Vegan Apple & Blueberry Cake

This is a perfect cake for damp autumn afternoons. I have been experimenting with this recipe for a few weeks now, trying to make a cake that isn’t too sweet but is tasty. This means we have munched our way through some delicious but slightly fragile versions of this cake until I managed to get the ratios right so that we had something with enough robustness to be picked up. Here is the recipe I am sticking with …

Recipe

  • 90 g of brown sugar
  • 100 g of margarine melted & cooled
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla essence
  • 50 ml of milk [I use soya milk]
  • Half of a 270 g jar of apple sauce [I use Lidl]
  • 150 – 200 g of blueberries
  • 190 g of plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons of cinnamon or mixed spice

Optional topping – 1 teaspoon of brown sugar with a tablespoon of lemon juice or apple juice and 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon or mixed spice

Method – Put the blueberries in a small bowl and mix with 20 g of the brown sugar. In a large bowl beat the cooled melted margarine with the remaining 70 g of the sugar.

Add the vanilla essence, milk and apple sauce to the bowl and mix well.

Sift the flour with the baking powder and cinnamon or mixed spice and fold into the wet ingredients.

Carefully mix the sugar-coated blueberries into the cake mixture.

Grease your baking tin. I use a 6″ square tin but have tried muffin tins and loaf tins too.

I bake in the Remoska for about 40 – 45 minutes. Otherwise, bake at 180C [gas mark 4] for about 45 minutes or longer, depending on your oven and the tin you have used. A skewer should come out clean when the cake is cooked and your kitchen will smell warm and inviting!

Cool in the tin and while it is still warm you can coat the top with a mixture of sugar, cinnamon / mixed spice and juice for a slightly crunchy sweet topping.

A poor substitute for a Cambodian takeaway with friends

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I was stupid to make plans really in these DC [during coronavirus] months [maybe years] but I did.  We have two old friends who live on the rural edge of Greater Manchester.  We have known one of them since school and met his partner in the mid-1980s; we go back a long way and have few secrets from them.  In those carefree BC [before coronavirus] days we would normally see them every six weeks or so for a wild night out in Manchester city centre and spend at least one holiday a year with them.  These are  not normal times and we have only seen them via a laptop screen since the end of January … it isn’t the same.

As restrictions eased, we arranged to meet up at their house for a takeaway.  We decided on their local Cambodian and had even spent ages going through the menu and ordered our meals.  The it was announced on Twitter that Greater Manchester was off limits!

The disappointment of not having an evening laughing with these friends is hard to put into words, a week later I am still choked up about it.  We had nothing planned for an evening meal at home as we thought we would be enjoying a delicious Cambodian meal, so a quick trip to the supermarket and a Zoom meeting booked with our friends we had a go at making the best of the spoilt evening.  Here’s what we ate:

Substitute Cambodian stir fry – for two

Spicy peanut sauce

  • I onion chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves peeled
  • 1 tablespoon of tomato puree
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 1 chilli pepper

I blitzed these with a little water in our mini food processor.

In a pan with a little vegetable oil I gently fried:

  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon mixed spice

Then added the onion / tomato mixture and two tablespoons of peanut butter.  I added more water to make the sauce consistency I wanted and seasoned to our taste and kept this warm.  You can make this in advance.

Fried tofu

I unwrapped a 225 g pack of smoked tofu [any tofu will be fine] squeezed some of the liquid out of it and cut it into 1 cm cubes.  I coated these in flour mixed with salt and pepper and shallow fried them in vegetable oil until they were crisp on the outside and soft in the middle.

Stir fry vegetables

  • Green beans – we had some cooked ones left over
  • 1 pepper cut into thin strips
  • About 2/3 rds of a bag of beansprouts
  • 1/2 stick of celery cut into thin batons
  • Bag of Singapore style rice noodles [From Sainsburys these are already in a curry paste and red chilli dressing]

In a wok, I stir fried the pepper and celery quickly in a small amount of vegetable oil, adding the green beans, beansprouts and noodles at the end.

