The easiest Iced Tea

Hot weather poses a grave confliction: to drink or not to drink a cup of tea. I’m one of the endless brigade who resort to tea in times of distress, fatigue, pure habit, even boredom – a decent cuppa goes a long way in filling a void and occupying oneself. Yet, when the sun is beating down on England’s weather-adverse population, leading to general chaos and complaining, a cup of hot tea just doesn’t make the grade. Needing to reassure my subconscious mind that it was still getting its tea fix, at the same time as cooling myself down, I fixed some iced tea to enjoy on these often uncomfortably warm afternoons.

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Iced tea brings back to me memories of a summer nearly ten years ago, discovering the sweet refreshment of Lipton’s in the Vendee. It appeased perfectly the thirst engendered after a few hour’s of zip-lining and climbing through trees, and gave me the childish thrill of drinking something so laden with sugar that it would rot my teeth. While I still feel this nostalgia for a childhood of simple desires and satisfactions, iced tea is something I’d never drink now: fizzy soft drinks leave me parched and conscious of their nutritional shortcomings.

Luckily for me, iced tea is just about the easiest thing to make at home, and can be sweetened to suit one’s own taste. To serve three generously, here’s how to make it:

  1. Boil 500ml water, and pour over three teabags or three teaspoons of tea leaves in a teapot, or in a large jug. Brew for three to five minutes, depending on how strong you like it.
  2. If in the pot, pour the tea into a large jug. Top up with equal parts of cold water.
  3. Slice a lemon in half, squeeze in a little juice, and give a good stir with a big spoon. Leave the lemon half in the jug to infuse.
  4. If you have any fresh mint to hand, muddle a handful of leaves and drop them in.
  5. Place in the fridge for around five minutes to chill. (If the jug won’t fit in the side door, even with removing any compartments, a wide-necked bottle (lid fastened securely) laid on its side would work fine.)
  6. When ready to serve, spoon demerara sugar to taste into a glass – a teaspoon is plenty. Pour in the tea, stir vigorously, and add ice. Garnish with sliced lemon and more mint if desired.

A jug of this is a fantastic drink to have at hand – make in the morning for something to look forward to after school / work / because you need it. It’s easily drinkable without the sugar, and using fruit tea would probably add an interesting twist.

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(Almost) vegan brownies

At the time of writing, it’s World Chocolate Day – a date quite redundant, in my eyes, as chocolate is an object I lavish much love and attention on most days. Similar to Valentine’s Day, nowadays just a massive money-spinning extravaganza, World Chocolate Day is most likely the brainchild of a mass chocolate manufacturer, and it hardly needs the attention to drive up sales. For me, just as you love your partner every single day, so you do chocolate.

Yet, that was good enough an excuse for me to make brownies. I’d like to be a little more ambitious in my baking, but the simplicity of this brownie recipe from spiceupthecurry.com (lots of egg-free recipes) won me over. I’ve tried making vegan brownies before, and although they went down quite well, the oil gave them a sticky kind of aftertaste – so I was pleased to find an oil-free variety. These brownies are devilishly sweet, probably dangerously so; omit the chocolate chunks or scale down the sugar for less impact on the teeth.

 

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To make eight good-sized pieces, you’ll need:

  • 85g plain flour
  • 115g butter (or dairy-free butter)
  • 125g plain yogurt (I used Alpro’s dairy-free version – the slight acidity is good)
  • 225g granulated sugar
  • 40g unsweetened cocoa powder (go for a good one – I used Cadbury’s Bournville)
  • 100g dark chocolate chunks (optional. But reccomended)
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp salt (omit if using salted butter)
  • 2 tsps baking powder

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Grease an 8 x 8 baking tin (or whatever you have) and line with parchment paper.

Begin by gently heating the butter in a small saucepan. Once melted, set aside to cool.

Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt, if using. Do take care to sift the cocoa, to break down lumps. Add the sugar, and mix well to incorporate.

Spoon the yogurt in to the butter (I wouldn’t advise pouring it straight in from the tub – accidents may happen. Not that that happened to me. No, not at all.) Add the vanilla extract, and whisk briskly, until fully combined.

Pour the fats into the dry flour mixture and whisk together. Now’s the time to add any chocolate chunks, nuts, or dried cranberries: give everything a good stir, then pour into the tin. Bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes – if a toothpick comes out clean, it’s all good. Leave to thoroughly cool before dusting with icing sugar, and cutting up into slices. There’s no need to tell you how long this brownie will keep – it won’t last long!

Vegetable biryani with spiced carrot salad

Although being home for the summer means that I no longer have full control of my own mealtimes and the contents of the fridge, there are numerous advantages: considerable savings in weekly food expenditure, plentiful Yorkshire tea, and the opportunity to cook big dinners for my family. I love cooking for groups: there’s something intrinsically satisfying about providing friends and family with good food. In my student house I rarely baked – not because I didn’t like my housemates, but when all of the housework was left to me, the expense and the time didn’t seem wholly attractive. So, as food is something I like to lavish upon those who I care about most, cooking and baking are even more rewarding at home.

Another plus of cooking here is the fact that I can invest more time and energy in bigger and more complicated dishes, as I’m serving a crowd; whereas I’d normally have to freeze up leftover portions, at home I don’t have to scale everything down to one. Labour-intensive recipes – curry, chilli, stews, lasagne – are infinitely more rewarding to cook than the average stir-fry or bowl of pasta I make for myself, and call for extra side dishes, salads, and garnishes.

I’ve been working my way through an issue of BBC GoodFood’s Vegetarian magazine, a collection of veggie and vegan recipes from previous editions. It’s packed full of dishes which are entirely to my liking, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone embarking on a veggie lifestyle looking for a bit of inspiration. Having never cooked a biryani before, I wanted to give this a go.

