Apple & Quince Tart with Cardamom Cream

Suffering from a bad case of man-flu; compounded by 9 hours at work, I decided on Monday evening to cheer myself up with some dessert. I can't remember the last time I made an apple tart, but it was certainly a while ago.

I've been aware of the existence of quinces since an excellent meal at The Quince & Medlar in 2008. Ever since I've been wondering what they taste like (there were no quinces in the meal). It's not a fruit that I've ever seen in shops before; apparently you either grow them yourself or find someone who does.

I read a few months ago that quince jelly/jam goes very well with apples, so decided to incorporate it into a tart. Having previously only seen the jelly sold at an astronomical price in a deli I tracked some down at the reasonablish price of £2.09 in Waitrose (stocked with chutneys as opposed to jams). Quinces are (so I'm told) pear like fruit with sour flesh that once cooked becomes reddish and sweet. The jelly is reddish, sweet, slightly grainy and tastes somewhere between apple and strawberry. It's certainly not unpleasant.

As you can see from the picture, this is a shortcrust pastry tart with a layer of fruit purée, topped with apple slices, then glazed and baked. Normally you'd use just apples in the purée and glaze with apricot jam (which you can do if you can't find quince jelly), but I added 75g jelly to the purée and glazed the top with 50g. As I've not had quinces before I can't tell whether the tart tastes quincy or not, but the red colour comes through and I'm pretty pleased with it.

Ideally you'd use dessert pastry instead of standard, however I've not seen ready made vegan dessert pastry in shops (almost all standard shortcrust that is sold is). If I were less lazy I'd make my own, but it doesn't make an awful lot of difference. As an alternative you can roll out a disc of puff pastry and top it instead, making a more tart tartin style thing.

Next time I need to use a dish with slightly shorter sides, so there's less exposed pastry. Using a loose bottomed tin allows you to transfer it to a serving dish, however as the pastry shrinks away from the sides during cooking it's easy to get the first slice out of the dish you cook it in.

Ingredients (8 servings):
  • 1 Sheet Shortcrust Pastry
  • 2 Bramley Apples
  • 5 Cox's Apples
  • 1/2 tsp Cinnamon
  • 75+50g Quince Jelly
  • 25ml Water
  • Sugar
  • Margarine
  • 150g Soya Whipping Cream
  • 3 Cardamom Pods
As you can see; it's a relatively simple dessert to make. Most of the prep time is taken up peeling and chopping apples.

Start by peeling and dicing the bramley apples. If you don't have bramleys in your country then use whatever is sold as a cooking apple (generally larger, green and not overly sweet). You want to dice them into fairly small chunks, as this will make the cooking time shorter.

Heat a knob of margarine in a pan and add the diced apples. Cook over a low-medium heat for 10-20 minutes (dependant on the size of the dice), stirring occasionally until you can easily squish them under the back of a spoon.

Add the cinnamon and sugar to taste, stirring until you get a purée. Add the 75g quince jelly and stir until combined. Set aside and leave to cool.

Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 200oc (180oc fan) and roll out the pastry on a floured surface, so it's a little larger than your dish. Wrap the pastry around a rolling pin and unroll over a greased dish, such that it comfortably sits within it and doesn't need to be stretched. Press the pastry against the sides with your fingers and cut off excess with a sharp knife.

Described as pointless by Delia; I quite like my ceramic baking beans. Prick the base, cover with baking paper and weigh down with whatever it is you use instead (rice supposedly works, but I've always thought this is somewhat of a waste). Cook in the oven for 10 minutes then remove and take the paper away.

Place 50g quince jelly in a small pan with 25ml water and leave to warm through over a low heat, stirring occasionally. Don't let it boil - it just needs to combine into a syrup.

Peal and chop the apples into slices. Having a bowl of cold water to put the slices in as you cut them will shop them from oxidising and turning brown.

Spread the purée out over the pastry and top with the apple slices in a pattern of your choice.

Pour over the quince syrup, using a pastry brush to ensure that all surfaces are covered. If you've not got a silicone brush yet then now's the time - they're easier to clean and unlike non-synthetic brushes they aren't made from big bristle.

Cook the tart in your oven for around 35 minutes, checking it every so often to make sure it's not burning.