I mixed the tofu with the stir fried vegetables and served with the sauce poured over.  It tasted great but would have been so much better with good friends.

 

 

 

 

 

More Campervan Comfort Food: Fennel & Cream with pasta [vegan or veggie]

Fennel and cream (2)

You return to your campervan after a long walk on a cold or wet day and what you need is something warming to eat that only takes 15 minutes max to prepare and cook.  In our Blue Bus, pasta is a great go-to dish for these evenings.

I love the taste of fennel but I wonder if it isn’t so popular in the UK.  I bought some in our local supermarket recently and the cashier didn’t even know what it was and when I asked admitted he had never eaten it.  For me, fennel brings back memories of Italy and the beautiful food that country produces.  I also love the fresh spicy liquorice taste and the crunchy texture.  You might read that it is good for you but don’t let that put you off, it just tastes great.

This dish can be vegetarian or vegan, depending on your own preference.  If you don’t like fennel you could use asparagus, broccoli spears or courgettes in this recipe too, they all also cook quicker than you can pour a couple of glasses of wine!

Fennel & Cream with pasta [for two]

  • 1 bulb of fennel
  • 3 or 4 spring onions
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 200 – 300 ml of sour cream or vegan cream, grated
  • 100 gm or so of cheese [I used half a packet of vegan Greek white cheese I had in the fridge but anything will do]

Wash and then slice the fennel thinly [I use pretty much all of it, including the outer bulb, the stalk and leaves – just cutting out the hard inner core].

Heat the oil in a wok or large frying pan [or your Ridgemonkey grill] and add the fennel.  Stir and cook until the fennel is softened.

Meanwhile put your favourite pasta on to boil as this is fast food.

Add the spring onion, black pepper and garlic to the fennel and stir. then add the cream and warm through.

Finally add the cheese and then season [with the cheese you probably won’t need any salt].

When your pasta is cooked, drain and add to the creamy mixture, stir in well and serve.

After a long day walking I would serve this up with a bunch of rocket if we had it and a glass of red wine [we always have this].

 

 

 

 

 

Courgette & Green Bean Stew with Lemon & Olives: Enjoying Outdoor Campervan Cooking with a Summer Stew

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The sun is shining, there is hardly any breeze. It is too hot to slave over the campervan hob.  On these evenings I always move outside to cook.  We don’t travel with a BBQ but have a portable electric hob that can be used outdoors.  In the Yorkshire Dales recently, it was exactly one of those evenings. We were camping at Howgill Lodge campsite which has one of the best views this side of Scotland and I jumped at the chance to sit at one of the many picnic benches the campsite provides and chop my veg.

This fresh summer stew can be made in one pot and uses vegetables that are in season.  We had a beer to help us along while we cooked.

To conjure up a summer vegetable stew for four, I chopped up:

  • One red onion finely
  • 500 gm new potatoes, cubed
  • One courgette into cubes
  • One pack of green beans (200 – 300 gms) trimmed and cut into approximately 4 cm lengths
  • Garlic
  • Small bunch of fresh parsley
  • Small bunch of fresh dill
  • 100 gm of pitted green olives [my favourites are Sainsbury’s pitted queen olives] cut in half

I also had:

  • 500 gm of good tomato passata [you can use tinned tomatoes]
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil

In a large saucepan, I heated the olive oil gently and added the onion, cooking until soft. I added the garlic, pinch of salt, black pepper and paprika and stirred and then the potatoes and courgettes, coated them in the oil and cooked for one minute before adding the tomatoes and a little water [about 125 ml].  Put the lid on, bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes or so, you can sit back and relax for a while until the potatoes are softening.

Checking in with the cooking again, add the cut beans to the pot and simmer for a further 10 minutes until the beans are tender.  Stir in the dill and parsley, olives and lemon juice.  Taste and adjust the seasoning to suit you.

This is a delicious and hearty meal served with some crusty bread and either a simple green salad or a Greek salad with feta cheese.

