Champagne Cocktails

Whilst I can fully appreciate good cognac and good whisky I have no appreciation what so ever for champagne.

I don't know whether it is something I'll grow into or not, but of all that I've tried costing up to £60 a bottle I've found none that I've enjoyed more than a simple glass of juice. Thus when making cocktails using it I opt for £5-£7 Cava instead.

The infamous Champagne Cocktail (sugar cube, 2 drops bitters, 1 tsp cognac, champagne top) is OK(ish), but nothing to get excited about. Kir Royal I just don't get - it's like lemonade and blackcurrant but way more expensive and not as nice. Bucks fizz (with a dash of Cointreau) is drinkable, but again a complete waste of money.

Blend sorbet and frozen fruit however and you're onto a winner. The bubbles give the slushy iced fruit an almost sherbet type quality - it's a perfect summer afternoon drink.

The basic formula consists of:
  • 100ml Champagne / Cava
  • 50g Frozen Fruit
  • 50g Sorbet
however you can adjust to taste. A splash of fruit juice works (especially if you're trying to make the bottle go further), as does a shot of fruit liqueur (such as Cointreau).

The standard version I've been making for the past few years involves mango sorbet and mixed frozen summer/black forest fruits.

Recently I've been experimenting with simpler variations, so you can better taste the individual flavours. Last night's attempts were:

Elderflower & Raspberry

Elderflower sorbet and frozen raspberries. This was my partner's favourite of the three, however if I were to make it again I think I'd use slightly fewer raspberries. Whilst I like raspberries they somewhat drowned out the lovely elderflower taste. Perhaps a shot of elderflower cordial might help?

Update - Yes it does, it makes it one fabulous drink! :)

Mango & Blueberry

Mango sorbet and blueberries. This was our least favourite, but still very drinkable.

Blackberry & Raspberry

This was my favourite of the three - raspberry sorbet and frozen blackberries.

Seasons Greetings

The obligatory Christmas post. I wasn't going to do one, but it would seem that most people do, so what the hell.

This has been the first Christmas since leaving home where people have come to us, rather than visiting others. It's also been one of the most relaxing Christmas' that I remember, with no major arguments, things going wrong or lunch at 4pm. Everything was of course vegan.

Having completed most of our xmas shopping in Oct/Nov we instead took a train to Birmingham and had a meal at The Warehouse on xmas eve. It's something that we'd been looking forward to as we somewhat like the place, however their xmas menu was a bit disappointing. The nut roast tasted identical to their standard sunday offering with the addition of 3 brussel sprouts and 2 chesnuts. Not enough potatoes nor well enough cooked (at a guess not parboiled). Still, it was a pleasant excursion and I'll know just to stick to something off their standard menu next time.

The day went pretty much to plan, with time to spare. For our starter we had porcini mushrooms in a creamy white wine sauce on toast. For main:
  • 2x Seiten type things ('Turkey' & 'Beef')
  • Fakon Wrapped Sausages
  • Cranberry & Orange Stuffing
  • Maple Glazed Roasted Carrot and Parsnip
  • Roast Onion, Pepper, Courgette
  • Brussel Sprouts (yuck)
  • Awesomely Crispy Roast Potatoes
  • Bread Sauce
  • Red Wine & Cranberry Gravy
We didn't actually get onto the dessert (sticky toffee pudding) until Boxing Day as we were far too stuffed. Instead of xmas cake we iced and decorated a Stollen.

I got plenty of great presents, including a year's supply of lush products (inc 12 bath bombs), clothes, kitchen things and the world's most awesome glass cake stand.

The sales this year were largely rubbish, as most shops have had identical sales on for weeks prior. We visited family 'up norf' on the 27th-29th, which included a very pleasant late afternoon walk, pictures follow:

For 2010 I've decided to start dieting again. My body seems to naturally stabilize out at 10kg more than I'd like it to be unless I'm actively dieting and going to the gym twice a week. When I stop and try to eat sensibly it just all piles back on. Don't fret, dieting doesn't mean no cocktails or cake, just in even less quantity than I consume already. I'm going to attempt this time round to find some sports I enjoy and get exercise that way, as however much I try to stay motivated I find gym equipment mind numbingly boring.

