Lemon drizzle cake

In a few day’s time, I will have submitted my last ever university requirement. I’m currently rounding off a dissertation on the intersection of vegetarianism and feminism in Victorian England: the vegetarian movement (an umbrella term for abstinence from meat and or/animal products) recognised women’s importance in social reform, so encouraged females to get involved. I’ve found it an interesting topic, and enjoyed trawling through the Vegetarian Messenger archives at the British Library. But. Submitting this dissertation will mean no more essays – ever. At this point in my education, when I am completely and utterly done with spending half of my waking moments in the library and stooping under the weight of books in my backpack, this idea is extremely liberating. Although dissertation hand-in moves me one step closer to graduation, unemployment, and moving back home, to be finished with education is VERY EXCITING.

On another note, my housemate recently decided to go fully vegan, and we’ve made a commitment to vegan baking every weekend. It’s proved a nice stress relief, and cake on weekday evenings is a godsend after hours of reading my own writing over and over again.

I would love to experiment with making my own cakes, but for the moment I’m trying out different recipes and getting a taste for different flavours. I hope that sharing my experience with other readers inspires vegans and non-vegans alike to get stuck in making really good dairy and egg-free cakes.

This lemon drizzle cake is spot on: moist, sweet, and flavoursome. My housemate was concerned that it’s a little too moist, even after decreasing the amount of oil; it would be worth swapping the oil out for vegan butter. Nevertheless, I heartily recommend giving it a go anyway.

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Six months as a vegan

Admittedly, six months is a mere blink of the eye in the relative scheme of things. But this period of time as a vegan is something of a milestone, and a learning curve if I’ve ever had one. I’ve made a few observations in this short duration.

  • Being a vegan can be alienating. I live with three ladies: one is almost vegan, the other two are entirely omnivorous. I watch them crack eggs and fry bacon with a strangled outrage. It’s hard to wrap my head around the fact that for most of the population, eating animal products is as normal as sunrise and Monday mornings.  My brain is hard-wired onto a different plane of thinking, and my eyes see through another lens; it is difficult to cast myself down on to the level of un-caring I used to occupy. I’m angry, but I always refrain from comments and ‘preachy’ statements. I know that I am not entitled to judge, but cannot view their dietary choices in any other way.
  • Social media can be illuminating, but contributes to this alienation. We live in a society where the information we consume is freely adapted to our own tastes: we can filter out what we don’t want to read and focus entirely on what we like. A reality confirmation bias, you could call it. My Instagram feed is and always will be a continuous stream of food, cats, and artful coffee shop snaps. Now, the food featured almost exclusively vegan, which obscures the fact that my lifestyle is a minority one, numbing me from reality. Subscribing only to vegan feeds causes me to forget what society’s norm really is.
  • There are people who just will never understand. At Christmas my grandma grilled me on why I have chosen this lifestyle. After a discussion on why grass-fed cows are still not a valid option, she said “Well, at least they’ve had a nice life.” Talking with her is probably pointless. If for seventy years, meat has been a daily feature on her table, then it would take a near miracle to persuade her to change. I can discuss the issues with her more; but it’s disheartening to accept that there are battles which may never be won.
  • My choice is empowering. I have always had difficulty in speaking out and defending my corner. With veganism, my self-consciousness melts away with fervour. I am quickly frustrated and often upset by the intransigence of others, but it’s a learning curve.
  • My health has improved. Certain bodily functions are no longer an issue; I have put on a stone, and my muscles have taken on better definition. I feel less tired, more energised. My skin hasn’t cleared up, though, but no-one said veganism cured everything.
  • Cooking has become more exciting. I try different flavours and dishes far more often than I used to. I’m more open-minded to cooking with different ingredients, and I’ve come round to tofu. Feeding myself now is more creative and experimental.

Here’s to another six months – in the grand scheme of many.

Butternut squash and carrot soup

It’s definitely soup season. With chillier afternoons and cold evenings, I crave warm and comforting bowls of chilli, stew, or soup, the latter with a doorstop of crusty bread for the dual purposes of dunking and mopping up last vestiges. And if such simple things as bread and soup don’t cheer me on a winter night, then I fear nothing will.

As butternut squash is abundant right now, and delicious, I bought one and then sat a long time looking at it, considering its possibilities. A previous squash had made a vegan mac ‘n’ cheese; another quarter was roasted in a dish with other vegetables, with rosemary from my garden. This one, I decided, was destined for soup.

Carrot and cumin make for a beautiful combination, earthy and mildly sweet: and the squash added another layer of sweetness. I added chickpeas to mine, although these can be easily omitted for a lighter meal.

