Tag Archives: dairy-free

Cookies And Dreams

  

Last night, I dreamt that I was in New York standing outside the vegan equivalent of a ‘Millie’s Cookies’ store. It was baking hot, and I was second from the front in a mile long queue looking up at an array of neon lights advertising things like ‘dark and chunky double choc’ and ‘dairy-free ice-cream dream’; and I was so excited by the prospect of claiming my chewy, soft-baked treat, that when I got to the kiosk my mind went blank and I couldn’t think what to order.

 This, of course, is exactly the sort of thing that would happen to me in real life. If Antonia was with me, we’d go to Caffe Nero beforehand and spend an hour enthusiastically writing a list of our top favourite cookie flavours – and then we’d write a reserve list just in case they ran out of our first choices; and then we’d get to the front of the queue and end up spending an absolute fortune by buying one of everything, and probably make ourselves sick.

 I got my dream cookie in the end – a double chilli chocolate one with pieces of sour cherries and brazil nuts, and its circumference matched my handspan – and as I walked along in the sunshine I bit into it… and Antonia nudged me awake.

 After that, I couldn’t stop thinking about cookies and ice-cream all morning. And two hours later, I found this recipe: [cookieshttp://www.veganbaking.net/recipes/cookies/chocolate-chip-cookies] And, despite my previous multiple kitchen disasters, I was inspired to give biscuit-making another chance. Because, with the exception of the three egg-free cookies I bought in Edinburgh’s ‘Forest Café’ back in 2005, I have personally never managed to find a shop-bought vegan cookie that has lived up to my expectations in terms of chewiness.

That’s not to say that I think other commercially-made cookies are rubbish – I don’t – although the one I bought in the American Sweet shop in Glasgow a couple of years ago tasted like I was eating sawdust out of an armpit. I love the ‘Lazy Days’ shortbread rounds (which of course aren’t meant to be chewy) and I think it’s a amazing that a tiny wee company from a little-known Scottish village has earned shelf-space in mainstream supermarkets with a product that has been aimed at a minority palate. My gripes with other vegan cookie brands are that their products are far too sweet or too crumbly – and that’s entirely down to personal preference; when Antonia and I discovered ‘Going Against The Grain’ (another dairy-free, egg-free and gluten-free company), she mowed through her fun-size sachet and saved my uneaten ones for later.

 I followed my recipe to the letter. And blamed the oven when after fifteen minutes my cookies remained squishy. After twenty-five minutes, I gave up trying to get them to ‘cook’. I later realised they’d come out exactly as they were supposed to; just like they did all those other times when I chucked my soggy hot-mess ‘failures’ in the bin. I didn’t know, and the recipe didn’t say, that you are supposed to leave them for half an hour to set.

 Antonia loved my chewy chocolate chip cookies. And so did her gran. And so did I.

 I think I’ll make chilli-chocolate ones next…

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Recipe For Disaster

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Today I tried to make strawberry rocky road bars. ‘Tried’ being the operative word. Because I am rather well-known for my culinary catastrophes: brick-like biscuits, disintegrating scones and short bread fingers that’ve emerged from the oven as dough balls; not forgetting the rice milk I once spent six hours preparing as a romantic gesture for Antonia, which she later told me tasted like sewage. Despite this, and that fact that I prefer savoury foods to sweet ones, I would much rather spend the afternoon stirring cake mixture than watching lentils browning  in a pan.

The rocky road bar recipe which appeared in the May issue of ‘Vegan Life’ magazine (http://veganlifemag.co.uk/) should have been easy enough: there were eight ingredients (plain chocolate, golden syrup, margarine, strawberries, an apple, almonds, dried cherries and icing sugar to sprinkle on the top) and four simple instructions none of which involved timing or an oven; and I imagine most people (vegans and non-vegans alike) would have managed to go to their nearest supermarket, collect the aforementioned ingredients, and then gone on home to complete the task within … oh, half an hour.

Not me though.

To be fair, the rocky roads were not the first thing to catch my eye in the magazine. I’ d originally fancied making the double chocolate pie on the opposite page (59) – and that would probably have been a better bet seeing as I have an uncanny knack for making anything and everything that contains pastry turn out pretty much perfect – however,

despite the thrill of a pie crust made of Oreos which contained a rather yummy sounding strawberry filling, I was put off by the fact that the recipe was a tad more complicated,  and more importantly, involved a food processor; and aside from the fact that I’m slightly scared of food processors (I like all of my fingers attached to my hands), it had been so long since I used mine that I couldn’t  remember how all the parts fitted together.