Strawberry Basil Cocktails

After several failed attempts I've found something actually quite drinkable.

I've been aware of the strawberry/basil combination for a while, but didn't become interested in it until they were both out of season. I like basil and I like strawberries, so why not? Luckily I picked up some sensibly priced strawberries this week and over the past couple of nights have been trying out various recipes off the internet.

Some recipes were just plain horrible; I'm not a fan of martinis at the best of times so strawberry/basil/vodka/gin was never going to be a winning combination. There seems to be a trend for using crushed black pepper and I can appreciate the extra dimension of taste that it brings, but it's not for me. Sugar syrup definitely brings out the taste, but makes the drink a bit sweet. The mojito recipe I tried sort of worked, but sort of didn't. Morgans Spiced (which I love in other drinks) completely overpowers the taste of the basil and defeats the point.

Eventually I found that peach schnapps and light rum goes pretty well, so here's the first combination I've come up with that I like and would happily drink again.

  • 3 Strawberries
  • 3 Large Basil Leaves
  • 1 Shot Peach Schnapps
  • 1 Shot Light Rum
  • Ice
  • Pineapple Juice
Muddle the strawberries and basil until the strawberries have been puréed.

Fill the glass with ice and pour over the spirits. Top with pineapple juice and stir.

Serve immediately with a straw or strain and serve in a martini glass.


Like Christmas Cake, only yeast risen, with the marzipan inside and generally much nicer.

I've been making Stollen each Christmas for 3 years now. I don't know why I don't make it more often; whilst it has several steps and requires time for rising it's really not that difficult.

Most commercially sold Stollens contain both eggs and butter, however when it was first created (almost 600 years ago) it was made without eggs and with oil instead of butter. I'm not convinced the 600 year old version bares any resemblance to what is sold today, but eggs certainly aren't needed for it to bind or rise.

First off I should make it clear that I didn't invent this recipe; it's adapted from an already eggless version that I found at The original made way too much mixture for me (3 stollens is surely enough!), didn't contain as much spice as I like and it seems to be offline now.

It's also one of the few recipes I make with fresh yeast. Normally I'm far too lazy, but in this case it is worth the effort. The cheapest source of fresh yeast I've found in the UK is Morrisons. I've not seen it in other supermarkets. I've bought it in a healthfood shop before, at around 5x the price of Morrisons and I once got it from a local baker for 3x.

Ingredients (makes 3 stollens):
  • 500g Plain Flour
  • 100g Castor Sugar
  • 55g Fresh Yeast
  • 250ml Soya Milk
  • 1/2tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 1/2tsp Almond Extract
  • 1/2tsp Ground Nutmeg
  • 1/2tsp Ground Ginger
  • 1/2tsp Ground Cloves
  • 1/2tsp Ground Cinnamon
  • Pinch of Salt
  • 200g Margarine
  • 55g Ground Almonds
  • 200g Raisins
  • 100g Currants
  • 125g Mixed Peel
  • 400g Marzipan
Mix the fruit and ground almonds together with a few table spoons of brandy (I'm currently using Tesco Spanish Brandy as it's cheap and on their latest vegan suitable list). Leave to plump up for as long as you can, preferably several days.

Warm the soya milk slightly, add a teaspoon of sugar and crumble in the yeast. Stir, cover and put to one side.

The time it takes to rise will depend on how warm your house is; I normally leave it for about half an hour. I should smell nice and yeasty and look something like the photo below:

Mix the dry ingredients together, then combine them with the margarine (softened) and risen yeast until you achieve a smooth dough. If you find it too sticky add more flour, too dry some soya milk.

Tip out onto a work surface and knead for several minutes (the longer the better), then slowly add the fruit (trying all in one go won't work!).

