Thursday, 29 October 2015

QUORN VEGAN LAUNCH

Earlier this month, I was invited to the exclusive blogger launch for the new, hotly anticipated range of vegan products by leading meat-free company, Quorn.


The event took place at The Ampersand Hotel in South Kensington on Thursday 15th October. As soon as I arrived, I was greeted by the Quorn representatives and offered a drink, along with a selection of mouth-watering vegan canapés. Aside from the great opportunity I had to try the new vegan range that evening, the event was also wonderful for connecting with other bloggers based in and around London - something I have mostly failed to do since my move to the city one year ago.
The atmosphere was laid-back and informal, and I had some really interesting conversations about veganism, food and blogging in general. 







After the drinks reception, a presentation was given by Jen Shepherd, Digital and PR rep for Quorn Foods. It was highly informative and I found myself learning a lot about the origins of the company, as well as the reasoning behind their decision to launch a range of vegan products (which has been 3 years in the making). 

The Vegan Society estimates that there are around 300,000 vegans in the UK - a diverse group who follow the lifestyle for a number of ethical, health and environmental reasons.  Following growing demand for vegan alternatives across digital channels (and a total of four petitions!), Quorn decided to develop the Quorn Vegan Range, offering consumers two exciting 100% vegan products. The first is the Quorn Hot & Spicy Burger, which will be available at Asda and Waitrose from October 2015. The second, also available at Asda, is Quorn Vegan Chicken-Style Pieces. Both products have a recommended retail price of £2.49, which sounds pretty reasonable to me.




The presentation was followed by the opportunity to sample both products, which had been cooked up into delicious meals by the chefs at Quorn. My absolute favourite of the night was the hot & spicy chicken-style burger, which had a fantastic texture and my seal of approval on the level of spice. The Mediterranean socca (flat-bread 'pizza' with tomatoes and olives) was also a highlight. I was less sure of the stir-fry and did find the texture slightly too crumbly. However, as far as meat-free alternatives go, Quorn has certainly developed a strong product that rivals what is already out there in the market. Compared to another brand of chicken-style pieces that I have tried in the past, Quorn gets my top vote.






I am looking forward to seeing the range expand to other leading retailers in upcoming months. Although I tend to shy away from using meat alternatives in my regular day-to-day cooking, I am excited to test out the stack of recipes they were kind enough to send me. 

If you would like to find out more about the products, be sure to check out www.quorn.co.uk/vegan

Photo credit: Tomas Preston of Preston Perfect Photography (www.facebook.com/PrestonPerfectPhotography

Friday, 16 October 2015

PEANUT AND GINGER HOT CHOCOLATE WITH MARSHMALLOW CREAM


Two years ago, I shared a ginger and chilli spiced hot chocolate recipe. Today, I've gone for peanut and ginger, a combination that seems odd at first, but one that works to a tee. I discovered that I liked this combination while experimenting with some raw, vegan energy bites. Along with freshly grated ginger, dried fruits and dessicated coconut, I decided to add a dollop of peanut butter and was left with a deliciously moreish mixture. I've taken that as the inspiration for this recipe, but gone a step further by adding a smooth, silky marshmallow cream topping and pieces of soft marshmallow. 

The method for making the hot chocolate is easy as pie. The marshmallow is also pretty simple too but involves more processes. To create the marshmallow cream, you'll need to start off with aquafaba vegan meringue (which I used for my mango macarons recipe). The tutorial video below will show you exactly how the meringue is made. To that, you will need to add one tablespoon of xantham gum, which is what gives it the gooey marshmallow consistency.



Ingredients
For the hot chocolate:
- 1 cup coconut milk
- 1/4 cup dark chocolate pieces
- 1 tsp grated fresh ginger
- 1 tbsp unsalted peanut butter (organic if possible)
- coconut sugar or brown sugar to sweeten (optional)

For the meringue cream and meringue pieces:
- 1 batch of vegan meringue mixture (see video above for recipe)
- 1 tbsp xantham gum
- extra vanilla extract 

Start by making the marshmallow cream. The base is vegan aquafaba meringue. Add the xantham gum and a little extra vanilla extract while whisking in order to get a soft marshmallow consistency. It should look like this...


Place about a quarter of this mixture into a piping bag and pipe small marshmallow pieces onto a baking tray lined with baking paper...Place in the oven on the lowest setting and allow it to dry out slightly for about 10-15 mins so that it is still soft and spongy, but able to hold its shape. Leave to cool before peeling off the baking paper.



Next, make the hot chocolate by adding all the ingredients to a saucepan. Heat up the coconut milk, add the dark chocolate pieces, peanut butter and grated ginger, and bring to a boil...


Strain to get out any ginger pieces. Pour into your mug or glass, filling up 3/4 of the way...


Place the rest of your marshmallow cream mixture into a piping bag and pipe over the hot chocolate, working your way up and around in a swirl pattern...






Take a few of the baked marshmallow pieces and dot it around your swirl. Dust with a generous helping of grated dark chocolate to complete the drink!






Sunday, 11 October 2015

COOKERY DEMO AT LONDON VEGFEST 2015 (PHOTOS + VIDEO)



As I mentioned in a previous post, I was billed to do a cookery demo at this year's London VegFest on Saturday 10th October. As it was finalised all the way back in April, I had six whole months to get used to the idea. Six months to tell myself that it's always good to step out of my comfort zone and try something new. Somehow, along the way, I succeeded in convincing myself of this. The day finally came and went and shock horror (!) I am still in one piece. The world is still spinning, the sun will continue to shine and life goes on.