Asparagus cooking in a campervan

As a child I’d never even heard of asparagus let alone tried it.  Something as exotic as asparagus never reached a small Staffordshire village in the 1970s!  It took owning a campervan to encounter this wonderful vegetable.  Back in 2007 we took our new Devon Sundowner across Germany and to Poland.  It was late May and early June and driving through Germany we couldn’t miss the fields of asparagus and the roadside asparagus stalls.

Trying a new food can be daunting but I like to give things a go.  At a farmer’s market in Hamelin I found a stall selling asparagus and decided to take the plunge. Not really  knowing what was the right amount to buy and not knowing how to ask for half a kilo let alone a quarter in German, I came away with a kilo of green asparagus!  We lived like kings, eating asparagus for three nights running and I quickly learnt different ways to cook it, adding it to risotto, flash-frying it in butter and roasting it.  My love affair with this vegetable had begun.  In Germany that year we tried white asparagus as well as green, which is grown beneath the soil.

Nowadays I can’t wait for May when the short asparagus season begins.  Our first asparagus-based meal this year was a simple pasta dish. The asparagus was flash-fried in olive oil with garlic and black pepper in my RidgeMonkey grill pan and served with cooked pasta, sprinkled with some grated hard Italian cheese.  We had a bottle of tasty Scottish beer to wash it down. What a Spring-time treat!

Frugal win and plastic-free fail

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Delicious vegetarian food

After the panic halfway through 2018 because our spending seemed out of control we changed our shopping habits with a plan to get things back on track and frugal.  We continue to purchase consciously, rather than conspicuously, only buy what we need and use the think-about-it-for-a-month method for expensive purchases or for something new.   We also continue to make do, wearing clothing until it is only fit for scraps and fixing things rather than replacing them.

Given that we are not prepared to give up our holidays, one of our bigger budget lines is food and grocery shopping.  This represented 14% of our spending in 2018.  We decided we would target this area of our budget and make some changes.  The main alteration we made last summer was to switch pretty much all of our shopping while we are in the UK to Aldi, the German discount supermarket, rather than a combination of Tesco, Sainsburys and Morrisons.

Since last summer we were away during September and October but it is now four months since we returned from this trip to mainland Europe and I have been able to review what we have spent in supermarkets during that period [which includes Christmas].

The savings are clear.  We have saved an average of around £50 a month [£600 a year is not an insignificant amount in our budget]  As we all know, in terms of staying frugal shopping in Aldi is a win-win.  This has certainly helped with our budget and although it is really too early to say, at the moment this year’s spending is on track [there I did say it].

I am less happy with the amount of plastic packaging we come home with from Aldi and this was the main reason we hadn’t shopped in Aldi previously.  I do try and buy as much plastic-free fresh fruit and vegetables as I can from the store but this seriously limits our diet.  Baking potatoes, spring onions, aubergines, peppers and celeriac are all favourites that are plastic-free.  Fantastic, there are good things here that make great meals.  But we also like to include carrots, tomatoes, onions, courgettes and mushrooms in our diet and these generally come wrapped in plastic, whereas in other supermarkets I could find them loose.

Being frugal and taking care of our planet are both important in my life and at the moment it feels challenging to balance these two principles.  I have been an environmental campaigner for most of my adult life and this is very much a part of who I am.  Travelling in our campervan is also something that is close to my heart.  Spending more than our budget [the amount of savings we have are pretty much fixed] isn’t really optional.  The only way we can live the life we want to is by keeping our spending in control.

If we squander all our savings before our pensions kick in we will have to go back to work!  Not the end of the world I know [and don’t get me wrong I am not complaining and I know how privileged we are] … and yet I do wonder who would want to employ either of us in our mid-60s?  And so our shopping continues to compromise our environmental credibility until Aldi start to reduce their packaging.  Hopefully that is only a matter of time.

 

 

 

Here’s why Making your own Bread is Tasty & Frugal

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I have baked my own bread for a long time, mainly at home, although in the campervan I occasionally knock up some pitta bread.  I became a bread maker in the days when we lived in a semi-detached house with a good-sized kitchen and I had room to leave a worktop covered in flour for a few hours while the dough proved.  When we moved to our flat I still wanted fresh homemade bread but there was hardly enough space for kneading dough on the worktops of our tiny kitchen.  We don’t have a good bakery nearby and shop-bought bread was so awful, buying a compact bread maker was an option that has worked well for us.

