Saturday, 28 June 2014

YAM CANAPES

Fiddly little things, but well worth the effort if you have the time. I made these for an end of term dinner party I hosted recently. My first proper fully vegan dinner party, now that I think about it. Not a drop of meat or dairy to appease my non-veggie guests ;) The last time I cooked for a significant number of people, I caved at the last minute and gingerly put a chicken dish together. I tend to have pretty good instincts when it comes to flavouring/seasoning, but with no way of tasting the thing myself, goodness knows what they had to endure. At least there was no gagging... which is always a good sign.

So yes, it was a blissful experience putting the food together this time around... maxing out on flavours and techniques using all my plant-based ingredients. There were about four other dishes on my selected menu including a spicy red vegetable curry, fried rice and a couple of intricate salads. A friend had agreed to handle dessert - a simple, healthy fruit salad to balance the heavy main course.

These yam canapés easily took the longest time to make and were an accidental addition to the menu. I was all set on making just the plantain canapés (which you can sorta make out in the background of the picture below) but realised that I had only one plantain left at home and no time to go out and buy some more. They looked a bit sad on the tray and so these mini yam taste explosions were born. The filling was also an experiment using the ingredients I had lying around. If you've ever had fried yam then you know just how amazing it tastes on its own. But with the creamy avocado-pepper-potato filling...? Pure magic. 

It is absolutely important that the yam is thinly sliced or else the canapés will go from bite-sized treats to full on bricks that are awkward to eat. Just to warn you.


Ingredients
- 10 slices of yam (thinly sliced!)
- sunflower oil
- 1/2 ripe avocado
- 1 medium potato (boiled or baked whole until soft)
- 1 clove garlic (finely chopped)
- 1/4 cup chopped bell peppers (I used red and yellow)
- chopped red pepper and spring onions (to garnish)
- salt and pepper (to taste)

Trim around each round slice of yam to form a roughly square shape. Then cut into four equal parts.
Have a tray ready and line it with some kitchen paper. Shallow fry the yam pieces in a little sunflower oil, turning them over until lightly brown and crispy on both sides. You'll need to do this in batches in order to have enough time to turn each one over. Place each piece on the lined tray to drain off any excess oil. 

To make the filling, sauté the chopped garlic and bell peppers in the little oil left from frying the yam for about a minute on low heat. Cut the boiled potato in half and scoop out the (hopefully) soft inside. Add to the pan, along with the avocado. Mix/mash well to combine all the ingredients. Season with salt and pepper. Take off the heat.

To assemble the canapé in such a way that the filling doesn't ooze out when you sandwich the pieces together, spread a tiny bit of the filling on one piece of yam then pierce another piece of yam with a cocktail stick (with the red pepper and spring onion garnish on top, if you wish) just far enough that you can place it on neatly and slightly pierce the bottom half without squashing the filling out. (I hope my poor description makes some sense...)
Lay them out on some snazzy tray to serve.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

GARRI COOKIES 3 - DATES

It's like the food version of a Nollywood movie! All these part 1's and 2's and 3's... All that's missing is the obligatory booming voice and  thunder/lightning-strike sound effect ;) Well, this is the last one I've got up my sleeve for now. A chunkier, melt-in-the-mouth version loaded with chewy dates. Again, I followed the original recipe but took out the raisins and used dates instead. I also used a food processor to mix all the ingredients together, which perhaps accounts for its slightly smoother texture.

Check out Anemistyle's review of these date cookies and the double chocolate-chip version here.

GARRI COOKIES 2 - DOUBLE CHOCOLATE CHIP

I followed the original recipe, took out the raisins and added about 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder, a handful of dark chocolate chips and double the amount of chopped groundnut.


Tuesday, 17 June 2014

LUNCH WITH 'ANEMISTYLE'

One of the perks of blogging is connecting with other bloggers. A few of the blogs I love to stay up to date with include: Deserve Your Great Life, Berry Dakara, Vegan Miam, Arike, Labyrinths of Lara, Healthy. Happy. Life., Lohi's Creations, Good Naija Girl, Natural NigerianInterprétations Culinaires, Chef Afrik and of course, Anemistyle. Nemi's site is focused on fashion, lifestyle and nifty DIY projects. You should check out some of her brilliant creations, like this spring/summer chiffon top (I want to make one!).

When deciding what to cook up for our lunch meet-up, my mind may or may not have gone off in all kinds of spirally directions. What can I say - it was such an exciting prospect having someone from the blogging world try out my food! I rustled up two types of salad (kale/tomato/avocado/cucumber, and a couscous salad), a variation on my butter bean parcels (using honey beans this time around), banana-berry ice-cream for dessert, fresh mint tea and freshly made apple/peach/cucumber/celery/parsley juice. And, as promised, a batch (or two...I went a bit baking crazy) of the signature garri cookies (two new versions that I will post up soon), which she will be reviewing on her site!