However, having decided that I was definitely going to bake something today, I spent another full  hour deliberating over all the different dessert recipes I could try out, before narrowing my options down to blue-berry choux pastry or rocky road.  (I had been threatening to make choux pastry for months,  ever since my friend, Sophie, gifted me the Welsh vegan cook book ‘The Voluptuous Vole’).  And in the end, I decided that I’d go to the shops and make the choice whilst I was there, depending on whatever ingredients I saw first.

Stupid plan.

Stupid, stupid plan.

I understand that sometimes it is difficult to get a hold of certain vegan ingredients – things like silken tofu and egg replacing powder aren’t exactly thick on the ground.  But chocolate?  Blueberries, for god’s sake!?

I was lucky to get the last two punnets of strawberries in the second supermarket I went to (that was after the detour to two health food shops).  And by the time I returned home, another two hours had past. I didn’t manage to get the dried cherries so I decided to add some kirsch instead (I had a quarter of a bottle left over from the black forest gateaux I made last xmas).  And I didn’t see the harm in melting together the various different dairy-free chocolate bars I had at home (they were all dark chocolate even if one was espresso-flavoured  and another had orange and geranium through it).  I added some freeze dried raspberry pieces and cranberries too just for the hell of it, and when I licked the spoon I thought the melty chocolate mixture tasted damn good.

In all honesty, I don’t know what want wrong.  I had a little trouble chopping the almonds and when I finally added them to the mixture the chocolate had gone a bit clumpy.   When Antonia saw my creation the first thing she said was: ‘Oh dear, hen, it doesn’t really look like the picture in the magazine, does it?’

I harrumphed.

Earlier, I ‘d given my friend, Fiona, a running commentary on my shopping and baking experience; and I did say the rocky road bars were ‘either going to be marvellous or dreadful’.

I can confirm, they were anything but marvellous.  In fact, in my opinion, my rocky road bars more closely resembled a muddy road, and they tasted like one too.  Antonia, on sampling them, very kindly said they were ‘not that bad’, but added that the biggest mistake I made was baking enough for about sixty people when there are just two of us.

Antonia takes a bite
Antonia takes a bite

Confection Perfection

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‘If a confection company produced the perfect candy bar, what would it contain?’

I posed this question to Antonia and her friend, Sarah, when we were sitting outside ‘The Cabin’ (http://cabininthepark.com/today whilst drinking our soya coffees. Sarah said she wished there was a vegan banoffee bar, whilst Antonia misunderstood what I’d said and began listing all the various chocolate bars she’d previously eaten before giving up dairy, right before we descended into a debate about whether or not there had ever existed such a thing as a ‘Peanut Boost’ and what exactly was in a ‘Star Bar’.

Personally, I’ve always preferred savoury to sweet things and crisps and nuts to chocolate and candy (although I did once make the mistake of trying chocolate-flavoured crisps during the early nineties, and in my opinion they were truly, truly vile); but back when I still consumed animal products, I was partial to the occasional ‘Cadbury’s Fruit ‘N’ Nut Bar’ – although to be honest, it was cartoon advert with the wee jingle that I liked best about it: it went something along the lines of ‘everyone’s a fruit and nut case’ and has been stuck in my head ever since; the other thing I remember trying around the same time period (summer of 1993) was a dairy milk block of chocolate that I’m sure had strawberry yoghurt in it and may have been called something like ‘Silk’ or ‘Satin’. Nowadays, I wouldn’t thank you for a rice milk alternative to either of these things; and with the exception of the legendary ‘Vego’ bar and ‘Go Max Go’s vegan version of a ‘Snicker’ aka ‘Jokerz’, I generally avoid sweeties that arent high in cocoa and low on sugar, whilst my super sweet-toothed girlfriend can mow through ‘Moo-Free’ snacks and ‘Mini Moos’ like they are going out of fashion.

I like Booja Booja’s products, for instance their ‘Hunky Punky’ chocolate icecream which contains simply water, agave syrup, cashew nuts and cocoa; and today I finished my second box of Booja Booja luxury truffles since Easter. I think it’s fair to say that if Booja Booja brought out a fist-sized cherry cognac truffle-bar then there’s a chance I’d be a little bit fat. However, being the fitness freak I am, my favourite candy bar would have to be something that contained some combination of superfoods and several different seeds as well as having a fruity middle and a rich dark-chocolatey topping to pique my taste buds. I’ve pretty much described the box of ‘9 Bar Indulges’ that I won a couple of months ago from ‘Vegan Life’ magazine, the same luxury cereal bars I devoured within days of opening and then couldn’t find anywhere in the shops.