Crack the cardamom pods and grind the contents to a fine powder (discard the shell). Whisk in with the cream and chill until required.

When the tart comes out of the oven allow it to cool slightly before serving. As well ensuring that you don't burn your mouth this allows the purée to firm up slightly, making cutting easier.

Use a large sharp knife to cut and extract slices. As the pastry shrinks away from the dish during cutting you should have no problems getting it out. It can be served warm or cold.

White Chocolate Torte

You'll have to excuse me whilst I make all the white chocolate based things I've been lusting over during the past decade.

I was always under the impression that tortes contain egg, but having done some reading up recently it would appear that about half the recipes online consist of only chocolate and whipped cream. A few years ago even this would have been pretty impossible to veganise, however now it's really quite easy. Having read 10-15 recipes I concocted a vegan version, which I'm now blogging for your reading pleasure.

A fair few recipes use a crushed amaretti biscuit base. As vegan friendly amaretti biscuits aren't available (that I know of) I made a standard biscuit base, adding 1 tsp almond essence. For me this was too much - next time I'd use 1/2tsp. My partner however thinks it was just right.

The top is just white chocolate and whipping cream, in a ratio that allows it to set up when chilled to the point where it can be cut into slices. As the white chocolate drops I'm using are ultra sweet already the torte is a bit sweeter than I'd like. Hence making a relatively tart raspberry coulis to serve it with.

I'm really pleased with how it turned out aesthetically and honestly it tastes pretty good. I think it could use some refinement however - find a way to make it less sweet and take out some of the almond flavour (either less essence or using ground almonds instead).

  • 250g Digestive Biscuits
  • 50g Margarine (melted)
  • 1 tsp Almond Essense
  • 300ml Soya Whipping Cream
  • 200g White Chocolate Buttons
  • 150g Raspberries
  • 50g Icing Sugar
  • 1/2 tsp lemon juice
Start by making the biscuit base. Place the biscuits into freezer bags and smash with the end of a rolling pin. If you use a food processor ensure you don't make the crumbs too fine. You're aiming for a uniform crumb - not too big, not too small.

Melt the margarine and whisk in the almond essence. Pour over the biscuits and combine until fully coated.

Place the biscuits into an oiled loose bottom 8 inch tin, then press down with the back of a spoon. When compacted as much as you can use your fist to really press it down, ensuring an even thickness across the surface. As a tip - if it doesn't hurt your knuckles you're not pressing hard enough! Getting it nicely compacted now will ensure it won't fall apart when you come to serve.

When complete place the tin in the fridge to set up the base while you make the topping.

Start by melting the chocolate in a bain marie. Yes, I know I've said previously that bain maries are for whimps, but they really are quite useful for white chocolate, which is far more prone to burning than dark. You need a pyrex bowl that will fit over a pan of boiling water, such that the bottom of the bowl isn't touching the water. Take care as steam escapes from around the edge of the bowl and stir the chocolate as it melts. You really don't need much water in the pan - the last thing you want is it bubbling over the edge and into the chocolate (which will ruin it).

Once the chocolate has melted allow it to cool. Meanwhile whip a 300ml carton of soya whipping cream (I used Granovita, which we acquired a year's supply of recently when it was on offer in Sainsburys, at 32p a pack). It doesn't really increase in volume that much, but after a couple of minutes with an electric whisk the texture will change and it become more light. When the chocolate has sufficiently cooled; fold it into the cream. If the cream is too cold or chocolate too warm then you won't achieve the smooth consistency you're aiming for.

When combined place the topping over the base and smooth out. Chill in the fridge, preferably overnight so that it completely firms up. If you skip this step you won't be able to cut it and it'll be a big mess.

As and when it's had time to chill you'll need to remove the torte from the tin. The easiest way to do this is to use a blow torch (over your oven top, ensuring there is no oil/fat which could ignite), as this causes the metal to expand and torte against it to melt slightly. You'll get a much cleaner result using this method than by sticking a knife down the side.

If using a loose bottomed tin (rather than a springform tin); place the bottom over an upturned mug and slide the sides down. Use a palette knife to remove the torte from the tin's base and transfer to the plate from which you'll serve. Place the torte back in the fridge whilst you make your coulis.