You’ll need, for two generous portions:

  • half of one medium-sized butternut squash
  • two carrots
  • one medium-sized brown onion
  • tin of chickpeas (optional)
  • two cloves of garlic
  • half of one small red chilli
  • cumin seeds
  • cayenne pepper
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper

There are two ways to go about cooking the squash: either cut in half and roast for an hour, skin-side down, in a little water; or go through the lengthy process of removing the skin, deseeding, and chopping into cubes.

Whichever way you choose, begin the soup by toasting half a tbsp of cumin seeds until aromatic. Roughly chop the onion, and cook on a low heat until softened. Add finely chopped garlic and chilli, fry briefly, then add the toasted cumin.

Roughly chop the carrot into small pieces, put in the pan, and pour in 200-300ml of  vegetable stock. If using pre-cooked squash, scoop the flesh out of the skin and add to the pan; if using uncooked cubes, drop them in. To bulk the soup out, you could add chickpeas or a cooked potato (sweet would be interesting).

Simmer for half an hour, or until the carrot and squash are tender. Blitz to the desired consistency, using a stick blender or food processor – I left mine relatively smooth, with the occasional chunk. Season and stir in chopped coriander before ladling into bowls. Add a swirl of plain soy-based yogurt and sprinkle with cayenne pepper.

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Big fat Chocolate Cake

What are Sundays for? Let’s be honest – unless we’re working or studying – even if we’re working or studying – Sundays can often drag. And what’s one of my favourite ways of utilising free time, to the benefit of myself and other people? Cleaning. Yes, that – but, preferably, baking.

As part of my eager search for vegan bakes, to prove that it’s possible for cake to not contain any animal products and still taste like cake, I chanced upon this recipe from the Buddhist Chef on Facebook. His video of the cake being made was more than enough for inspiration: before it was even mid-way through, I’d settled my heart on making it.

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How can a cake be vegan and still look this good, you say? How has it achieved that seductive rise? Bicarbonate of soda and vinegar. Not just for foaming atop of your eight-year-old self’s clumsily-made volcano. And no, the taste of the vinegar is not detectable at all. This cake tastes fantastic: the sponge is neither too rich nor too plain. Do add the icing and cashews, both for aesthetic and flavour purposes.

You’ll need:

  • 3 cups / 430g plain flour
  • 1 1/2 cup / 280g caster sugar
  • tsp salt
  • 2 tsp bicarbonate soda
  • 1/4 cup / 30g good quality cocoa powder (I used Bourneville)
  • 1 cup / 250ml vegetable oil (ok, so this seemed like a huge amount, so I cut it down to 150ml. I think my cake was stodgier as a result; so perhaps don’t skimp)
  • 1 1/2 cup / 375ml soya milk
  • 1/4 cup / 60ml vinegar (the recipe wasn’t clear on which type of vinegar – I went for white wine, having used it before in a similar recipe)
  • For the icing:
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups / 230g icing sugar
  • 1/4 cup / 30g cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup / 60ml soy milk
  • 1/4 cup / 40g cashew nuts

Begin by preheating the oven to 175 degrees Celsius, or 350 Fahrenheit. Oil a 9 inch springform pan (I used the circular pan I always use).

Sift together the flour, sugar, and cocoa powder in a large bowl. Add the bicarbonate and salt before mixing well with a wooden spoon.

In a jug, mix the oil and soy milk. I added 2 tsps of vanilla extract here for the sponge. Pour this into the flour mix, and stir very well until combined.

Add the vinegar, and stir until smooth – the batter will become considerably more liquidy.

Pour the mixture into the pan, and bake in the centre of the oven for 30 to 45 minutes; it’s ready when a toothpick inserted comes out clean. In the meantime, combine the ingredients for the icing in a bowl – I halved everything, and used icing sugar only to taste. Once the cake has cooled, drizzle over the icing, letting it drip down the sides. Crush the cashews and sprinkle on top.

I strongly reccommend a browse through the Buddhist Chef’s recipes: there are so many I’d like to try – tofu scramble, falafel burgers, cookies, even vegan mayo. Give it a look!

 

Avocado and sweetcorn quinoa salad

In the midst of exam season, food is one of the only things which keeps me sane. Taking time out to cook a decent meal after a day of revision is therapy to an over-saturated mind, and really helps me to shake off some of the stress. Bulk-cooking ensures I’m not eating beans on toast when I come home, too tired to do anything else.

Thankfully, the worst of my exams are now over, and I’ve been enjoying some well-deserved downtime: cooking, going for coffee and cake, eating out. Also, I can get back to blogging without feeling as though I’m committing some kind of sacrilege against my degree.

