Thursday, 29 May 2014

Taming Tamales

Having recently bought 'A Vegan Taste of Mexico' it reminded me that I hadn't made tamales for a fair while. It was therefore about time that I did and also wrote about this not very well known corny treat.

Tamales are parcels of corn dough stuffed with whatever filling you like.  They are traditionally packaged up and steamed in corn husks but you can also use things like banana leaves (if you have them hanging around - like you do!) or foil, as the wrapping is thrown away afterwards. Being traditionalists we managed to find some corn husks to use but you do need to soak the husks for an hour or so beforehand.

Okay so there is a bit of fiddling around with parceling them up but with practice tamales can be tamed.  Also it is worth sourcing the traditional masa harina (which is basically corn meal) as the taste is so much nicer.  However beyond that, they are really not that hard to make.  

Take 300g of masa harina and mix with 1 teaspoon of baking powder, a touch of salt, 100g margarine and 175ml vegetable stock until you get a soft dough.  Now choose your wrapper but if you choose foil, give it a bit of a greasing first.  What you are aiming to do is put a big old 'blob' of dough on each wrapper and get some of the filling of your choice in the centre by moulding the dough around it.  Then wrap that all up and steam until the dough is nicely set. This usually takes about an hour for our corn husk wrapped ones but foil can take a bit longer. We tend to steam ours on a wire rack covered in foil over a water filled baking tray in the oven but a normal stove top steamer is fine too.

The last time we made them we used sun dried tomatoes with a hint of chilli sauce for the filling but there are countless tasty combos you could encase inside your corny parcels.  I might try cheesy beany ones next time and remember, it doesn't have to be a savoury filling either.

Unwrap and enjoy!

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Cofresh Creamy Dill Chips

Creamy Dill Hummus ChipsWho doesn't like a bag of naughty crisps every now and then? But
that's the thing; they often make you feel naughty afterwards for indulging in an impure glut of prepackaged guilt.  Not so much with one of our favourite snack treats at the moment as Cofresh's Creamy Dill flavoured Hummus Chips have an ingredients list that doesn't require reference to the periodic table and have 30% less fat than regular potato chips.  That means we can eat 30% more right? They are also delicious and very much on the moreish side of the snack scale.
Cofresh Creamy Dill Lentil Chips 113g
British company Cofresh make these Hummus Chips from chick peas and they have a range of other snacks made from equally tasty alternatives and flavours, our other firm favourite being their Creamy Dill Lentil Chips.  At the moment we only seem to be able to find them in a limited amount of health food stores so keep an eye out for these tasty, not so naughty snacks and check out their whole range on their website.

Friday, 23 May 2014


We've been digging the taco vibe recently.  The crunchy oozing shells of tacos next to a side of salad styling is totally hitting the right summery spot at the moment.  My personal favourite filling is portabello mushrooms oven baked with a splash of olive oil, a generous splosh of vegan Worcestershire sauce, a dribble of balsamic, a grind of black pepper, a scattering of chilli and as much of a snorkel of garlic I can sneak in when Phil isn't looking.  

However, we did hit upon a tasty addition to this umami mushroomy delight the other day.  It was a solitary sweet potato on our vegetable rack that did it.  It had been there a while and was, quite frankly, just asking to be used. The oven was already on for the mushrooms so I just bunged it in with no clear idea of what for.  Then it hit me; a bit of mashed up potato sweetness in the bottom of the taco, topped with a slither of Vegusto cheese and then the mushrooms, may be just the thing to get the party in the taco moving towards a Mexican rave (or is that wave?).  

Either way, it was a very happy accident/make it up as you go along experience.  There are no photos I'm afraid; they got eaten way too fast.  

Taco shells + sweet potatoes + mushrooms = Tacotastic.


Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Bellissima Cibo Vegan

Two of the vegan cookery books I treated myself to recently were Italian.  Italian cuisine has to be my favorite so naturally they are the first books I have started to trawl through in great detail.  Both now have many of their page corners turned over in anticipation of many kitchen sessions over the next few weeks.  In fact we have already started.

Our first Italian session was a multi-dish affair with a view to not only producing a dinner for later that evening but also to provide some tasty work lunches for the following days.   This was a joint effort with Phil concentrating on the two lunch morsels whilst I got going with the dinner.  

I chose, from ‘A Vegan Taste of Italy’ a Spinach and Pistachio Cannelloni but actually used chard from the garden in place of the spinach in the recipe.  This gave the dish a rather more earthy flavour which cut nicely through the creamy cheesy filling and sauce.  The pistachios, of which only 75g/3oz are needed in total, added a beautiful nutty edge to the filling and particularly so to the breadcrumb and nut topping.  All in all it was a winner and has got a definite tick to make again after I have tried the Aubergine and Hazelnut Cannelloni which follows on the next page of the book.