Coulis is very simple to make - just blend raspberries with icing sugar and lemon juice. If using frozen raspberries allow them to thaw first.

Once blended force the mixture through a sieve with the back of a spoon, to remove the seeds. Using a sieve larger than the one in the photograph below makes the process a lot easier! (I conceded in the end and washed up the big one).

Slice the torte up and drizzle over the coulis in a more artistic fashion that I was able to achieve, then serve.

Musings on: Home Automation

Warning: This post has nothing to do with vegan food, recipes or cocktails. If reading my blog for one of these you can safely give this post a good ignoring. It falls into the "odd interjection of other things dependant on mood" category that I plan to use to blog about things I like.

Home Automation is a topic that interests me and is as such something I've been dabbling in for a number of years. The concept is simple - network your home's electrical devices together, allowing the state of each to be remotely manipulated.

Why bother?

The most obvious benefit this brings is being able to control them using a remote without getting off the sofa or out of bed. You control your TV by remote already, so why not the lights?

Whilst it could be seen as being rather lazy there's something nice about being able to check you turned everything off downstairs from bed and being able to turn fans on throughout the house without opening your eyes when you wake up too hot in summer.

The real fun and automation part starts when you bring a computer into the mix, allowing it to control devices automatically dependant on the time of day, whether you are home, what you're doing etc. This can save you electricity by turning off devices not in use, taking devices completely out of standby (i.e. turning them off at the mains), setting brightness of lights according to how much daylight there is etc. It can also help with security - by learning your preferred lighting patterns it can replicate them each day whilst you are on holiday.

We use ours mainly to create macros such as lighting scenes, that can be activated from one button press. When we go to bed we press "Downstairs Off" (turn off lights, AV gear etc) and "Upstairs On" (turn on our bedroom lights and dim to desired level). The computer turns the garden lighting off automatically at 11.30pm; having turned it on at sunset (the time of which it calculates each day). "Watch DVD" on our lounge remote turns on the TV, home cinema amp, sub, blu-ray player, sets the inputs accordingly and dims the lights lower than we have them for "Watch TV". As well as remotes in each room we have switch panels on walls for activating common macros:

We have (but have not integrated yet) proximity sensors, that allow the computer for instance to turn hallway lighting on at 25% if someone gets up at night.

A dirty little secret

I have a dirty little secret. Well, actually I have several, but the one of relevance to this post is the fetish I have for lighting.

I like warm sunlight the most, but failing that; decent functional and mood lighting, along with sparkly things and pin pricks of light.

Including LEDs there are currently 25 bulbs in the kitchen, 12 in the lounge, 14 in the hallways, 29 in my study, 446 in our bedroom, 19 in other rooms and 202 outside. This total of 745 and excludes all the candles and the several thousand 'stars' generated by my 2 laser projectors.

You'll be pleased to know that most of the lights are low energy and less than 1 watt each - I'm not a complete eco terrorist.

What else?

Some people automate their blinds and curtains, however the price is pretty astronomical (starting at £300 for a small window). Heating system control is common too, but I don't quite trust a computer with that - the same goes for door locks. The security system used to link in (which being connected to the phone line meant I could dial in and change settings from a mobile phone), but in practice this wasn't overly useful.

I'm not so fussed on AV distribution. I don't illegally download movies, so don't need to to stream from PC to TV (though supposidly I can do this on my Bravia anyway). I used to have a MythTV server in my batchelor pad for streaming music and recording/timeshifting TV, but as I like my neighbours I tend to wander round the house with wireless Sennheiser headphones on instead these days.

My previous HA / AV server was an ultra quiet / mostly passively cooled Linux box. I didn't like the fact that it was drawing so much power constantly though, so now I don't run MythTV I've switched to a small embedded device instead.

We have an energy monitoring device too, which can be hooked up to a PC every now and then and plot graphs / calculate costs. Though currently broken when it works it displays our current wattage and glows a different colour accordingly, so we can see at a glance when we leave the house whether we've left anything switched on (also useful for seeing if the oven is still on when sitting in the lounge).


There a several different technologies available that allow you to achieve these things, with varying levels of success and reliability.