So I thought I’d share one of my favourite salads, one of many lunches eaten at a desk in a crowded library, or outside for ten minutes of snatched sunlight. I’ve tried many combinations of veggies, and have managed to isolate a few which really work. Avocado and sweetcorn is one: the former is a good source of fat to fill me up for longer, and the sweetness of the corn compliments the balsamic vinegar very well.

In general, I eat every weekday lunch at uni, so every night I pre-prepare something to eat to take with me the next day. Although food outlets on campus aren’t too bad, there’s no way I can afford to buy food everyday: spending £3 on a reasonable meal would equate to £15 per week – over a ten-week term, that’s £150, guys.

So it’s become part of my evening ritual to throw together a sandwich or a salad ready to put in my bag the next day. Quinoa and couscous are gloriously versatile as the basis of salads – they’re easy to cook, and go well with just about anything. (I used to hate quinoa, until I realised that eating it cooked simply in water was doing it no favours. Simmering it in vegetable stock is a good way to go, or letting it absorb the flavours of salad dressings. With couscous, you can pour boiling water over the top, cover, and leave to stand for a few minutes, before fluffing it up and seasoning it well.)

For the salad, all you’ll need is:

  • quinoa / couscous
  • half an avocado
  • a few tablespoonfuls of sweetcorn
  • salad leaves (ideally, rocket or another peppery leaf)
  • red onion
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil
  • balsamic vinegar

 

If you prefer quinoa, simmer for ten minutes on a low heat. I tend to go for half a mugful. Once it’s absorbed all the water and is fluffy,  add a good squeeze of lemon, season, and mix. If you prefer to cook it in vegetable stock, go for it.

Simply chop the avocado into rough chunks (if you’re keeping the other half in the fridge, add a few drops of lemon to stop it going brown). Cook the sweetcorn in the microwave or in a pan, drain, and add to the pan – or heap everything straight into a container. Chop or tear your salad leaves, along with a quarter of a sliced red or spring onion. Drizzle with olive oil, dress with plenty of balsamic vinegar, and season. Incorporate everything, pop the lid on the container and shake it round, round, and all around.

Place in the fridge until it’s needed – and voila. An easy, healthy, and tasty lunch, with no hefty price tag.

 

Work experience on BBC GoodFood magazine

Recently, I’ve been pondering the future with some uncertainty and much apprehension. Over halfway through my degree, it won’t be long until I’m waving goodbye to the comforting walls of the education sanctuary – but, with only a half-formed career goal in mind, a independent income seems a long, long journey away. (Owning my own house is an idea I don’t bother idly speculating about: reality confronts me squarely and laughs in my face.) It seemed wise, then, to combine the only two interests and skills I have – food, and writing.

Food writing, though, is just like journalism: a very difficult nut to crack. There are different forms, roles, and limited doors in. Yet, why not follow what you love? My dream job is on a food magazine, naturally for someone who loves anything to do with food: cooking, eating, writing, and reading about everything from aioli to novelty egg separators.

After months of drafting CVs, making fruitless emails, and tweaking covering letters, I finally succeeded in securing an actual work experience placement on a food magazine; and not just any magazine, but BBC GoodFood, at the very top of the game. I was overwhelmed to even hear back from them, especially as I’d sent off my application with no expectation whatsoever of receiving a response – so much so, that I almost didn’t send it.

For anyone who isn’t familiar with BBC GoodFood: it’s the crème de la crème of food magazines, even with its own television channel. I consult its website often for recipes, ideas, and inspiration; spend hours combing through each edition; and have a backlog of editions at home. It’s my secret ambition to work there – or not so secret.

 

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I was extremely nervous on the morning of my first day, for pretty obvious reasons. I’ve never commuted to London before, but once I’d successfully made the two-train journey for the first time, every successive one felt like second nature. Needless to say, I felt quite small around the team: the editors, cookery writers and designers have years of skill and experience under their belts, degrees to which I aspire. What surprised me to begin with was the quietness of the office, and the sheer absorption of everyone in their work – but in reflection, that’s testament to the quality of the magazine and the dedication of everyone who works on it.

In my week of work (because of the short notice, I couldn’t make the whole two weeks), I had a go at range of different tasks. My first responsibility involved skimming a week’s worth of newspapers and selecting any snippets relating to food, which was great fun. Next, I helped out in preparing for and taking part in a strawberry jam taste test. Alongside putting together a Pinterest board on Father’s Day gift ideas, visiting a proper fishermonger’s, and getting lost in an Ideal Home show, I assisted in printing invoices and totalling receipts for the test kitchen’s finances, and reformatting GoodFood recipes for Easycook magazine.