To the other bloggers I follow: if I ever get a chance to cook for you, there will be no holding back! You've been warned :p

Monday, 16 June 2014

PLANTAIN DUMPLING SOUP

Love plantain and stew? Then you're sure to love this hearty soup. 
It's been quite the kitchen-y day. I have not sat down for a second since I crawled out of bed at *cough* 11 am *cough* this morning. When inspiration hits, you just have to get on, right?

This is another one of those things that made sense in my head. Thank goodness it wasn't a waste of time putting this together. It turned out fantastic and my taste-buds were grateful for it. When you really think about it, it's not like a lot could have gone wrong with this - it's pretty much a glorified bowl of boiled plantain in stew, only jazzed up with some bright vegetables and shaped into cute dumplings.

The flavours are perfectly balanced - a bit of heat from fiery green chillies, sweetness from the plantain, a delicate aroma from fresh lemon grass...Need I go on? Keep reading to discover a new way of eating the ever-versatile plantain. 

Ingredients
- 1 ripe plantain
- 1-2 cloves garlic
- 3 green chillies (or 1/2 scotch bonnet pepper)
- handful of fresh basil or partminger
- 1 stalk green onion (finely chopped)
- 1/2 green bell pepper (finely chopped)
- 1 red bell pepper (half of it finely chopped)
- 3/4 cup wholegrain flour or toasted breadcrumbs 
- 4 large tomatoes
- 1 stalk lemon grass
- 2 cups water
- 1 tbsp olive oil (optional)
- Salt to taste

Start by making the soup base. Blend half the red bell pepper with the tomatoes, lemon grass and a little water. Pour into a large pot, add the olive oil and season with salt. Let it simmer on a low heat as you get on with the rest.

To make the dumplings, blend the ripe plantain with the garlic, chillies (or scotch bonnet pepper) and fresh basil (or partminger) in a food processor to form a smooth mixture. Transfer the mixture into a large bowl and add the chopped green onion, red and green bell pepper, and the flour/breadcrumbs. Mix well to evenly distribute the chopped vegetables. With floured hands, take spoonfuls of the mixture and roll into round dumplings - it should yield about 10-12. Arrange them on a lightly floured surface as you go along. 
Place each dumpling carefully into the simmering pot of soup. Add 2 cups of water and bring to a boil for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat and simmer for another 5 minutes with the lid off (this will help thicken the soup slightly).
Serve hot with a generous garnish of chopped fresh herbs.

MINT ICE-CREAM

Three ingredients. 100% guilt-free. Delivers on taste and texture. This was so good that I made it my breakfast this morning. A welcome variation to this earlier recipe.

I went shopping over the weekend and picked up some fresh mint from an eye-catching fruit and veg store. I had no idea what I was going to do with it, but the nostalgic fragrance took me back to my short stay in Morocco back in 2012, and before I knew it, it was in my shopping basket. I have since made several mugs of refreshing mint tea, but this ice-cream right here is just... Well, you'll have to try it and see for yourself. 

Ingredients
(serves 2-4)
- 4 ripe bananas
- 2 handfuls of fresh mint leaves
- 1 lemon

Chop the bananas into small pieces and place in a plastic container. Squeeze on the juice of half a lemon (to stop the bananas from turning brown), cover and freeze for 2-3 hours.

Place the frozen banana pieces and the mint leaves in a food processor. Blitz until you have a smooth, creamy consistency.

Serve immediately; it melts fast!


Saturday, 7 June 2014

EATING OUT #7 - THE GARDENER'S ARMS

One of my housemates treated me to a celebration meal at The Gardener's Arms last week. A vegan/vegetarian-friendly pub nestled in a quiet corner of Jericho (Oxford). Quite the little gem. You walk in and it's like your regular pub - down-to-earth, cosy, relaxed, unpretentious. I was struck by the exclusively vegetarian menu and the number of vegan options on offer: mushroom pie, Indian thali platter, vegan burgers and wraps, veggie hot dogs, pitta and hummus, rocket-olives-fresh tomato flatbread calzone...etc. For once, I could take my time selecting what I wanted instead of zooming straight on to the marginal, 2-3 option vegetarian section that you find on most restaurant menus. 

Here's a little extract from the back of their menu:

"The Gardener's kitchen started in 2003 with the intention of serving no-nonsense, quality vegetarian food that was appealing to both vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. The thinking behind this was that it would be a welcome relief for vegetarians and their dining companions to be able to eat somewhere that guaranteed meat-free vegetarian food with a wide choice of dishes that would be appealing to meat eaters as well..."

