Vegan afternoon tea

Friends of mine were looking for an excuse to meet, and were thinking about visiting one of my awesome neighbourhood cafés The Crimson Tree. But I have tea set, I have cooking skillz *uh* vegan afternoon tea.

Of my friends, I had a veggie, a vegan-who-eats-tuna, and someone who is with child, which presented slight fun on the catering front, and I though I would try where poss to make everything as vegan as possible, then everyone could eat it.

With a bit of warning, I was able to cook some things in advance. The vegan shortbread had gone into school for a taster earlier in the week, and I managed to make a vegan cake early on Saturday morning.

To add to the complication my weekend was quite busy: I spent almost all of Saturday behind all three of the cider bars at the Robin Hood Beer Festival. By the end of the day I had excellent product knowledge of the full range of ciders and perries on offer and Sunday morning, I was not quite ready to leap out of bed at 8AM to start hoovering.

I got out all the food I had planned, but my dining chairs were slightly cat-hairier than desirable. (The cats rather like sleeping on the dining chairs under the table, and to be honest, months pass when only the cats use the dining furniture. To mitigate this I keep bags-for-life on some of the chairs to dissuade feline encroachment and on the others I flip the seat pads so they are not sitting where people sit.)

A day on Saturday out of the house, and catering for a 2pm kick off made timing a sourdough loaf a little interesting. In the end I made the leaven at 11am on Saturday, went to the festival, made a dough at midnight and allowed it to prove all night. I knocked it back and put it in the banneton at 10am Sunday and sat it on the hob with the oven on beneath it at 50deg to take some of the chill of my unheated kitchen off. It went in the oven at 1315 and came out shortly before 1400 ever so slightly raw on the bottom.

What do vegans eat in sandwiches? Last time I did an afternoon tea, over five years ago, I did ham and cheese, and tuna. Last time I fed sandwiches to this group of people we were still only veggie so I made egg mayo. This time a little more challenging.

Vegan afternoon tea

Cucumber sandwiches with sunflower spread. Peeled and sliced cucumbers with salt and pepper. Unfortunately the Aldi shop done barely minutes before the guests arrived had not found a fully vegan spread, and the sunflower stuff had traces of whey in it.  Should have just stuck to actual butter!

Caramelised onion hummus and grated carrot. I’m a huge fan of caramelised onion hummus and was delighted to find it in Aldi too. The grated carrot hides extra veg in your sarnie and adds some texture. I think the idea came from the Archers originally – it was an organic lunch that Pat Archer made.

Antipasto pâté Smørbrød. Another use for the nutribullet. Blitz a handful of sundried tomatoes, chargrilled peppers and green olives, all from jars, in just enough of the oil to make the thing work.  This was absolutely delicious and I shall be doing it again, vegans or no vegans.  Served as open sandwiches.

Vegan afternoon tea

Vegan shortbread. This recipe, but a great deal simpler. I bought a bottle of coconut oil a few years ago after having read about butter coffee and some other alternatives. I have never quite managed to blitz coconut oil into coffee before heading to school, mainly because it’s solid at room temperature, and I bought it in a bottle. So this was finally a use for it. The entire recipe was 250ml coconut oil, 3 cups plain flour, 3 cups dark brown sugar, mix, chill, bake at 150 deg for 50 minutes.

Vegan choc fruit loaf. One of the many iterations of my now almost weekly nutribullet fruit cake. Blitz two bananas, two pears topped and tailed but otherwise not peeled or deseeded, two heaped tablespoons of cocoa powder, half a bag of dark brown sugar, a good dollop of desiccated coconut, and since, I wasn’t using eggs, a dollop of golden syrup. This was too stodgy for the nutribullet to turn properly so needed some water as well.  Pour out into a bowl and add a teaspoon of baking powder and enough desiccated and SR flour to get to a stiff dropping consistency, along with a handful of cocoa nibs for texture, then bake in a 2lb loaf tin at 170 deg for over an hour, until a skewer comes out clean, covering with a foil couche halfway through to stop the top burning.  Sorry for the vague recipe, but my scales have been broken for weeks and my baking is increasingly approximate.

Vegan afternoon tea

Also all the table: Aldi iced finger buns (traces of whey). Ikea gingerbread Christmas biscuits (traces of milk), Italian nougat brought by a guest, fruitbowl (untouched) elderflower gin, crab apple vodka, bottle of champagne, coffee, tea. A roundly admired beautiful spotty teapot made by my friend The Purple Potter.