In all seriousness, I have to say that the experience is definitely high up there on the list of cool stuff I've had the opportunity to do as a result of this blog.

I've always hated giving presentations - I dreaded every single one I had to give during my academic career - but the strange thing about this particular one is that I actually felt excited in the build-up to the event. Not a drop of nervousness. Not until the very last minute before I was about to start anyway! (And then I had my amazing older brother there to knock some sharp sense into me and provide the extra boost I needed to just get on with it).

I had a wonderful time cooking at the festival. The crowd was kind, responsive and encouraging - I couldn't have asked for more. Whenever I looked out and saw someone smile or nod in agreement or actually look interested, it made me feel as though I wasn't talking complete nonsense lol. It made it easier to share anecdotes and tidbits of information specific to Nigerian cuisine. As an aside, I have so much respect for professional food presenters who manage to engage so well with their audience! Serious props.

My presentation was far from perfect, but I have absolutely no regrets. Sometimes in life, you just have to give yourself a pat on the back for trying. I had fun, the feedback on my jollof rice was absolutely ace and I got to meet some lovely individuals in the process. If I get a chance to do a similar presentation in the future, I will totally learn from this experience and improve my technique where necessary.

Here are a handful of pictures taken by my brother, along with a video with clips from my demo (unfortunately the camera ran out of memory half way through so we couldn't film the whole thing...my fault for forgetting to free up enough space the night before!)

*Thank you to VegFest for the opportunity*

Unpacking all my ingredients and equipment...no such thing as over-preparing!

Printed some flyers for the audience.

About 20 minutes before the demo starts. Big bro helping put flyers out on chairs.

Still unpacking; silently wondering 'what the heck am I about to do?!'

My name on the cookery demo poster. Cool!

Also in the festival program. Yay!

Throwing on my chef coat. Bro cracking some joke.

Actual people turning up to watch! 

My favourite shot. I actually look comfortable up there. Strange.

Plantain taking forever to brown. Quick...think of something to say.

VegFest crowd growing in the auditorium.

Audience trying the jollof rice/plantain/coleslaw, and asking questions. Great feedback!

Homeward bound. Obligatory sibling photo at the station before parting ways. Thanks, Tola!


Saturday, 3 October 2015

BOOK REVIEW: 'THE GREEN & THE RED' BY ARMAND CHAUVEL, TRANSLATED BY ELISABETH LYMAN

'She's a vegetarian. He's a carnivore. Will it be a table for one?'



It's always a great feeling when your passions align. For those who don't already know, my background is in English and French literature/language - my degree for four years between 2010-2014. Before cooking and blogging, there was reading and writing. Now all these elements co-exist in my world.

When I was asked to review the novel, The Green and the Red, there was no way to contain my excitement. The book is written by French author and journalist, Armand Chauvel, and translated into English by Elisabeth Lyman. It features a vegetarian protagonist named Léa who is a chef struggling to keep her restaurant, La Dame Verte, going in the small town of Rennes in Brittany. Thrown into the mix is Mathieu, a marketing director at one of the biggest pork producers in town. In order to get his hands on the restaurant's real estate for a pork museum project, he poses as a vegetarian to gather relevant financial information from Léa.

The novel adheres to the romantic novel genre with its tale of the unlikely attraction between Léa and Mathieu, and the many obstacles (often comical and entertaining) that continuously crop up to deter their union. What saves the novel from merely being another generic chick-lit, however, is its intelligent and thoughtful treatment of animal rights, agriculture and human motivations for dietary choices, all of which simultaneously propel the novel into the eco-literature genre. These issues are imaginatively woven into the novel via the conversations that take place between characters, and so the facts are presented in easily digestible bites. With such a heavy and controversial subject matter, one would have understood if the novel took on an overbearing, moralistic tone. But Chauvel succeeds in softening the didacticism by presenting important ethical issues in a light-hearted context.

There's something for everyone in this novel. Both vegetarians/vegans and meat-eaters are shown at their best and at their worst, no one gets off easy and as a result, there are several hilarious moments to make you laugh out loud or roll your eyes as you relate to one character or another. On the one hand, for example, the character Pervenche (Léa's outspoken, passive-aggressive sous-chef) represents the extremist, intolerant side that can rear its head in the vegan movement. On the other, we have Mathieu's boss, Auguste Nedelec, who is a hyperbolic caricature of a vegetarian-hating omnivore. In the end, the message is clear that both sides have a lot to learn from each other when it comes to living and acting in tolerance.

Now, how can I write about this novel without bringing up the FOOD! Léa's passion for plant-based cuisine and experimentation leap off the pages - from her quest to 'veganise' foie gras to her mouth-watering creations such as pumpkin wonton soup and flourless chocolate cake. I'm yet to find a literary character that I relate to so much on a foodie level. The culinary descriptions are a delight to the senses, adding to the charm of the novel as a whole.

If you're after a light read that combines romance, food and contemporary animal rights issues, then I suggest you give this novel a try. Elisabeth Lyman does a great job at bringing the story to life for the English-speaking audience, making the story flow effortlessly and capturing the nuances of French culture and language. The way I see it, the future is bright for eco-literature and its potential to reach the minds and hearts of readers; I am excited to see how the genre evolves!
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