The most reliable systems use their own cabling and cost £10,000 to £100,000+ to be installed and maintained (examples here). As a luxury product these tend to only be found in the homes of rich and famous.

Falling into neither of these categories and having 10 inch thick walls that don't make cabling much fun we currently use a more basic technology called X10, which uses RF for sensors/remotes and the house's existing powerline cabling for communication between devices. The downside of this is that it's slower and not 100% reliable (part of the reason why I'm not using it for heating).

X10 has been around longer than I have and the complete system so far has cost about £700 (much of it purchased over time, second hand from ebay). As a modular solution you can get started for £100-£200 and build on it from there. Some of the modules need embedding in walls / ceilings, but most can be plugged into sockets, such as this one:

The modules are undoubtedly overpriced for what they are - if mass produced they shouldn't cost more than £250 for an average house. I don't fully understand why, given the technology is 35 years old its use isn't more widespread.

Aimed squarely at the hobbiest end of the market rather than luxury living the modules and remotes pretty damned ugly. As such as we use IR dimmers for our main lights, then a Logitech Harmony remote in the lounge and an IR->X10 converter for other devices.

There are cheaper, more restricted and debatably crapper systems available, such as Domia Lite, which I dabbled with for a while but ultimately got rid of. If you just want to turn devices on/off on a cheap looking remote you can pay as little as £3 per socket. You won't however been able to add computer control with these systems or do anything more fancy.

Some people buy £500+ remotes and have £1000+ touchscreens embedded into their walls. I'm a bit more budget constrained than that, so am looking forward to the Apple iPad being released, which as well as a general web browser whilst sitting on the sofa would make a stunning HA remote control.


With Pancake Day looming I thought now would be an opportune moment to blog a vegan pancake recipe.

The pancakes we eat in the UK on Pancake Day are the large thin type, similar to crepes. They're basically just batter fried off on a non-stick pan, with little to no fat. You can either use a pan purchased with a non-stick coating or a traditional pan with natural coating developed over time. Whilst less romantic the former is easier, more hygienic and dishwasherable.

I've realised in the past few years that it's not so much the ingredients of the batter that matter, rather the consistency of mixture and temperature of the pan. Therefore for a simple batter all you need is plain soya milk and plain wheat flour - no egg replacer or shite like that. As they pancakes will be filled you needn't worry too much about developing their flavour.

Ingredients (makes 6 pancakes):
  • 125g Plain Wheat Flour
  • 350ml Soya Milk
Whisk the ingredients together, using an immersion blender if required to get it lump free. Heat the pan over a medium high flame and brush with a small amount of margarine.

Pour a ladleful of batter in the centre of the pan, then tilt to get even distrubtion. If required poor a little extra batter into any holes. If the pan is hot enough the batter should start to dry out and bubble within seconds - being ready to flip in 90-120.

Gently ease the edges after 30-60 seconds with a spatula and check it's cooking underneath. When golden ensure the pancake is fully loose and flip it over. Cook for up to 30 seconds on the other side, then serve. You'll probably find the first one doesn't work - this is quite normal.

The 'video' that follows was shot last night on my extremely crap iPhone 3G's camera (which wasn't designed to do video), after I'd had several cocktails and was feeling the effect. As such the quality and cameraman skills are somewhat lacking, but you should be able to gauge the general technique.

Last night's were filled with warm cherry compote and served with vanilla icecream, but lemon juice and sugar is more traditional. You can be as creative with fillings as you want - either sweet or savoury. Favourites include soya bolognaise, blackberry & apple stew, chopped banana & chocolate sauce.


The rambling that follows is dedicated to one of life's many pleasures: ice cream sundaes.

With a bit of prep I can think of no reason why vegan sundaes can't be just as delicious and varied as their omnivorous counterparts (minus the pus of course).

The basic formula consists of ice-cream with 2 or more of the following: hot chocolate sauce, fruit, mousse, cream, syrup, sorbet, cookies, cake, brownie, sprinkles and nuts - in combinations and ratios to suit. The picture above is of last night's Black Cherry Chocolate Kirsh sundae.