Education double dactyl

The first line of a double dactyl is supposed to be gibberish, like hickory dickery or jiggery pokery.


Ofsted improvement plan
Nicola Morgan was
Rather mysteriously
in charge of schools.

How did this lawyeress
End up at the helm of
This ship of fools?

I last got excited about double dactyls in 2008, which is a rather horrifyingly long time ago. I blogged here, here and here on the subject.

Fun with mascarpone

I somehow ended up with a surplus of mascarpone after buying a second tub forgetting I had the first. It keeps quite well but the last has just had to be discarded with blue furry bits. Here are some ways I’ve been using it, with nary a tiramisu in sight.

For a good old while I’ve been making vanilla mascarpone as an accompaniment for dessert instead of cream, custard or icecream. It’s astonishingly delicious and easier than homemade custard.  Just slash and scrape a vanilla pod to get all the tiny black seeds out and beat into a small tub of mascarpone with two tablespoons of icing sugar.

In 2009, a Lib Dem colleague suggested we should make lemon curd as something we could make and sell at Nottingham’s Green Fest. I duly did, and it was rather a pain and quite expensive. Smaller jars might have been a way of getting more money out of the endeavour since I found it took a pound of sugar and six eggs just to fill two empty Bonne Maman jars.

Anyway the reason for reproducing this story here was that the colleague who suggested I make it ended up buying a jar and reported back a lovely idea to use it in a simple dessert – she mixed the lemon curd with the same amount of mascarpone and used it to sandwich shop bought mini-meringues.

The same simple mix makes a delightful simple cheese cake. You can even make it with shop bought lemon curd, and make it in small quantities – so cheese cake for two – by making it directly into recycled Gü pots or shot glasses or espresso cups like this lovely set found in a charity shop when we were staying in Scotland for my brother’s wedding and used exclusively for desserts ever since.

Chocolate mousse

(pictured here on the old kitchen floor, as presumably at that point after making chocolate mousse, all of the available surfaces were covered in saucepans and whisks and bowls)

Mary Berry makes something similar using a ginger biscuit base.

Having successfully deployed the lemon curd / mascarpone mix sandwiched in meringues and as a simple fast cheesecake, I started to wonder if it could be mixed in other ways too.

Returning from Brussels last year I invented a recipe for a speculoos trifle – and blogged that recipe here.

Working further on the same idea and feeding a friend who does not like a dessert to be too sweet, I wondered about mixing the mascarpone 1:1 with bitter marmalade with thin cut shred.  This was… interesting. I piped it into shot glasses and instead of making a buttery biscuit base, I just scattered a biscuit crumb – speculoos again – over the top. Even for my friend’s savoury tooth this was not sweet enough. The bitterness of the marmalade did not quite overcome the sourness of the cheese and it was an interesting, not entirely unpleasant, but not brilliant flavour.  If I make anything like this again, I will sweeten it with icing sugar, I think. I was also wondering about how you could incorporate chocolate as chocolate and orange is a classic flavour combination. You could microplane chocolate into the mix, or include chocolate chips.  Dark chocolate would be a fab flavour to consider, but the multiple sources of bitterness from chocolate, marmalade and mascarpone would need something to lighten them.

What are you favourite ways of using mascarpone?

Homebrew… disaster?

Annie Gray suggested on the Kitchen Cabinet making basil wine and gave instructions here on her blog.

I had a go at it a few weeks ago and  have had a demi john sitting and bubbling in front of the telly right in front of me.  I carefully sterilised the demi john with brewing powder before adding the sugar syrup and basil leaves, but as I did so I wondered about whether the fresh basil leaves, harvested from a supermarket plant, would stay the course of the brewing process.


And of course they didn’t. They are now a festering morass of mould sitting on top of a pale green liquid with a yeasty mess underneath. This could have been avoided, I think, if I  had just boiled them with the sugar syrup, as that should have been enough to kill off anything nasty.  Similarly, it’s odd to have a recipe that only half fills the demi john. Why not simply double and fill up the space?

Is this normal? Should I throw it out? Siphon the liquid out carefully and strain?

(I don’t have a more recent photo because the camera on my phone has stopped working😦

Slightly more optimistically, the crab apple tree in the garden is looking highly healthy.