Cover the dough in a clean bowl and leave to rise for around an hour in a warm place. If your house is freezing and you don't have an airing cupboard then you can carefully heat your oven to 50 degrees, turn off, place a tea towel over the shelf then place the bowl on top. Ensure you don't go higher than this or that the bowl conducts heat directly from the shelf as you could otherwise kill the yeast.

The dough should visibly increase in size:

Divide into three and knead/roll out each in turn. Place marzipan in the centre and fold over. The photo at the start of this post is from 2006 when I used one line of marzipan (traditional), but I tend to do two these days as I'm obsessed.

Seal up the ends (to stop the marzipan from burning), transfer to the pan on which you'll cook, cover and leave to rise again for 1 hour. You may want to use a narrower pan if you have one to encourage the bread to rise upwards as opposed to outwards, but it don't make a difference other than aesthetic.

Cook at 190oc for 45-60 minutes, with a piece of baking paper on top to prevent scorching. When golden brown on top and obviously cooked remove from the oven, allow to sit for a few minutes then transfer to a wire rack.

Brush the top with margarine and sprinkle on icing sugar. You'll find that most of the icing sugar will melt in, so add some more after a couple of minutes.

When completely cool store in a tin until required. It should keep for a few days, but I don't know exactly how long as it tends to get eaten pretty quickly :)

'Rocky Road'

Also known as Chocolate Biscuit Cake with marshmallows in it.

There aren't many things on the Internet I despise quite as much as recipe authors who assign names of food they've never tried to their creations. In many cases they get it wrong, badly.

Thus my use of the apostrophes in the title of this post denotes the fact that I've never tried what is now popularly known as Rocky Road - the concept simply didn't exist in popular culture when I turned vegan 10 years ago. It's a guestimate based on what I've seen and read, with a disclaimer.

Last week we bought a tub of Sweet and Sara vegan marshmallows at the astronomical price of £6.99. I've never tried commercial vegan marshmallows due to the cost involved with with their acquisition, but figured it was about time. It is Christmas after all.

I'd like to say that I wasn't disappointed, but I was. They were quite nice, but not great replicas; akin more to sticky, squidgy, vanilla flavoured turkish delight than marshmallows. I probably would buy them again, but not until they cost less than a quarter of the price.

Thus we decided to hang onto them and use them in cooking. Chocolate biscuit cake was the obvious choice.

I've been making this recipe for 6 or 7 years, adapted originally from a 1980's edition of the Bero flour recipe book. I've been tweaking the ingredients to get a good balance between taste, richness and cost of ingredients, settling on those detailed in this post.

  • 300g Dark Chocolate
  • 75g Margarine
  • 100g Golden Syrup
  • 300g Digestive Biscuits
  • 100g Marshmallows
  • 75g Glace Cherries
Melt 200g chocolate, the margarine and golden syrup together in a pan over a low heat, stirring so that the chocolate doesn't burn.

When fully melted remove from the heat and put to one side. Place the biscuits into a freezer bag and smash with a rolling pin. Try not to completely pulverise them; you're looking for a combination of dust, crumbs and slightly larger bits in equal measure. When complete pour into the chocolate mixture and combine until coated.

Add the cherries (halved) and the marshmallows (cut into tiny pieces). Spoon into a foil lined tray, at a thickness that appeals (I like it thick, so 10x20cm). We found the Sweet and Sara marshmallows so sticky that it was easier to put a layer of the mixture into the tray then the marshmallows evenly spaced, with the remaining mixture on top.

Allow to set in the fridge for as long as you can bare, preferably over night. When chilled melt the remaining 100g chocolate and drizzle on top. If you're less lazy than I you should consider tempering it first. Return to the fridge then divide up with a sharp knife when set.

I have honestly no idea how long this keeps for, but it's best served at room temperature rather than direct from the fridge.


Diet starts January.

I thought it was worth blogging info on how to fry chips properly. It's not particularly difficult to do, but will ensure you crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside chips every time, not soggy, oily nastiness.