We have owned our Morphy Richards compact bread maker for nine years now.  We have had to buy a new pan and paddle over the years but it has given good service, is easy to use and makes affordable fresh and tasty bread that we love.  I particularly like knowing exactly what has gone in to our bread and just love the smell of bread baking.

We use the bread maker two or three times a week while we are at home.  I would estimate before we retired we used it around 100 times a year and now we are away on campervan trips more we use it around 70 times a year.  In nine years that is a lot of bread-making cycles!

WHAT DOES MAKING BREAD AT HOME COST?

  • Morphy Richards compact bread maker £46.50
  • Replacement bread pan £25.99
  • Replacement kneading paddle £8.99
  • TOTAL £81.48 [£9.05 per year / approx £0.10 per use]

BREAD INGREDIENTS [for one loaf]

  • 500 gms of mixed strong white and wholemeal flour £0.28
  • Allinsons Easy Bake Yeast £0.08
  • Olive oil, salt and water cost pennies
  • Electricity approximately £0.12
  • TOTAL INGREDIENTS [for one loaf] £0.48

These calculations are rough and ready [our bread maker might last a few more years for a start] but show that the cost of a loaf and the bread maker over nine years comes to around £0.60.  While you can get a sliced white loaf in a supermarket for around this price, the taste of this is no match for homemade bread.  Buying a good loaf from a bakery would cost much more, so a frugal and tasty win!

 

 

 

 

 

What do you keep in your campervan store cupboard?

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Cooking up a feast

We use our blue campervan all year around and so there is always food in the cupboard and dried ingredients in the storage containers.  If we had to [in that end of the world scenario] we could probably survive for a few weeks on just what is in the ‘van!  Fortunately, we use the ‘van enough that these tins and jars are rotated regularly enough.  What this means is that when we decide to head off on a trip all we need to pop in the Blue Bus’ kitchen cupboards is the fresh food from the fridge and bread bin.  Having these staple items to hand help us to build quick and delicious meals while we are on the road with the addition of a few fresh ingredients.  We can also use them to make a hearty meal if we haven’t had time to shop and want something quick after a long day.

What do you always have in your campervan food cupboard?

Our store cupboard staples:

  • Tins of chickpeas [great for hummus or stews and curries]
  • Small cartons of tomato passata or small tins of tomatoes for stews and sauces
  • Tins of those delicious large Greek beans in tomato sauce
  • Tins of artichoke hearts, sweetcorn, green beans and Spanish peppers [useful if we can’t get fresh vegetables or don’t have time to shop]
  • Jars of pesto [great for a quick meal when the day doesn’t go according to plan]
  • Delicious puy lentils in tins or packets and dried red lentils [they cook so quickly]
  • Jars of black and green olives to nibble or lift a dish of scratch ingredients
  • Peanut butter for sandwiches or stews
  • Marmite [wouldn’t go anywhere without it]
  • Jam and honey
  • Olive oil and balsamic vinegar
  • Herbs, spices and bouillon
  • Pasta, basmati rice, risotto rice and couscous
  • Biscuits, crackers and nuts
  • Bread mix for pitta bread or rolls [cheating I know but easier in the campervan]
  • Soya milk
  • A packet of ground coffee, tea bags, instant coffee & Barleycup
  • A few bottles of red wine and beer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Perfect frugal veggie / vegan winter pie: Creamy leek & nutmeg

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I think I went somewhat over-the-top with the pastry decorations

In a British winter I long for warming and comforting food and this leek and nutmeg pie fits the bill.  This is an affordable but impressive pie with a creamy and tasty filling.  The pie is great for an everyday meal and also perfect for impressing guests.  It is easy to make and the ingredients below make enough for a 7 inch diameter pie dish.  This will feed two hungry and active people with a side serving of carrots and greens.  If you are entertaining it is enough for four adults if it comes after an appetiser / soup and the pie is served with your favourite potato dish [mine are roasties or Dauphinoise potatoes] and a colourful selection of vegetables.