Phil meanwhile was cooking the Pizza Calzone recipe from the same book (we had some page shuffling as a result). He had got the pizza dough going earlier in the day and was now getting the filling together. This was a tasty combo of mixed peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms, onion, garlic, vegan mozzarella cheese, sun-dried tomato paste, oregano (fresh from our garden) and black pepper.  Wrestling the filling into the delicate pizza dough didn't look terribly easy but then again I was struggling with stuffing my cannelloni tubes with the chard filling at the time so wasn't of much help.  Swearing a little seemed to help but would have perhaps been more authentic in Italian.  I have to say it was all worth it as the results were beautiful and an impressive and tasty alternative to a Cornish pasty for lunch.

Next up for Phil was Farinata (Chickpea 'Pancake') from 'Nonna's Italian Kitchen'.  This is a simple combination of gram flour, oil, water, salt and pepper to make the actual pancake but then topped with whatever takes your fancy before it is popped in the oven to bake for 15 minutes.  In this particular case Phil chose roasted red peppers and oregano. Again, what a lovely lunch treat it proved to be. 

Our first 'Italian session' cooking from these two books has certainly given us the taste to work our way through those turned over page corners!! 

Bellissima cibo vegan!!

Friday, 16 May 2014

Seagull Season

Seagulls are amazing birds and the epitome of seaside living.  They can be amusing and annoying in equal measure.  

An example of amusing was demonstrated this evening whilst in a local supermarket car park. A van drove past us looking for a parking space and on top of this van were two seagulls just cruising around like it was the most normal thing in the world to hitch a ride.  I'm not sure how long they had been on top of the van; perhaps they had hitched a ride into town and not just around the car park.  They certainly seemed very cool, much to the amusement of other passers by.  I wished I had had my camera with me.

An example of annoying is the constant banging, mating and general nest preparation on top of our house roof at about 5 in the morning.  It won't be long before Phil is singled out in shrieks of alarm by our roof nesters too every time he leaves or returns to the house.  And all for the crime of returning any fallen chicks up to their roosts in previous years.  It seems the seagulls not only return year after year to the same nest site, but they also have long memories.

Whatever your thoughts or experiences with seagulls, nobody could deny they are beautiful, canny and graceful creatures (apart from at 5 in the morning!).

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Life's A Beach

Could it be true?  Is summer finally here?  Are the golden after work evenings of wandering on the beach, surfing, pottering in the garden and generally larking around in the sunshine finally upon us?  We sincerely hope so.

The sun certainly has its way of energising and inspiring.  I got up for work as usual at 6.30pm. Phil didn't need to today but shortly after I had crept out the bedroom he appeared in a flourish of surfing anticipation.  The tide was good and the sun was shining and that was enough to stir him from his slumber.  He was off and out of the door before I had even left for work.  It was a good move too as this evening the surf was much more crowded.  Instead of another surf we enjoyed an after dinner saunter down to the beach to watch the crowds from the dunes instead.

This is most definitely my favourite time of year here in Cornwall.  The anticipation of the (hopefully) warm and sunny summer stretched out ahead of us is wonderful.  It is also before the crowds arrive, although it never gets too busy in our particular neck of the woods; just a little happy buzz from the summer holiday makers.
The weekend weather is looking good too so fingers crossed, perhaps summer really has started now.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

I Blame The Bananas

The sun was shining and I was feeling the stir of repeating the ten mile running route I had undertaken a couple of weeks back.  It was about time I put in another longer run.  All the way on the drive home from work I was thinking about this but I got home and found the bananas and that was that. Before you think I have gone bananas; let me explain.

I'm not one to waste food and these three overripe bananas were sat there on the kitchen table calling out to be used.  My favourite way of using up overripe bananas is in a Banana, Nut and Carob Cake (this time we used walnuts as that is what we had).  It doesn't take five minutes to get the mixture for this cake ready to put in the oven but it takes a while to cook it. Not enough time for me to commit to a big run but too long for me to be bothered to want to do it after a big run later tonight.

Then there was dinner.  Phil had ideas of a pasta dish and said he would cook it once he had gone for a quick surf (he wanted to catch high tide) but once the idea of having the oven on for a cake came up, the idea of the pasta dish being a roasted Mediterranean vegetable one sneaked in.  This could clearly be cooking whilst he was surfing. Yet another excuse, I mean reason, for me to have to stick around and not take off for a couple of hours of running. Clearly.

Okay, I admit, I was making excuses and I had even more lined up beyond just having to babysit the oven.  I hadn't actually eaten a whole lot during the day and was feeling a little weak and feeble anyway.  In my defence, I blasted out a 6K run in half my lunch break yesterday, am going to a lunchtime spinning class tomorrow, a lunchtime yoga class on Thursday and intend to fit in at least a 5K again lunchtime on Friday.  Not bad for an 'old girl' I told myself, making further unconvincing excuses to nobody else but me.  