Though not healthy by any means, frying food with high water content essentially steams the inside (as the water boils) whilst crisping the outside. Provided you get the temperature right it should not soak up oil or significantly increase the fat content compared to shallow frying/roasting.

To get good results you need to twice fry the chips, first at 170c and second at 190oc. The first fry cooks the potato, the second develops the outside.

Use Maris Piper or King Edward potatoes if available. If not use whatever is considered in your part of the world to be the best for frying. Use cheaper potatoes at your peril. You'll need 1-2 large potatoes per person. Try to cut the slices so that they're roughly even sizes, discarding small pieces if required. This will help ensure that they all cook at the same speed. You may want to shave a slither off the side of oddly shaped potatoes to then get a more even cut, but don't go over the top in a quest to create perfectly identical chips!

Cook at 170oc for 4-5 minutes, then remove the basket and shake off excess oil. Change the temperature to 190oc and cook for a further 2-3 minutes. When you think they're done it's worth trying one, just to make sure.

Drain, dry and serve immediately with malt vinegar and sea salt.

Perfect Mojitos

The best thing about mindfulness is that when you're onto a good thing you know about and can make the most of it.

I didn't love every minute of my 4 years of university, but for the most part I knew I was definitely onto a good thing. Late nights, nothing to get up for in the morning, parties, friends, endless amounts of free time. Yes, it's safe to say that I enjoyed university.

Where am I going with this story? Whilst at university I had several sets of friends. I developed them through various societies/interests and each I enjoyed socialising with for different reasons. One such group were a bunch of postgrad law students, who were on the whole more mature than my undergrad drinking buddies. I didn't drink with them very often and when I did it was more often coffee and soft drinks than alcohol. One night I do remember in particular however a house party at which I was induced to the pleasure of mojitos.

I remember this night for two reasons: first the drink itself and second because it was the first party I remember going to where there was more alcohol than people to drink it!

Over the years since this point I've made some truly terrible mojitos, for which I must send an apology to all I've made them for. I didn't appreciate the fact that unless you muddle the mint properly it doesn't release its oil, nor did I know correct quantities, order of adding or that the sugar really does need to fully dissolve.

This summer I finally got it right and have been making them regularly since. Thus I thought it would be wrong not to share.

  • 1/2 Lime
  • 10 mint leaves
  • 1 1/2 shots light rum
  • 1 1/2 shots simple syrup
  • Ice
  • Soda Water or Lemonade

Cut the half lime in half again and add to a glass with the mint leaves. Muddle them together so that the juice is released from the lime and oil from the mint, without shredding the leaves to the point were they will get stuck in your teeth. You can use the end of a rolling pin for this, or purchase a proper muddler. I'm currently using a beautiful WMF Caipirinha Pestle that I was bought as an early xmas present by my partner. It looks a bit like a sex aid but is in fact the poshest muddler I've ever seen.

Add the simple syrup and mix. Simple syrup is made by boiling 1 part water with 2 parts sugar, stirred until fully dissolved, bottled and refrigerated.

Fill the glass with ice, then poor the rum over the top. You can use dark rum if you prefer, but light rum is the traditional and in my opinion (having tried both) nicer. By this point about half the glass should be full with liquid. Top up with soda water (traditional) or lemonade if you have a slightly sweeter tooth like us. Stir and serve.

Don't be tempted to try to top it up/use the mint leaves again; they won't contain enough oil required for the right balance of flavour.

Cooking With Beer #1: Beer Batter

Beer: that filthy brown fizzy liquid that on first glance has no use other than helping people get drunk on the cheap.

It was created originally when water supplies were contaminated and unsafe to drink. Hops were added not to enhance flavour but as a preservative, to stop the beer from going off as quickly.

British teens grow up believing that drinking beer (rather than drinks that taste nicer) is in some way manly. The reality is however that drinking something that doesn't taste good just because everyone else is doing it doesn't make you manly at all; it makes you an idiot.

