Monthly Archives: June 2012

Product Review: Sheese

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A student friend of mine hated cheese. It all just tasted like milk that had gone off to him. I’ve always loved cheese from processed triangles, through decent cheddar and stilton to an unpasteurised camembert bought in France, that asserted its presence every time the bag was opened. So when I heard about Sheese on various vegetarian/vegan websites and magazines I thought I’d give it a go as soon as I got the chance.

I found some of their Strong Cheddar in my local healthfood shop this morning.

Sheese1

It comes in a solid, cylindrical block.
Sheese2

It looks the same colour as putty. It might have the same mouthfeel as putty, but I can’t say because once it was in my mouth all I could concentrate on was getting it out again as fast as possible.

Dear Guh that stuff tastes vile. It is properly, properly nasty. There’s actually a hint of blue cheese there, a whiff of stilton, but it doesn’t stand a chance against the main flavour which is sick. Vomit. This stuff tastes of vomit.

And that’s all I can really say about it, other than to wonder who they got to taste test this when they were developing it. If it’s a real cheese-lover I wonder what happened to their tastebuds. And yet, I must be in a minority like my friend of student days, because this stuff wins awards. I read delighted reviews on websites and forums. It just goes to show, there is no accounting for taste.

Well I won’t be tasting it again. If you don’t mind. Thank you very much.

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Restaurant Review: Inamo

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It wasn’t the food that drew us to Inamo, it was the gadgetry. Inamo doesn’t have printed menus and the waiters don’t take your order, instead you have a touch-sensitive area on the table and the menu is projected on to your table. You make your selection from that. While you are waiting you can change the pattern that’s projected on to your table and maybe play a game of battleships with your friends (we didn’t).

The menu

The menu tells you that they aim to have your selected dishes with you within 15 minutes. In our case it took less than that, but they bring each dish as it is ready, so things will arrive randomly.

We stayed with the small dishes and side dishes rather than go for a main and there is a reasonable selection for the vegetarian.

First to arrive was the vegetarian temaki, two smallish handrolls of lightly steamed veg in rice, wrapped in nori. It tasted fresh and light, especially as the dipping sauce wasn’t the usual soy and wasabi mix. I don’t know what it was but it had a fruitier flavour rather than the salty soy hit and it complemented the rolls perfectly.

Veg temaki

Watch when ordering miso soup, as there are both vegetarian and non-vegetarian options. It was nice, it was miso, there’s not much else you can say about it.

Vegetarian maki rolls were five rolls with peppers and avocado, topped with a drop of mayonnaise. Again, fresh, light flavours.

Vegetarian maki

The cripsy silken tofu was nice. Crispy on the outside and melting inside with a oyster mushrooms and a deeply umami sauce. This, however, was the first menu item where I thought ‘is that it?’ £6.25 for four, small cubes of tofu and one mushroom, is expensive.

Crispy tofu

Having said that, Imamo is not a cheap-eats place. Dinner for two, including a glass of wine each and service came to £99. Special occasions only, I think.

The best item on the menu, was also the best value for money. The kai lan in black bean sauce was a plateful of steamed leafy vegetable. The black bean sauce add an umami sweetness to the iron-bitterness of the green leaf.

Tai lan with black bean sauce

That as a side dish with a main, rice and miso soup as a starter and you might get out of the restaurant without your bank manager complaining.

I enjoyed the meal. The gadgetry was amusing and it worked. The staff were helpful and prompt. The food was of excellent quality, but with a price to match. I’ll go back, but not until after next payday!

Recipe: Fennel Top Gazpacho

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I’m having another try at a weekly veg box delivery. This week’s surprise was a bulb of fennel that was all top!

Fennel & tops

I couldn’t waste that much veg, so I looked around for recipes to use it.

A quick trawl of my recipe books turned up trumps with St Delia’s Summer Collection. She includes a recipe for fennel gazpacho, but that involves cooking the ingredients and I didn’t want to cook something only to chill it down (and besides, I was hungry!) The basic recipe I found for gazpacho was on Nigella’s website, but doesn’t include fennel, she also includes tinned tomatoes, but I went for some sundried tomato paste to boost the flavour.

Using the green fennel does make the soup come out with a bit of a sludgy look, but it adds a subtle hint of aniseed to the fresh, garlicky summeriness of gazpacho. And just think of how many of your ‘five a day’ a bowl of this provides!

Fennel top gazpacho

So my recipe for Fennel Top Gazpacho.

Ingredients
4 medium tomatoes, chopped
Half a cucumber, chopped
Fennel tops, chopped
2 cloves garlic
3 spring onions, chopped
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp sundried tomato puree
Olive oil
salt & pepper

Method
Put all ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth. I never skin tomatoes (life is too short). I would have peeled the cucumber, but the soup was going to be green enough from the fennel tops, so I didn’t bother this time.

Serve with crusty bread, and maybe a bit of goats cheese crumbled over the top.