 

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For the biryani (serving eight), you’ll need:

  • 400g basmati rice
  • pinch of saffron threads (optional – I didn’t use them)
  • two tbsp vegetable oil
  • a cauliflower
  • two potatoes
  • 100g red lentils
  • 100g French beans
  • handful curry leaves (these can be hard to come by – I omitted them)
  • two handfuls of frozen peas
  • small bunch of coriander
  • 50g roasted cashew nuts

For the paste:

  • a large onion
  • large piece of ginger
  • five garlic cloves
  • two tsp curry powder
  • tsp ground cumin
  • two tbsp vegetable oil
  • a small green chilli (use two, if you prefer more heat)

For the carrot salad:

  • four carrots
  • pinch of golden caster sugar
  • juice of a lemon
  • handful of cashew nuts
  • handful coriander leaves
  • thumb-sized piece of ginger
  • tsp of cumin seeds

 

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Begin by making the paste. Roughly chop the onion and the larger piece of ginger, remove the outside covering of the garlic, and chop off the top of the chilli(s). Place everything in a food processor with two tbsp vegetable oil, two tsp curry powder, and one tsp ground cumin. Put the lid on and blitz to a paste.

Chop the cauliflower into small florets, and the potatoes into chunks. Trim and halve the beans. Roughly chop the leaves of the coriander.

Heat the oil in a large lidded pan, and spoon in the paste; tip in the cauliflower and potatoes, and stir so that everything is covered. Add the lentils and beans, and cover with 400ml water. Drop in the curry leaves, season with a little salt, and cover to simmer for twenty minutes, or until tender. The peas can be added towards the end to defrost.

Meanwhile, cook the rice. The recipe calls to soak for thirty minutes, before rinsing several times, covering with 1cm of water, and bringing to the boil before turning off the heat and leaving to stand with a lid on. Prepare your rice however you prefer to do it.

For the carrot salad, begin by toasting a tsp of cumin seeds in a dry saucepan until fragrant. Shred (I grated) the ginger. Using a vegetable peeler, reduce the carrots to ribbons – using a bit of muscle, this won’t take long. In a large serving bowl, sprinkle with a pinch of sugar and toss with the cumin, ginger, a handful of the coriander and nuts, and squeeze over the lemon.

When cooked, serve the biryani with the rice and salad, with bowls of coriander leaves and chopped cashews to garnish. Offer naan breads and poppadoms if desired; a little plain yogurt won’t go amiss, either.

Spicy and healthy, this curry calls for any vegetables lurking at the back of the fridge: it’s very versatile. I served five (with a large leftover portion) using two small cauliflower, 150g French beans, a sweet potato, and a bag of spinach. The salad was lovely – sweet, spicy, and aromatic. Vegetarian dishes like these are my absolute dream, proving that a diet without meat lacks nothing – bursting with nutrients, delicious, and filling.

 

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Oat & raisin cookies: egg-free

Several posts ago, I lamented the importance of eggs in baking. Scientifically, they’re perfect for the job: as emulsifiers (proteins in the yolks bind liquids and fats), as leaveners  (the whites create that rise), and in giving structure, taste, and texture. So, when you take eggs out of the equation, you need to balance out the formula with an adequate substitute.

The chemistry of baking is something I’d love to understand better. Why do individual varieties of sugar give biscuits different textures? What actually happens to the molecular make-up of a cake when you put it in the oven? And can egg and dairy-free recipes really match up to those that include them?

My past experience with vegan baking hasn’t been too successful, but I’m going to crack on (no pun intended) with trying: starting with substituting out the all-important egg. Supposedly, eggs can be swapped for ingredients such as apple sauce, banana, chia seeds, and even tofu; after reading this article about eggs and vegan alternatives (very informative!) I thought I’d give flaxseed a go. I came across this recipe for oat and raisin cookies on egglesscooking.com – a good place to start, right?

 

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To make twenty small and rounded cookies, you’ll need:

  • 170g softened butter (could be replaced with dairy-free butter – I’d love to see how that would turn out)
  • 200g light brown sugar
  • 85g plain flour
  • 270g rolled oats
  • 150g raisins or sultanas
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • tsp vanilla extract
  • tbsp ground linseed (flaxseed)
  • 1/2 tsp of salt (leave out if your butter is salted).

 

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius, and line two baking trays with baking paper. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together, using a hand mixer if one is at hand (very punny today).

Make the ‘flax egg’: mix a tablespoon of ground linseed with three tablespoons of warm water. Whisk briskly with a fork, electric whisk, or milk frother, until foamy. Add to the bowl with the vanilla extract, and stir to combine.

Sift in the flour with the bicarb, salt, and cinnamon, before stirring in the oats and dried fruit. Incorporate well with a wooden spoon, before dropping small handfuls of the mixture onto the trays (these don’t spread too much during baking). Flatten each circle before popping in the oven for around fifteen minutes, or until the biscuits are golden brown – I’d recommend putting in a tray at a time. Leave to cool completely before storing in air-tight containers.

These biscuits taste really lovely, and were very well-received in my family – described as “like Nature Valley bars” by my elder brother, something I’ll take as a compliment. I like small biscuits, but if you like your cookies thin and wide, make sure to flatten them out. The second time round, I used light brown sugar (as the recipe intended – I just didn’t have it in the cupboard) and three tablespoons of water for the flax eggs, and they formed much more stable rounds before baking. One more thing – if you’d like to try this recipe, don’t reach for the eggs – these are fantastic without them!

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