OK. Rant over. As it happens there have been occasions in the past when I have enjoyed a pint, peoples tastes do differ and I appreciate the skill of and craft of brewing. The only beer kept in our house however is used for cooking and to give to guests!

Being a fizzy liquid lager is useful in making batter. You can use carbonated water as an alternative, but the slight taste imparted by beer is a pleasant addition and makes the batter taste less like wallpaper paste.

  • 150g Self raising flour
  • 30g cornflour
  • 250ml Lager
  • Pinch of salt

It's better to make more than you need as it's cheap to make and easier to coat when you can fully submerse the food rather than try to paste batter on. Ensure the beer you use is vegan; despite popular misconception being made in Germany guarantees only gulliblity, not vegan suitability ;)

Sieve and mix the dry ingredients then add the beer in stages, until you have a semi-thick batter that easily coats the back of a spoon. If you you get any lumps use an immersion blender to remove them. The resulting liquid should be smooth and bubble:

Heat oil in your fryer to 190oc and coat the food you want to fry in self raising flour. This step is important, as it stops the batter from sticking to the food, allowing it to puff up and float in the fryer not stick to the bottom of the basket.

In this example I'm using mock chicken seiten chunks (link), torn into pieces roughly 1 inch cubed:

Fully coat the food you're going to fry in batter and gently drop each item into the hot oil, with few seconds between each to stop them from dropping the temperature of the oil too much. If they don't bob to the surface give them a little knock with a metal spoon. If there are any legs of batter hanging off the balls knock them off once the batter has started to crisp. Try not to overcrowd the fryer as it will cause the balls to stick together. Cook them in batches instead.

When the balls have turned golden brown remove the basket and give it a good shake over the oil, then dry with kitchen tissue and serve immediately. If cooking in batches then add all batches to the oil together at the end to heat through for a few seconds.

I used to lust after a veganised version of sweet and sour chicken from English Chinese takeaways. After almost 10 years of trying I've finally gotten there :)

Chocolate Yule Log

Chocolate Log is a traditional form of Christmas gluttony, in our family household at least. Normally made after the day itself, upon realising that traditional Christmas cake really isn't very nice (other than the marzipan and icing of course).

It's essentially an iced chocolate swiss roll, which is far easier to make if you can buy the swiss roll ready made. Being vegan this isn't an option, but making swiss rolls is actually quite easy.

  • 180g Self Raising Flour
  • 150g Caster Sugar
  • 50g Cocoa
  • 1/2tsp Baking Powder
  • 150ml Water
  • 75ml Sunflower Oil
  • 1tsp Vanilla Extract

Combine the wet and dry ingredients together and mix thoroughly.

Line a 12"x8" tin with greaseproof paper and pour the mixture in, spreading it evenly out.

Bake in a 200oc oven (180oc fan) for 8-12 minutes - until an inserted cocktail stick comes out clean. Do not overcook!

Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly for a couple of minutes.

Place a large piece of greaseproof paper on your work surface in portrait, about twice the length of your tin. Flip the sponge over onto it, so that it is lying in portrait towards the bottom of the paper. Remove the backing paper from your sponge (now on the top) then score a horizontal line across with a knife 1 inch up from the bottom. Place a clean sheet of greaseproof paper over the top of the sponge then roll it up (still warm), starting from the end you've scored. A video showing this procedure can be found here (ignore the instruction to place sugar on the paper).

Whilst the rolled up sponge cools make a batch of chocolate buttercream icing.

  • 50g Sunflower Margarine
  • 30g Cocoa
  • 1tsp Vanilla Extract
  • Icing Sugar
  • Soya Milk

Cream the margarine and cocoa together in a bowl then start to add icing sugar. As it gets stiff add a splash of soya milk and the vanilla, then more icing sugar. Keep adding icing sugar and mixing until you have the right consistency and enough for the filling and outside. If the mixture gets too stiff before this point add a dash more soya milk.