A vegetarian goes to Slimming World …

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So, this fat veggie thought it was time to have a go at not being such a fat veggie. I’d steered clear of slimming groups after a very unsatisfactory couple of visits to Weight Watchers, where my parting shot to the terminally patronising group leader was that I might be overweight, but it didn’t mean I was educationally sub-normal (and you can tell by the thoroughly unsound terminology how long ago it was!)

Then my partner in crime Anth suggested giving Slimming World a go – she’d lost five stone with them a while back. “You’ll hate the ra-ra, but the eating plan works,” was her view. And to date she’s been right.

Tammi, who runs the group, is lovely and welcoming, and also positive that being a strict vegetarian (almost vegan) wasn’t going to be a problem. I felt comfortable with her immediately.

Slimming World claim that you’re more likely to lose weight if you stay to the whole meeting because of the supportive, friendly atmosphere. I gave it two weeks and decided I’d manage on my own, thanks very much. An hour and a half of plodding around the group while each person mumbled about how they’d be back on target next week didn’t seem like a good use of my time. So now I turn up to be weighed, chat to the handful of people who are friendly, then go.

As for the eating plan, Anth’s right. It is do-able. I lost a stone quickly, did OK over Christmas and New Year, but have yo-yo’d ever since. That’s down to me and private life crap, though, and not Slimming World. Zoe, a friend of mine who started after Christmas, has done fabulously and isn’t far off losing three stone.

But it’s a tricky plan sometimes for vegetarians, as everything is so focused on meat and eggs. I’ve never seen an eating pattern that advocates so many eggs. Even if I liked the damned things, I could never eat that many. And even the ‘green’ recipe book has dishes with meat in. Yes, I could probably adapt them, but I kind of resent having to.

And I still can’t get the hang of the ‘syns’ – the extra treats they let you have. They often don’t bear much resemblance to how low in fat or calories something is (and nuts and seeds come in horribly high). And trying to find out the syn value of stuff can be a hassle if the item isn’t in the little book they sell you – I’m buggered if I’m phoning Slimming World’s premium rate phone line to ask. Yes, I know it’s a business. But sod that for a game of soldiers.

So I’m building my eating plan around baked potatoes, pasta and rice – all ‘free’ food. And the reason they claim you’ll never be hungry on a Slimming World regime is because these certainly fill you up. I’ve got in the habit of buying the tubs of M&S tropical fruit as well. Yes, it’s probably an indulgence. But at two for £5, there isn’t any waste.

Where I’m doing less well, though, is finding other snacks. Slimming World sell a range of cereal-type bars which aren’t bad, but seem to be jammed full of artificial sweeteners, which I don’t much like. So I’ve gone for Weight Watchers’ chocolate biscuits for a one a day treat. The jury is still out on savoury snacks, though …

I’m going to stick with it, because I think it does work, and I get the feeling I’m more likely to keep the weight off on this plan – they call it a lifestyle change rather than a diet. And if it comes off slowly, so be it – I’ll settle for that.

Restaurant Review: Ping Pong – Southbank

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Any restaurant review of the Ping Pong dim-sum-with-cocktails chain tends to get a bit sniffy about ‘authenticity’ and ‘mediocrity’, but I think it’s a good place to get introduced to dim sum. The quality may not be the highest, but neither are the prices, and it is consistent. They have a good range of set menus, and if you decide to go ‘off-piste’ there aren’t any dangers lurking in the far reaches of the menu.

They are also veggie-friendly. You get two sets of chilli dipping sauce and I’ve never had them set down on the table without the waitperson explain that one of them has shrimp in, while the other is vegetarian.

Their menu also has a good selection of vegetarian dim sum and a veggie set menu. This sets is as a few streets ahead of some other critically acclaimed dim sum places such as Pearl Liang, for example, where the dim sum menu has four vegetarian items and none in its set menu. (I say nothing against the quality of dim sum at Pearl Liang, merely its variety for vegetarians.)

I had the:
Hoi Sin Vegetable Puff
Hoi sin vegetable puff

Mixed Vegetable Spring Roll
Mixed vegetable spring roll

Crunchy Golden Vegetable Dumpling
Crunchy golden vegetable dumpling

Spicy Vegetable Dumpling
Spicy vegetable dumpling

Vegetable Sticky Rice
Vegetable sticky rice

Of them all, the hoi sin baked puff was the best. It was a bit dry, and could have had more filling, but you could taste the hoi sin sauce and it was crumbly and yummy. The vegetable spring rolls were the thin standard ones – crispy and hot, but the filling was just an excuse to have something deep-fried and dipped in sweet and sour sauce.

The three steamed dumplings I had were nice, although the spicy vegetables weren’t very spicy and there wasn’t a lot of filling in the sticky-rice.