With their recognisable, classic pub food, they certainly succeed at appealing to meat eaters. Even my housemate confirmed that the veggie burger was one of the best in town. 
If you're after super-healthy, minimal vegan food then this is probably not your location, but if you want to treat yourself to something hearty and indulgent then this is THE ideal spot.

The Gardener's Arms is definitely a place worth visiting more than once, if only to work my way through the entire menu. It's a bit of a shame that they are relatively far out from the city centre, but the 20-25 minute walk to get there is so worth it!

I ordered the vegan burger served in a flour bap with toppings of tomato, iceberg lettuce and pickled chilli, along with a sweet chilli sauce. Yum!


This was followed by a home-made banana + chocolate sponge pudding (vegan and gluten-free). I could only manage about half of it as my main meal had filled me up, but it was delicious. It had a soft, fluffy texture with a gooey dark chocolate centre. We agreed that it would have been even nicer accompanied with some extra sauce or something creamy (whipped coconut cream, maybe?)

Be sure to check them out if you're ever in the area.

Friday, 6 June 2014

GOLDEN PAPAYA SALAD

More neon orange than golden, but let's not get nit-picky. 

The sun was out today, I was in a fantastic mood and this bright, luscious salad seemed like the perfect thing to have for lunch. I've used pawpaw/papaya in a sweet dessert recipe before, but wondered how it would fare with other savoury ingredients. Verdict? Absolutely incredible. I chopped one half of it into chunks for the salad and used the other half to make a rich papaya-ginger-tomato dressing (oil-free). Sooo yummy. 
I've used a mix of spinach and lettuce leaves for the salad base, but any leafy greens you've got available will do the trick. Top it off with a mix of other bright vegetables and you're good to go.

This would be great to take along to a summer party or family gathering.

Ingredients
- 1 small papaya (pawpaw)
- 2 big handfuls of mixed greens (spinach, lettuce...etc)
- 1/2 yellow bell pepper (chopped)
- 1/2 orange bell pepper (chopped)
- 1 medium carrot (sliced)
- 4 cherry tomatoes (sliced)
- 2 medium tomatoes
- fresh ginger (as much or as little as you want)
- 1 lemon
- chopped basil or partminger (to garnish)
- ground black pepper

To make the dressing, blend half the papaya with a bit of fresh ginger, the 2 medium tomatoes and the juice of one lemon.

Place the mixed greens at the bottom of a large salad bowl, add half of the salad dressing and mix until all the leaves are coated.

Arrange the chopped fruit and vegetables on top, sprinkle on some ground black pepper and garnish with chopped basil or partminger. Drizzle on the rest of the dressing and serve immediately. If you're making it ahead of time, then don't add the dressing until you are ready to serve (to stop the leaves from going soggy).

GROCERY HAUL #7

Aaaand...breath. Exam season is over. As is my month-long hiatus from the blog. Mind, body and soul slowly slotting back into place. I've swapped the confines of my desk and revision notes for the great outdoors (well...when I'm not catching up on all my favourite TV shows, that is). Food shopping has once more become an exciting endeavour. All in all, I can't wait to try out the new recipes I've been accumulating.

It's been a minute since I've done one of these grocery hauls. To be fair, they were starting to get quite repetitive, and not every shopping trip is accompanied with a particularly interesting back-story. I've decided to revive the ol' grocery haul post on this occasion though, mainly to encourage anyone who might be considering the vegan diet/lifestyle and to show that ABUNDANCE, not deprivation, is the name of the game. It's been well over a year since I gave up all animal products and I honestly don't think I would have stuck with it if there wasn't such an endless variety of fruit and veg to try. I never count calories, almost every meal feels guilt-free, and I've slowly come to appreciate the positive effects of good food on the body and mind. If there is one tip I would extend to anyone who wants to go vegan, it would be to fill your house with copious amounts of fresh produce. I find that when the house is stocked with plant-based goodness, I simply have no choice but to eat it all, in place of the processed foods I could be reaching for (either that, or I watch my money rot away at the bottom of the fruit bowl, and that's not gonna happen!). 

I'm back home for the week, so all of this fruit and veg isn't just for me. I may or may not be on the verge of convincing a fellow family member to go veggie...

So, here's what we got...

Vegetables: 3 heads of lettuce, green beans, garlic, fresh basil, spinach, spring onions, cucumber, mixed bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, asparagus, potatoes, carrots.

Fruits: apples, bananas, papaya/pawpaw, lemons, melons.

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