I asked Antonia again what her perfect candy bar would be and the conversation went something like this:

Me: Ok, so you can have any kind of candy bar you like.

Antonia: Emmm… I don’t know… A vegan Lion Bar…

Me: Seriously… you could have anything in the world, any ingredient, and that’s what you choose?

Antonia: Uhh, well, I don’t know, a Toffee crisp then…

Me: (sighing) Use your imagination, hen, if you could invent your own sweetie what would it have in it?

Antonia: Oh, well, (she grins and I can almost see a wee lightbulb switching on above her head) I would have rice milk chocolate on a waifter (pause) no, wait, a caramel waifer… plus a layer of that squidgy chocolate stuff that’s in the Boost …obviously it would have to be vegan… and those wee chewy bits you get on the outside of a Toblerone… I think they might be nougat… I would like those on the top … and I want lots of them…

Me: So you don’t want much then.

Later, I googled ‘Peanut Boost’ and ‘Star Bar’ and discovered they were the same thing. Apparently, the Star Bar preceded the Peanut Boost but it was taken off the market and then rebranded, only to later be taken off the market and renamed Starbar once again. I can’t even remember what either of them look or taste like so they couldn’t have been that good.

London Vegan Adventurers

Today, Antonia and I went off on a vegan adventure in London. I suppose you could argue that all our adventures are vegan ones because we are vegans and have been for years, but in this instance we did specifically go in search of previously untried plant-based products and unconquered veggie establishments.

We ended up in Bethnal Green, a part of London I’d never visited. In a cheery wee charity-run coffee-shop called ‘The Gallery Café’ (http://www.stmargaretshouse.org.uk/thegallerycafe/). I was excited to find this place because it had been recommended to me by a chap I’d met last January in ‘Inspiral’ (a vegan café in Camden which overlooks the canal) who told me that it was his favourite food venue in London. And, after sampling the food and the atmosphere, it wasn’t hard to understand why. Between us we ordered a full English breakfast (which was comprised of veggie sausages, beans, mushrooms, toasted sourdough bread and a generous helping of scrambled tofu) and a cheesy, garlicky potato bake with salad. We did our usual eat-half-then-swap-plates, although I ate about three quarters of the food because it was so tasty, and because Antonia has been ill recently and it’s stunted her appetite.

Afterwards, Antonia went to an art exhibition in Whitechapel, and I waddled a few metres along the road to the Museum Of Childhood. I had a really good time looking at all the vintage kids’ games and toys, especially the He-Man figures and the Carebears and the old-fashioned super hero comics. However, I was mildly disturbed by the 1960s stuffed koala bear toy which was a dead-ringer for the koala my mum has had since childhood. According to the placard in the MOC, it was made from kangaroo skin – and I don’t know why this should offend me more than the leather seat of an 80s chopper bike or the many happy plastic farm animals on display, but for some reason it did; and I know I’ll never be able to run my fingers across the fur of mum’s koala toy ever again.

Later, we reconvened and went to Kensington on an egg hunt. I like Hotel Chocolat (because they’ve always catered well for vegans) and I’d heard they had some original Easter goodies. However, the only seasonal dairy-free delicacy I could find was a dark chocolate ‘egg sandwich’, and I couldn’t separate that in my mind from real egg-salad sandwiches. So we sampled a couple of their hot chocolates instead and went along the road to Wholefoods. And despite there being a much wider variety of cruelty-free eggs in this shop, I emerged from the chocolate aisle with a box of Rhubarb and vanilla Booja Booja truffles (and a packet of chicken soup flavoured ‘Ten Acre’ crisps) and Antonia picked a giant Vego bar, some jelly sweets and a bag of marshmallows for her Easter treat.

(We did get some normal foodstuff as well… fat green olives, dairy free almond-cheese spread, veggie haggis… thinking about it is making me salivate so I’ll say no more…)

On the car ride home, I began compiling a list of all the vegetarian and vegan places we’ve ever been to for my new up-and-coming blog page ‘Bean There’ (it was Antonia’s idea), along with a mental plan of where I’m going for my next London Vegan Adventure.