So I had a go at this recipe for crab apple liqueur – basically halve and steep in vodka and sugar.





This has very quickly turned a highly satisfying deep ruby colour and as the weeks pass, the apple halves are slowly sinking down the kilner jar.

What I read over the summer

Tsk, only a dozen or so posts from the last time I wrote about what I read over the summer. The skinny hasn’t changed much – it’s still almost all crime novels and thrillers, with the occasional pop science thrown in.

Before I tell you titles, I want to help promote a new blog from a friend, Britpulp. It’s a great collection of reviews of crime writing as well as some broader writing about the state of publishing within this genre.

This year in reading I have been continuing my trawl through all the works of P D James and Sara Paretsky, and recently have completed both Cordelia Gray novels. There’s a very graphic depiction of suicide by wrist slitting in one of them that has been preying very heavily on my mind ever since. In the Adam Dalgliesh world, I’m now more than half way through the series with Death of an Expert Witness read in a tent in North Wales over the May bank holiday and enjoyed; A Taste for Death which followed me around a couple of holidays and Devices and Desires in which unfortunate Dalgliesh ends up holidaying amidst a serial killer investigation with a nuclear power plant thrown in. (Again, fascinatingly, it’s the James’s depiction of bureaucracy in the 1970s and 80s that gets me. Nuclear power plants have committee meetings. Of course, when you think about it, they must have, but until reading this I never had thought about it.)

It’s been a while since I’ve dipped into V I Warshawski’s world, but most recently I have read Tunnel Vision with extended scenes set in abandoned storm tunnels under Chicago in a time of flooding. She gets thrown around, bruised and bloodied again and I often wonder if anyone has taken the trouble of writing a list of the injuries she has sustained across the series? It’s a wonder she can still walk after a career of being hit, shot, stabbed and beaten so often.

New this year has been the John Milton series by Mark Dawson. Not least for the opportunity to say, when quizzed on what you are reading, Oh yah, I’m reading John Milton? It’s not the highbrow fifteenth century poet, it’s a very readable thriller series set in the world of a British assassin, turned on by his own government and pursued across the globe. Whilst on the run, he also manages to atone for his past alcoholism with random acts of kindness supporting the oppressed, from council estate gang victims in London in the first book, to the women abused by drugs gangs in Mexico, to stumbling across a southern USA armed conspiracy. John Milton as a character is a mess of clichés – strong but vulnerable; unbeatable in a fight almost all of the time; super fit and talented with every sort of martial art and firearms skill. Mark Dawson deploys some reasonably obvious attempts to get us to like his characters and to build tension, but ends up with highly readable and enjoyable plots. And if you run out of Milton novels there’s a parallel series with an overlapping cast headed up by Beatrix Rose too.

I’ve been reading Mark Dawson on Kindle, and it seems well worth doing that. There are extra novellas not available in print which act as an introduction to his character, and an explanation of his new approach to writing – also here on his website. He’d been published in print before, only to see his novels sink without much critical or public appeal. He changed tacks to self publishing through the Kindle platform, which enabled him to engage more closely with his readers, and never looked back. Eventually, enough sales of his ebooks seemed to have pushed Amazon themselves to put his novels into paperback. Which seems a rum old way to get into print.

This afternoon I have finished reading For Reasons Unknown. Its author Michael Wood is a friend of friends on Facebook and promos for this keep popping up. It has a super female DCI as its lead character and unveils trauma in her life at the same time as working through a terribly twisty plot with a cold case and a recent death, all set in a snowy Sheffield. I had read somewhere that its author Michael Wood was a proof-reader and so a certain few horrors leaped out at me. Run-on sentences, and at least two occasions which looked like cursor slips where sentences had been jumbled into each other. Tsk, tsk.

This week in delicious

Some things I’ve made over the summer holidays that have been absolutely gorgeous…

This salted peanut and honeycomb rocky road. Melt 200 grams each of plain and milk chocolate with a tablespoon of golden syrup and 50gr of butter. Weigh 100 grams each of salted peanuts, mini marshmallows and three chopped Crunchie bars, stir into the chocolate mix and pack the mix into a lined, 25cm square traybake tin.