With the cake and the veg cooking away in the oven I still felt a hint of self nagging.  Damn it. There was nothing for it, I had to at least have a little run to shut myself up.  So I donned my running shoes and my watch and took off down to the end of the headland to take a peek at the sea.  It is a mere 3/4 of a mile each way but at least the oven wouldn't notice my few minutes of absence.  

It felt good.  Granted it probably didn't feel as good as a few more miles and a few less excuses would have felt but at least I did it.  In the meantime, seriously, I blame the bananas.  They started it.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Piracy in Modern Day Cornwall!

Some 'propur' Cornish silliness now....
Penzance, right down there in the west of Cornwall,  is hoping to smash the Guinness Book of Records for the number of Pirates in one place at the same time. They're making a weekend festival out of it that includes music and drama, sun and sea, and climaxes with the count of the pirates on the promenade on the Bank Holiday Monday 26 May. 

14,231 pirates are needed to beat the record set by Hastings in 2012 (there seems to be a frequent challenge between Hastings and Penzance it seems).  There are definitely way more pirates in Cornwall so I can't see that being a problem!!  I'm just wondering how they count them all?!
If you fancy a bit of piracy, get yerself down 'ere me mateys!   - Pirates on the Prom 2014 

And here is the BBC's account of the last attempt back in 2011 in Penzance - Pirates 2011
My favourite line is;  "We even had dogs dressed up, although they didn't get counted."

Sunday, 11 May 2014


There are many reasons to not eat meat or dairy products, but the ones that people are perhaps most ignorant of are the environmental reasons.  This is demonstrated by the amount of so called environmental organisations who often ignore or even actively suppress the widespread knowledge of the impact of industrial animal farming on the natural world.  Perhaps they are more concerned with membership numbers, fundraising and promoting their single causes, rather than having to question the lifestyle choices and beliefs of themselves, their followers and their sources of funding.  This is one of the subjects tackled in the documentary Cowspiracy, and they are currently seeking funding to be able to spread this under represented side of the story far and wide.

The term "conspiracy" has lately been hijacked by the media in order to degrade the topic it is linked with; to mock the subject and make it seem like a bunch of paranoid idiots have taken up a worthless cause.  In this way the subject is neutralised and made safe.  All this to keep the majority of people comfortable and asleep in the knowledge that "the experts" have everything worked out, for all our best interests.  This film turns the tables and exposes the lengths that people and large corporations will go to both for profit, and for maintaining a corrupt and destructive system.  In this sense, Cowspiracy is a very apt title!

To learn more and contribute to getting this important film out there go to  - 


How Many Surf Boards?

It's not often I treat myself to something other than food.  I don't buy many clothes and when I do it is normally something I have found in a charity shop.  Occasionally I will buy a new CD here and there. Books however are more my downfall and especially cooking books.  I normally just wait till I find them in charity shops but recently I fancied treating myself.  I bought a total of 8 and in my defence, all of them were second hand.  When Phil found out I had ordered so many he made the comment that surely I had enough vegan cooking books. My answer was that you can never have enough vegan cooking books and asked him whether he felt he had enough surf boards.  I never heard a peep out of him after that.

The value of the new editions to my heaving cooking book shelf was clearly demonstrated further to Phil on cooking my first recipe from one of them; Vegetarian Soups For All Seasons. I opened it up on page 52 to find a Winter Celery, Potato and Mushroom Soup.  Admittedly it is not winter here anymore, although Cornwall is currently doing quite a good impression of it with the absence of springtime sunshine, but we did have a load of celery that was crying out to be used.  We also had all the other ingredients to hand so I set to work on it.

Winter Celery, Potato and Mushroom Soup
Page 52 of Vegetarian Soups for All Seasons by Nava Atlas

This is our summarized version of the recipe!

2 tablespoons oil
1 large onion chopped
2 tablespoons plain flour
5 cups of vegetable stock
4 large celery stalks (and leaves) diced
3 medium potatoes diced
1/3 cup of barley rinsed
2 bay leaves
Sprinkle of oregano (it says 2 tsp salt free herb and spice seasoning mix in book)
1/2 pound chopped mushrooms
1 cup frozen green peas
1.5 to 2 cups of non dairy milk (we used almond milk)
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Fry the onion in the oil until golden.
2. Sprinkle in the flour and stir until disappeared then slowly pour in the stock and stir.
3. Add the celery, potatoes, barley and bay leaves and simmer 15 minutes (covered).
4. Add the mushrooms and herbs and simmer for 30 minutes till the barley is tender.
5. Add the peas, milk and salt and pepper and simmer for another 10 minutes.

This soup is a lovely creamy thick affair.  It is also very filling, especially with a little tasty sourdough on the side.  This recipe is for 6 servings so we had enough left over to enjoy the next day too.  It does thicken as it cools, as indeed it mentions in the recipe, so you will need to add a little milk or water to thin it out a bit the next time you heat it up.

Most of the recipes in this book are vegan but nearly all of them that aren't can be adapted.  It was most definitely a good buy and a book that I am sure to revisit on many occasions.

So there Phil!