Chocolate Sauce

Vegan chocolate sauces are simple to make, requiring only a couple of minutes. You can make them in a microwave on half power, but using a pan over a low heat allows you taste as you go. The core ingredients are dark chocolate, soya cream and syrup, with anything else added for flavour. Before freah soya cream came available in the UK I used a small amount of margarine, but as well as being not as good this seriously isn't advisable on health grounds!

You can use white chocolate if you want, but I find you just end up with an over sweet, off white, vanilla sauce that you could have made for half the price without. White chocolate is IMHO much better melted and drizzled on top.

Ingredients (for 2 people):
  • 75 - 100g Dark Chocolate
  • Fresh Single Soya Cream
  • Syrup: Simple / Agave / Golden
Warm a pan over a super low heat (use a bain marie if you like faffing around / washing up and are scared of burning the chocolate) and add the broken up chocolate and a splash of soya cream. Stir and remove from the heat as the chocolate starts to melt. Add a dash of syrup and stir until you have a smooth, glossy sauce. Add more cream and syrup as required, being sure not to add too much. Simple syrup is better than agave and golden, as it leads to a less sticky sauce (though maybe you like that?), is easier to pour (unless you have a squirty bottle) and is far cheaper than agave.

Flavour ideas:
  • Peanut Butter: Melt a spoon of smooth or chunky PB with the chocolate.
  • Coffee: Kahlua or Tia Maria will give a standard sauce a good coffee kick. Both are quite sweet so you'll need less syrup. Add them after the pan has been taken off the heat so you can control the amount of liquid and ensure the alcohol isn't evaporated off. Garnish with chocolate covered coffee beans if available.
  • Cherry: Use kirsh (Luxardo was vegan when last checked) to inject cherry flavour into the sauce.
  • Orange: Using Cointreau (confirmed vegan). I've seen vegans using Grand Marnier, but personally avoid as I've not seen an email from the maker confirming its vegan status.
  • Coconut: Add coconut cream in place of soya cream.
So as not to compete with: some fruit flavours are better carried elsewhere rather in the sauce itself.


I know some people would disagree, but as far as I'm concerned tinned fruit cocktail holds no place in modern society. Tinned fruit can be good for some fruits if no fresh alternative is available (or you're lazy).

Personally I prefer fresh berries, either whole, crushed or made into sauce / compote.

Tinned lychee, pineapple, vanilla ice-cream, coconut cream and crystallised palm sugar however make an excellent sundae.

Think about which flavours work together in cocktails when coming up with new ideas.


Soya whipping cream (soya too or granovita) added to melted chocolate works best. You can use silken tofu if you prefer, but soya cream leaves no tofuey aftertaste. A dash of liqueur is a welcome addition (Kahlua & Cointreau are obvious choices), but you need to be really sparing with it and add in small amounts, so as not to make the consistency too thin. You can add a small amount of icing sugar if needed for sweetness or to thicken the mixture. Chilling or freezing (for an hour or so) will help to firm it up.

Cake / Brownie / Cookies

If you've got any of the above to hand then add chunks to the mix. Heating brownie / chocolate cake slightly may help with moisture/gooeyness. Warmed icing is always good.

If making cookie dough for the purpose of eating raw then use your favourite cookie recipe without raising agent (bicarb, baking powder etc) and with plain in place of self raising flour. This will get rid of the nasty aftertaste. Chilling it will help make it easier to work with when serving, however freezing may make any bits (chocolate, nuts etc) a bit too cold and unpleasant when eating.


Commercial coffee / cocktail syrups (such as Sweetbird and Routin) are available in flavours you may not otherwise think be available to vegans. Butterscotch is my favourite, poured over vanilla icecream, whipping cream and garnished with mixed chopped nuts.

See my previous post here for info on making your own syrups.


Squirty soya cream works well, topped with nuts, sprinkles and/or fruit.

If lazy use chopped mixed nuts as they come from the supermarket. If feeling energetic you can make your own praline: toasting chopped nuts under a grill on a metal baking, with brown sugar or simple syrup.

Crystalised palm sugar (Waitrose) can be used as a garnish - it won't dissolve into the ice-cream and has a good crunch (without cracking your teeth).

Mitsu has an excellent post on vegan sprinkles available in the UK on her blog. Most sprinkles sold have either gelatine, insects or their secretions in them, so take care!