A bizarre sausage and cheese sauce combo from a how-to video in Portuguese which I cannot now find, originally on Facebook. Boil a pack of sausages in beer for 15 minutes and transfer to a grill / hot oven.  Take a cup of the boiling beer and stir in a cup of cream cheese and a cup of grated cheese. This was one of those recipes where you think, I like all of the ingredients, how can it go wrong?  And yet it was especially delicious. It might have helped that the cheese I had was a mix of strong cheddar and shaved parmesan, and the beer was German, but on the flipside the sausages were a fairly ordinary supermarket own brand.  The mix felt a little thin as it was cooking so I added more cheese and a teaspoon of cornflour dissolved in cold water, and the cheese sauce at the end was just amazing. Delicious hot, delicious cold as a sort of cheese spread, and in future I’m wondering about using it as a fondue recipe. I can’t tell whether it would work as well without the sausage boiling stage.

This was vaguely a possibility for barbecue or camping meals.

Sourdough blini for pudding club

For a pudding club, I made blini – well, basically sourdough pancakes. A cup of sourdough starter with an egg and a spoon of bicarb beaten in and fried in small batches. I then planned to top with cream cheese and sweet chilli sauce, cream cheese and smoked salmon trimmings, chutney and parmesan shavings and cherry tomatoes and pesto.  All quick and easy to buy and yet somehow I forgot to actually buy the salmon!


Last night I got carried away and made three courses, trying to see how much I could get through the nutribullet. This was shortly after having got carried away in Aldi, so most of the ingredients came from there.

Quick, nutribullet pate – blitz two smoked salmon fillets, a large spoon of creme fraiche, squeeze of lime juice, jar of black olives.  This was delicious but the final consistency was perhaps too smooth and sloppy and a little bit grey.  Easily enough for 6.

Quick, 4 ingredient nutribullet cheesecake – in retrospect, make this first because if the blender case is even slightly damp the biscuits stick.  Blitz six digestive biscuits and tip into a pan in which you have melted a large knob of butter. Mix well, press into two ramekins and chill. When you are feeling sufficiently relaxed and the biscuit base has hardened mix well two tablespoons of mascarpone cheese with an equal amount of lemon curd, home made if possible, shop bought if necessary, and spoon onto the base. Chill further.

My main course was as lacking in inspiration as always. Marinade chicken breast chunks in the rest of the lime juice and oil for as long as possible and fry until golden. Add an onion to the frying pan towards the end, if you have any left that aren’t rotten. Boil new potatoes in bite size chunks. Mix the two together with pesto.  Serve with a crunchy salad of carrot, radish and cherry tomatoes – I made a honey mustard salad dressing with some slightly suspicious elderly dijon from the fridge.

Nutribullet banana loaf

With a little help from Mary Berry I have been making a banana loaf most weeks for the last two months or so. Since my Nutribullet lives on the counter it’s quite tempting to use it for other things, and making cake is definitely something it can do.  Even with the blender available to me I have found myself overoptimistic about how many bananas I can eat in a week.

I prefer my banana loaf less plain than the Berry version, so here is what I have been making:

Wet/blitzable ingredients
100 gr melted butter (using melted not softened makes the nutri vessel easier to clean)
175 gr caster sugar
2 eggs
2 bananas
1 other fruit – pear or apple?
good splosh of milk
generous teaspoon of mixed spice

Dry ingredients
225 gr SR flour
2 big handfuls of sultanas
a good sprinkle of nuts, eg walnut pieces, whole shelled hazelnuts
glacé cherries if you have them

Preheat the oven to 180 deg / 160 fan.

Line a 2lb loaf tin – I use Loaf Tin Liners.

Put the dry ingredients in a bowl.

Blitz the wet ingredients in the nutribullet.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir well. Pour the batter into the loaf tin and bake for an hour.

Check after 45 minutes. If the cake is browning on top but still moist inside, cover with tin foil to stop the crust burning.

If after an hour the skewer is still not coming out clean – this is a moist, heavy cake, after all – turn the oven off and allow it cool with the cake still in.

The same fundamental method works with other fruit, not just bananas. I’ve tried a pear and chocolate cake by substituting three pears for the bananas and adding two tablespoons of cocoa into the flour.

Since the nutribullet means you can blitz any fruit into a liquid, rather than mashing bananas with a fruit, you can turn pretty much anything into a cake.  On much the same basis that you can hide vegetables you don’t like in a nutribullet with fruit you do, you can also put vegetables into cake this way.

I don’t see the need to use baking powder as well as SR flour – too much and you end up with a cake that gives you heartburn.