Easycook’s editor was very generous in sitting down with me, taking an interest in my background and ambitions, and talking me through how to use software. Under his guidance, I even got to select recipes and think up a headline for a chipotle feature, to go in the October edition.

One considerable perk of the job was food brought out to the staff from the test kitchen. Sampling food I would happily pay for was my greedy stomach’s dream come true; I tried ice cream, tarts, blancmange, cakes… How nobody on the team is morbidly obese, I cannot fathom.

It was an all-round fantastic experience: travelling and getting to know central London by myself (and manipulating the Tube in a week of delays and a strike); seeing a group of talented people in their element; picking up new skills; and getting to grips with how a food magazine is produced. Work experience is so incredibly valuable to anyone considering a career in journalism – if you’re unsure as to whether you’re suited to it, or aren’t having much luck in getting responses, stick at it. It will be worth it in the end!

 

 

Jamie’s Italian, York

Have you ever enjoyed a meal out at a particular restaurant so much, that you’re back within the week? It sounds rather luxurious, the spontaneous whim of a spendthrift. But after visiting on one Friday for a friend’s birthday, I recommended it to my family visiting the next Friday (for a dinner I happily didn’t have to pay for).

I always look forward to other people’s birthdays, and for the excuse to eat out. My friends and I discuss our options with the gravity of politicians before making a rational and well-reasoned decision on location, time, and day. The birthday girl was eager to introduce us Jamie’s Italian, being a big fan herself, and came armed with her shiny Gold Card.

The York restaurant is quite tucked away, to the extent that some aren’t aware of its existence. Outside, there is a pretty al fresco seating area, which I can imagine is lovely in the summer. Inside is stylishly furnished, spread across three floors; although with slightly dim lighting, and limited bar seating, the bathrooms surprised me with their Italian piazza-style tiling, golden taps, and pink toilets.

The menu consists of a range of pasta dishes, grills, salads, and sides, with an extensive starter and dessert list. There’s an impressive range of cocktails, well worth their price, and beer is served in classy glasses. One thing to bear in mind before ordering is that the menu offers small and large portions of pasta dishes, meaning that you can fit in a three course meal without leaving uncomfortably full; or, if you’re a budgeting student, you can feel pleased with yourself for saving a few pounds. And then there’s the Jamie’s Gold card: by signing up for free, you’re entitled to a free bottle of Prosecco or Lambrusco, a complimentary mini-starter, and a discount.

 

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Jamie’s Mojito

 

The two visits sufficed to give me a very favourable impression of the restaurant as a whole. Staff are friendly and chatty, service is prompt, and the food is great. I’ll pick a few selections from the dishes my two respective groups ordered over the two evenings.

The starters menu is very diverse, putting a spin on classics: there were pork scratchings with apple sauce; crab and avocado bruschetta; baked chestnut mushrooms; Italian nachos; and olives ‘on ice’. The bruschetta had a strong chilli kick, fantastic with the creamy avocado; the mushrooms were loaded with gooey mozzarella cheese (although probably overpriced at £5.75), and the nachos were fantastically flavoured: stuffed with threes type of cheese with a hint of smokiness, and accompanied by a chunky and sweet tomato dipping sauce.

 

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On my first trip, I opted for the meat pappardelle with a rocket and parmesan salad; when it arrived, I was concerned that it wasn’t enough: but I was happily mistaken. The sauce was rich in flavour, the pork tender. On my second visit, I chose one of the specials – pan-fried cod with butternut squash, on a bed of lentils. My dad shared my concern regarding size this time, and we ordered some garlic bread to share. For the £15 price tag, it did seem expensive for the portion size: but bearing in mind that good quality fish is not cheap to come by, I’m not complaining. The fish was soft, and the squash sweet: all was served beautifully with a drizzle of oil. I also sampled the pumpkin ravioli, deliciously sweet with nutty overtones. This time, though, portion size was undeniably petite.

 

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Desserts were a molten chocolate cake with salted caramel ice cream; lemon meringue cheesecake; ice cream with a variety of toppings, including berry compote and butterscotch; and tiramisu. If anything, do not leave without tasting the ice cream – it’s fantastic. I savoured every mouthful of the cake, and helped to polish off my friend’s slice of fluffy and rich cheesecake.

 

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I’d reccommend Jamie’s Italian on the strength of its dining experience, service, and food. Although some portions could have been a bit more generous, taste was faultless; everything was well worth its price.