Ingredients

  • 3 large leeks
  • large chunk of Butter or margarine
  • Fresh grated nutmeg
  • 3 tablespoons of creme fraiche (low fat is fine) or vegan cream
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Shortcrust pastry to line and top a 7 inch flan tin

Method

Halve the leeks and wash all the dirt from the layers.  Finely chop the leeks.  Melt the butter or margarine in a large pan and add the leeks.  Stir well, cover and leave to soften for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally.

Once the leeks are soft, add pepper and nutmeg and maybe salt if you haven’t used butter.  Put this aside to cool for an hour or so.  Before adding to the pastry case stir in the creme fraiche or vegan cream.

Preheat your oven to 180C/160C Fan/Gas 4.  Grease your flan tin.  Make your favourite pastry to be really frugal or buy it ready-made if you are short of time or room too roll.  Line the flan tin and fill this with the cooled leek mixture.  Top with another layer of pastry and decorate with left over pastry in your own style!  If I have time I sometimes create a lattice effect with strips of pastry for the top.  Brushing with egg yolk makes it look stunning if you are not cooking for anyone vegan and want to push the boat out.

Cook for around 40 minutes until golden brown.  The pie is moist and delicious and makes a good affordable and comforting winter meal.

 

Campervan vegan lemon cup cakes

Vegan lemon cup cakes
Vegan lemon cup cakes

Like many other campervans our Devon Tempest has just a small combined oven and grill that runs on gas.  While the grill is useful for comforting toast, I use the oven much less.  I sometimes whip up some garlic bread or make pitta breads but we don’t heat up ready meals in the ‘van [preferring to cook from scratch] and I usually cook meals on the hob.  I know there are those who cook a full Sunday roast in their oven but for others the oven is just the place to store the frying pans.  Recently I decided to get my money’s worth out of this piece of campervan equipment and make cakes.

We were taking a camping trip in the Peak District and were being joined for the weekend by working friends who were due to arrive on Friday evening.  As the two retirees with time on our hands we had arrived a day early and were in charge of the first evening cooking rota.  We wanted to spoil our hard-working friends and as well as a selection of curries we were keen to provide a pudding, but with one friend joining us who is a vegan, a shop-bought cake was not an easy option.

I spent a happy hour on the Friday morning having my very own bake-off in our tiny kitchen, not really expecting it to be too successful.  I have made vegan cakes at home and they are generally easy to throw together, not requiring the time consuming techniques you need for traditional sponge cakes.  In the ‘van I used reusable silicone cup cake cases to make a dozen lemon cup cakes and was pleased when they came out looking great.  Decorating cakes is not my strong point, I don’t have the patience for delicate work, so I cheated with ready-made icing to give the cakes the finishing touch to make them look special.

That evening the cakes were all wolfed down in no time and there is now no stopping me in terms of campervan baking, look out Martin Dorey!

Recipe for Vegan Lemon Cakes – makes a dozen cup cakes or one loaf

  • 255 gms plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder + 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 65 gms sugar + pinch of salt
  • Zest + juice of 1 lemon [around 60 mls]
  • 120 mls vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of water
  • 240 mls of vegan yoghurt [milk-based plain yoghurt is fine  if you are not vegan]
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • 50 gms melted vegan margarine

Preheat the over to 160C or similar.  Grease & line a 1 lb loaf tin if you are using this.

Sift the flour with the baking powder & soda and salt in to a bowl.  Add the lemon zest & sugar.

Add water, oil, yoghurt, lemon juice & melted margarine, combine quickly so that the flour is mixed in but do not over mix.

Pour your mixture in to your cup cake cases or loaf tin & bake until firm [about 40 minutes for the loaf tin, around 15 mins for the cup cakes].

Remove from the tin or cup cases & cool.  A simple topping is a glaze of 100 gms icing sugar mixed with the juice of a lemon [add this while the cake / cakes are still warm] or with other icing or topping of your choice.