heat the oil in a small pan over medium heat, and gently saute the onion and garlic with the sage for about  5 minutes, or until the onion is soft. Stir in the flour and soy sauce, and stir until a paste is formed. Little by little, add the water, whisking as you go. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer until thickened (about 5 minutes). (If the gravy already seems thick enough before simmering, add a little water before reducing the heat.) Season with salt and pepper. If you want a smooth gravy, with no onion bits, you can push it through a sieve at this stage, but I enjoy the onion pieces in mine.

After the vegetables have been roasting for 20 minutes, add the beetroots to the roasting tin, and also put the oven tray with the polenta slices on it in the oven, for everything to cook for a further 10 minutes. You are now ready to assemble your polenta cakes! 

The unadorned polenta cake

Put one slice of polenta on each plate. Arrange the vegetables over the top, as artistically as you please (I like to alternate the vegetables, so you have one slice carrot, one slice beetroot, one slice parsnip). Drizzle (or pour) some gravy over the top of each cake (drizzle if you're going for the arty look, to impress, but I like to pour a good amount of gravy on if I'm not trying to show off!).

Serve with a side salad (or just extra roasted vegetables if, like me, you can't get enough of them!).

Before the gravy was added

I know that what with the extra step of making the polenta, this is a little more time-consuming than most of my other recipes, but I really think it's worth the effort for something a little different. I also am pleased that I now know how easy it is to make polenta, as I'm sure that would have put me off trying this recipe if I'd seen it myself a few months ago! So don't be put off by that, please!

On a totally different note, I was trying out a new photo app for my phone (VSCO Cam), which is sort of like Instagram but you don't have to share all the photos you take. The photos in this post were taken using this app, but I'm not sure if I'm that impressed...then again, maybe it's just my lack of skills as a photographer. A bad workman always blames his tools, and all that! But if anyone has any tips for getting better/nicer photos of my kitchen creations (without spending a fortune), please let me know in the comments.

And, as always, let me know what you think of the recipe!