And this is going to be where I complain a little. I enjoyed the meal when I was eating it. I wanted to eat dim sum and it ticked all the boxes for me while I was eating. It was when I was coming home and thinking about how to write this blog post that I realised there was nothing to distinguish the three steamed items from each other. They were finely chopped, pretty bland vegetables in a soft and sticky casing. I may as well have picked the cheapest and had three portions of it. That’s OK, in a way, I suppose. I may have picked the wrong things (although most of them show up on the vegetarian set menu). But I have eaten at Ping Pong as a meat eater and it doesn’t happen with their non-vegetarian dumplings. The chicken and cashew nut dumpling tastes different to the har gau, which tastes different to the chicken shu mai. If they can do that with the standard meat and seafood, why can’t they do it with the standard vegetarian ones?

Despite all that, I did enjoy the food, and I will go back (although that has more to do with location than anything else). And the iced lychee and ginger tea was delicious!

Food for three, including wine for two, came to £107.

Recipe: Slimming World Quiche

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If you go to a Slimming World group, it should only take about three weeks before someone tells you two recipes: Slimming World Chips and Slimming World Quiche. Due to the way Slimming World organises its diet plan, you can eat as much as you like of these foods and stay on the plan.

I may come back to the chips later, but for now I want to concentrate on the ‘quiche’. I put the words in inverted commas because when I described it to a friend he said, “That’s not quiche!” He’s right. It has no pastry crust, it has no milk or cream. It’s much more like a baked frittata or spanish omelette.

It also makes a quick and tasty midweek supper or weekend lunch.

SW Quiche

Ingredients
300g low fat cottage cheese (plain is fine, but I prefer the onion & chive version)
3 large, free range eggs
Half a red pepper, sliced
8 asparagus tips, sliced
4 sundried tomatoes, chopped
Pinch of thyme and oregano
Salt
Pepper

Note: – the veg in the recipe is what I used to make it this time. It varies according to what’s in the fridge. While red pepper is a perennial, mushrooms, cold new potatoes, cooked carrots, courgettes, aubergines, olives, capers, even peas would be fine. Be careful with the courgettes and aubergines, though as they leak a lot of water – it might be worth pre-cooking them. Essentially, if you’d like them in a spanish omelette they’ll do fine in this.

You can also add grated cheese to the top before baking, but I’ve stayed true to the low-fat nature of the original and missed it out for this one.

Method:
Beat the eggs and stir in the cottage cheese (draining any excess liquid from the carton if there is any on the top). Add the salt, pepper and herbs and stir those in too. Now add the veg, making sure they’re evenly distributed.

Add to a pre-warmed oven, 180C, for 40-45 minutes, or the eggs have set.

Take out and leave to stand for about 10 minutes before slicing and serving. It’s great hot, but I think it’s even better cold.

Recipe: Seitan

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I hadn’t been a vegetarian for long before I started coming across references to seitan, mostly from American food blogs. I gathered it was something close to tofu in function, if not origin. I put it on the list of things to try when I found it and forgot about it.

Only I never did find it. Unless it’s marketed in the UK under a completely different name, I just haven’t seen it in any healthfood shop – including the excellent one near me.

I kept seeing references to it in recipes but had no way of getting my hands on a supply. Luckily, you can’t search for seitan for long on the internet without coming across a recipe for making it. It looked reasonably easy, so I decided to give it a go.

I didn’t want to make a huge amount to start off with so I took 500g of plain white flour and mixed in enough water to make a workable dough. I wasn’t expecting this dough to rise, so I didn’t make it as wet as I would make a bread dough, but it was softer than a pastry dough. I needed it for 20 minutes, until I had a smooth ball.

Kneaded dough

I rested that for half an hour.

Then came the fun part. Seitan is the gluten of wheat dough without the starch. So I put the bowl in the sink, turned on the tap and started to rinse the starch out of the dough, working it in my hands all the time.

Remember when you were a kid and were chewing gum when you decided to eat a sweet at the same time? Remember how the gum went all soft and gooey? That’s what the seitan felt like in my hands. I kept going and hoped that this was what it was supposed to be like.

Once the water had run clear, I was left with a lump of gooey dough about a third the size of the original.

Washed seitan

The next stage was to cut it into lumps and simmer it in stock for 20 minutes. I simmered it in water and soy sauce. It does swell during cooking. When it was cooked and drained, I was left with uneven chunks of something resembling cheap chicken breast.

Cooked seitan

I tried a bit to eat and it was essentially flavourless, chewier than tofu, but not as dense as real meat. Still, it wasn’t unpleasant in itself, so I decided to try it in a recipe.

I did a Seitan and whatever veg were in the fridge stir-fry with black bean and hoisin sauce.

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It wasn’t bad. It’s not like eating meat, but it does give you a satisfying mouth-feel that’s all its own. There are far worse meat substitutes out there (Quorn Bacon I’m looking at you) and I’d happily eat it again. It is a bit of a faff to make though, so unless I find somewhere to buy it, it’ll come behind quorn and tofu in my preferences.