Any sturdy glass will do, but sundae glasses can normally be found for £1-£3 each. If making a giant portion to share then consider investing in a glass serving bowl (the one I have I think is meant to be a fruit bowl!).

Long handled spoons (sold as either icecream or latte spoons) are important if using long stemmed glasses. I previously had a set of cheap spoons made by Stallar, but have recently acquired a gorgeous set of Alessi Big Love spoons, which are well worth the money (the bowls however look IHMO utter shite).

Layer the flavours together, being sure not to let the icecream heat too much in direct contact with a warm sauce. If serving to others then consider having the ingredients set out and let your guests make their own.

UK Vegan Blogs

A month ago I posted a list of UK vegan food blogs that I've found with posts in the past 6 months.

It's 3.45am. I have a stressful day ahead that starts at 7.30am. Having gone to bed at 11.30pm and lain awake till 2am I eventually got up and have been listening to music whilst writing various bits of code, in the attempt to make myself more sleepy.

One of the bits of code I've written is a Google Maps mashup (see above), that shows blogs by location. They're grouped by area - green is 1 blog, yellow 1-5 blogs and red 5+ blogs. Click each marker for a list.

Im' not sure what this achieves, but I'm going to be now. ;)

Coconut Lychee Mocktails

Cocktails don't have to be alcoholic to be good. Whilst having read this blog you could be forgiven for thinking I'm a raving alcoholic; in reality I make cocktails for taste not alcohol content and drink on average 6-10 shots a week.

Alcoholic drinks make good cocktails mainly because you can stock a wide range of flavours without worrying that they'll go off. Additionally the slight alcoholic edge causes you to sip your drink and enjoy it over a longer period (tasty non alcoholic slip down far too easily).

I generally find non alcoholic cocktails boring because they tend not to be very intense - mixing fruit juice together isn't very exciting. It is possible to find good examples however, so I'm blogging one I created recently (based on a dessert that I'll blog another time).

  • 5 Shots Lychee Juice
  • 8 Shots Pineapple Juice
  • 2 Shots Coconut Cream
  • 1 Shot Simple Syrup
  • 1 Passion Fruit
Coconut cream is the thick liquid you get when you don't shake a can of coconut milk (i.e. it's double concentration coconut milk). You can sometimes find it in cartons (blue dragon I believe). It's not the same as the blocks of creamed coconut.

It's possible to find lychee juice in cartons, but if not just buy lychees in juice and strain. The easiest way to do this is using a tin opener make a large hole on one side of the lid and a small hole on the other (for air). The following picture hopefully illustrates this:

Shake all ingredients (minus the passion fruit) with ice until your hand starts to go numb from the cold:

Strain and float the contents of a ripe passion fruit over the top. The seeds will eventually sink but you'll drink through a layer of passion fruit juice which is really rather good.

Veggie World (Bletchley)

A short deviation from recipes for a restaurant review. One of the benefits of being a vegan who refuses to pay to eat in restaurants that don't explicitly cater for vegans (I'll eat if work are paying and I'm reasonably confident that they understand) is that unless you live in London or Brighton you don't get to do it very often. When you do you're more inclined to make an effort and go somewhere good.

I heard about Veggie World a while back, but was put off slightly by the name and proximity to anywhere else. Last night however we decided to brave the 75 minute drive and give it a go.

We had high expectations having read the menu, so were more than a little bit worried when TomTom announced that we'd reached our destination on what appeared to be an industrial utility road at the edge of a housing estate. Thankfully Google Maps led us onto the parallel running road, which turned out to be the reasonably pleasant looking high street. We drove past it once and eventually found it on foot.

The restaurant is essentially a take away with 8 tables. They've not gone to a lot of effort to make it restaurant like, but it was clean and welcoming enough. There were people already eating there, which is always a good sign.