When the sponge has cooled gently unroll it and remove the top layer of paper. Don't worry if some of the sponge has cracked; there's a good chance that once re-rolled and iced there will be no way to tell.

Spread a thin layer of icing over the sponge and re-roll. Cut off the ends and ice the outside, using a fork to give texture.

Peach & Lychee Pimms

The taste of lychee goes surprisingly well with Pimms.

I wasn't going to blog this until next summer, as it isn't Christmassy in the slightest. I've just been informed by @vegandeb however that it would in fact be in no way inappropriate to do so, what with it being the season of boozing and all.

You have 2 options for making this drink:
  • Infuse peaches and lychees in Pimms directly
  • Infuse them in gin and mix them later.
The latter (pictured above) is recommend as it lets you try the combination with other spirits, but it's up to you. This summer I used the first option, as I found Sainburys fake Pimms (called Pitchers) on offer for £5 a bottle. It's not as good as the real stuff, but once infused it's difficult to tell the difference.

Whichever option you choose cover a tin of lychees and a tin peaches (both drained) in an infusing jar with the booze of your choice. Give a good shake, then leave for 48 hours (shaking briefly whenever you walk past).

Once complete you can make the cocktail. You can leave infusing for longer if you want, but unlike infusion with spices and hard fruits (sloes, damsons, cranberries etc) that take months you can use soft fruit infusions within a couple of days.

  • 1 shot Pimms
  • 1 shot Peach & Lychee Gin/Pimms
  • 2 slices soaked peach
  • 2 soaked lychees
  • Crushed Ice
  • Lemonade
  • 2 Drops Orange Bitters (optional)
In a high ball glass muddle 1 lychee and 1 peach slice together. Add the alcohol and mix. Fill the glass with crushed ice, then top with lemonade. Stir and garnish with remaining peach slice and lychee.

Adding a couple of drops of orange bitters takes the sweet edge off the drink a bit and adds to the complexity of the flavour. Angostura orange bitters were vegan when last checked earlier in 2009.


Puy Lentils in Pear Cider

This isn't so much a recipe as a tip: Puy Lentils cooked in Perry (pear cider) are very good.

Ensure that you use real pear cider (perry) rather than apple cider with flavourings. It does work with apple cider but doesn't taste as good. When we talk about cider in the UK we always refer to what in the US is hard cider (alcoholic), as opposed to juice.

Ingredients for 2 people:
  • 125g Puy Lentils
  • 500ml Perry
  • 125ml Soya Cream
  • 200g Firm Smoked Tofu
  • 1 Red Onion
  • 2 Cloves Garlic
  • Handful Mushrooms (optional)
  • Sunflower Oil

Rinse lentils and check for grit/stones. Place in a pan, cover with perry and simmer until tender (20-30 mins). If it starts to dry out add water. Skim off any residue that collects on the surface whilst cooking. When done do not drain; instead add the cream, mix and heat through.

Whilst the lentils cook heat some oil in a pan and add the onion (diced), garlic (minced), mushrooms (chopped, if using) and tofu (sliced). We use Taifun Smoked with Almonds and Sesame Seeds, but any firm, drained smoked tofu should work. Fry for a few minutes until done.

When both are complete combine and serve immediately.

Spiced Watermelon

This is a cocktail that I concocted this summer, have just found a photo of on my computer and despite having nothing to do with Christmas want to drink of anyway. It is red I guess :)

  • 1/4 Watermelon
  • 1 shot Morgans Spiced Rum
  • 1/2 shot Captain Morgan Dark Rum
  • 1/2 shot Southern Comfort.
  • handful of crushed ice
The bottles of the above alcohol I have were bought soon after they were last confirmed vegan. You may want to check the stuff being sold currently still is before buying.

The easiest way I've found to extract the flesh from a watermelon is to cut it in half and then into 1 inch thick rings, running a knife around the edge of each to split the skin from the flesh.

Roughly chop the flesh and place in a blender with other ingredients, seeds and all.

Blend until smooth, then strain through a sieve into martini glasses and serve immediately.