I really can't fault the service at all; the waitresses were friendly, attentive and fluent in English (unlike many places I've eaten). Food is cooked to order, the amount of choice is phenomenal and waiting times short. Rather than marking items that are vegan it instead marks the few items that are not, which is always good to see. The menu has pictures for each dish, but is a little difficult to read (too many pages, with the title for the page in a similar colour to the background - A4 would have been better):

Please excuse the terrible quality of my iPhone 3G's camera. For starter we ordered a appetiser plate for 2 (ribs, wontons, satay skewer, spring rolls and crispy seaweed), sweetcorn soup and prawn toast:

The satay and wontons were awesome. The ribs a little strange but quite pleasant. Spring rolls were crispy but small and a bit boring. The seaweed is not something I'd ever order on its own, but as a garnish it did a good job and tasted pleasant enough. The soup was very good. Prawn toast would never be my choice (I didn't like fish when i was an omni), but it didn't taste fishy and tasted a lot more fresh than other that I've tried.

Next time I'd definitely go for a full portion of the satay skewers, a soup and possibly the wontons.

We were pretty full by the time the main course came! - Chicken fried rice, duck chow mein, pork balls and sesame chicken. I did take a photo, but it's too terrible to show and doesn't make the food look at all good.

The chow mein is 100% how I remember non-vegetarian takeaway chow mein. It was fabulously good. The sesame chicken (with accompanying sauce) was very tasty. The rice was nice enough, but the pork balls a bit disappointing - my chicken balls are a lot better. Luckily they let you takeaway what you can't eat and for the first time ever in a restaurant I took them up on the offer. We ordered some rabbit buns to eat in the car on the way home which were pretty much how I expected them to be - sweet bean paste in squidgy bread.

They don't serve alcohol but seem to allow people to bring their own (or buy it from the off license opposite). They do the whole endless cups of jasmine tea for £1.20 thing, which as I was driving was good enough for me.

Despite my moaning it was undoubtedly the best vegan Chinese meal I've ever had. The staff were lovely and price (considering we took away enough for Sunday lunch) very reasonable (£43 for 2 including drinks and 15% tip). The quality of food is quite considerably better than the London buffets (which are in themselves to new vegans very impressive). We'll certainly go back again and would recommend it to others.

Simple & Flavoured Syrups

Simple Syrup is not complicated. Primarily used to add sweetness to cocktails it's a useful thing to have around in the kitchen when making up recipes. Though available to buy it's far cheaper to make yourself.

Simple syrup consists simply of sugar disolved in water, in a ratio by volume of between 1:1 and 2:1. There's no right or wrong ratio to use, I have a sweet tooth so 2:1 is my preference. It is possible to dissolve more sugar this than this, but doing so requires an emulsifier (when gum arabic the result is called gomme). You can use white or brown sugar, the latter making the resultant liquid a pleasant golden colour.

Ingredients to make 1 litre:
  • 1 Pint Water
  • 900g Sugar
Heat water in a pan with the sugar and stir until fully disolved. Try not too boil or let too much of the water evaporate. Once done allow to cool, bottle then store in the fridge. I normally make a litre at a time as it keeps for several months.

It's possible to inject flavours into the syrup whilst heating, that will then come through in the drink (cocktails, coffee etc) you make. Commercial vendors choose names for their flavours that grossly over exagerate the contents, such as tiramisu for coffee, marshmallow for vanilla etc. When you're sold a Gingerbread Latte all you're getting is is a standard latte with cinamon and ginger syrup. Examples of those that you can make yourself include:
  • Tea: add tea bags (earl grey is a common choice) then remove when infused
  • Coffee: Replace water with good quality brewed coffee.
  • Chocolate: Melt the chocolate in water as it heats. See my white chocolate syrup post for more info.
  • Herbs: Mint is the obvious choice. Muddle in the pan with a bit of water, then add the rest and sugar. Strain before bottling.
  • Spice: Add whole/cracked spices (cloves, nutmeg, cinamon etc) to the water then strain before bottling.
  • Fruit: Substitute juice for water or use peel.
  • Colourings: Easily add blue, red, green colour to cocktails. Syrup will sink in most liquids, allowing you to create naff 'sunrise' effects.
It's prudent to make a small amount first, then a larger batch when you know its good.

Jaggery Dosa

Jaggery Dosa (or Vella Dosa) is a sweet Indian pancake. Jaggery is another name for palm sugar, which despite not being overly popular in the UK can be found when you go looking. They are sweet and tasty enough to be eaten on their own, or can be filled with ice-cream.

It should be noted that whilst palm oil production is infamous for its destruction of rainforest and animal habitats; palm sugar is not made from the same type of palm. Instead it is made from the sap of coconut and sago palms, whose cultivation do not appear to be linked with deforestation. It's not available in all supermarkets - currently Waitrose is the only store I've seen consistently selling it. If you can find it in an independent asian supermarket it will undoubtedly be cheaper.

The basic recipe is similar to that of pancakes, but it's somewhere in between uncommon and unheard of to use eggs in the batter, making it much more vegan friendly. Wheat flour and water are the main ingredients, with rice flour, spice and palm sugar for sweetness.

I've only had this in a restaurant once and was very impressed with it when I did. I don't remember tasting any spice in it at all, but it was at the end of a huge meal and I could have missed it. Unfortunately the restaurant (which was one of Leicester's finest vegetarian eateries) no longer exists :(

There are many recipes available online with similar ingredients but applied in varying ratios. There is probably no correct ratio, so I tried a couple of batches last night, using an average of several recipes and recording the quantities in grams and ml (I mean come on: cups, why would you do that?).

The first batch I made used wholemeal flour and came out looking fantastic, but witha course texture from the bran that detracted from the experience. The second batch used plain flour and slightly more rice flour. They worked really well, but didn't develop the lovely golden colour looked more like a regular pancake than a dosa.

I'm blogging both recipes for now and will next time try to find middle ground by using brown flour. I used ground cardamom and pistachios in both. The latter were my addition and I think they work well.

Common Ingredients (for 5 dosas):
  • 40g Palm Sugar
  • 100ml Boiling Water
  • 100ml Cold Water
  • 1 Cardamom Pod
  • 10 Pistachio Kernels
In addition the wholewheat batch used 100g wholewheat flour and 20g rice flour. The second batch used 100g plain white flour and 35g rice flour.

The mixture is easy to make - you dissolve the palm sugar in the boiling water, add the cold water and strain. Grind the pistachio and cardamom to a course powder (discarding the cardamom shell) and mix with the flours. Add liquid a little at a time, stirring as you do.

You're aiming for a thinish lump free batter - I ended up adding a splash more water in the wholewheat batch, where as the plain was just right.

Once complete heat up a crepe pan (worth investing in, but a frying pan will work if you don't have one) over a medium to high heat. Rub a little sunflower oil across the surface with kitchen paper then add a ladleful of mixture. Start by pouring in the centre, then around in a circle. Use the bottom of the ladle to spread into a large circle. Add a drizzle of sunflower oil over the top.

The pan should be hot enough to cause the dosa to start to bubble and firm up quite quickly, but not so hot as to cause the dosa to firm up on impact (making spreading rather difficult) or to burn the sugar. As it cooks it should start to come away from the pan on its own, although it may need some gentle coercion around the edges (I found a metal palette knife to be best for this). Once the underside has browned and all liquid firmed lift the dosa and flip it over.

Cook the underside to the point where brown spots appear. Transfer to kitchen paper to remove excess oil and serve immediately.

As with all pancake making you should be prepared for the first to not work. If it takes too long, doesn't bubble at all, sticks and refuses to turn over without breaking apart then your pan isn't hot enough.

They can be folded with a bit of melted margarine and eaten on their own, or filled with vanilla ice-cream. The photo at the start of this post has some chocolate syrup drizzled over the top, but this isn't really needed.

I found the cardmom a little strong - next time I think I'm going to experiment with using cinnamon instead.


Miss me?

The more than a little creepy photo shown above is what as kids we were presented with instead of BBC1 when we got up too early on Sunday mornings. Code named Test Card F it was supposedly used by engineers to aide with calibration. Everyone knows however that it was really used to scare children back to bed and not wake up their parents by having the TV on.

My current hiatus from the world of blogging has been caused by a technical fault, which is currently being worked on. I'm not suffering from a lack of things to post about, but rather I've been experiencing a lack of ability to take vaguely decent photographs of things I've made of late. I don't like posts without pictures and I don't like crap pictures, so I'll return when I'm back into the swing of things.

At the weekend I painted what until I have money to build a home cinema I'm affectionately calling my studio. I've quite a bit of lighting equipment that's too bulky to use in the kitchen, so I'm going to endeavour to use it more now that I have a permanent setup and no excuses not to.