Saturday, 8 September 2018

August Life Lately

Happy September! August was a great month - after a busy July a quiet August was needed, so lots of books read, time with friends and excellent reads this month!

What I've been doing
In not-very-Phil-and-I fashion, we impulsively decided to paint our front room this month! Okay, I say impulsively. We realised we had a quiet weekend on a Wednesday, one of us mentioned the idea of doing something around the house that didn't cost much, our living room is basically finished in terms of decorating and just needs new furniture, so our thoughts went to our front room. We are very lucky to have two good-sized reception rooms in our house, and our front room is more of our "winter" room, as it's a bit more closed-off and cosy. It desperately needs a new carpet, which is next on our list, so this seemed like a good time to decorate! We started out talking about a dark feature wall, but as we already have a mustard yellow feature was in our living room we didn't want another, so after some debate we decided to go the whole hog and paint the full room the most gorgeous dark blue!
It's so cosy and lovely, we absolutely love it, and I'm so proud we did it all ourselves! I've noticed that everyone over 50 hates it and everyone under 50 loves it so I'm interesting in finding out where the tipping point is haha!

Our Bank Holiday weekend was excellent - how great are Bank Holidays? I read two books, slept in one day til 8.30am (unheard of for me who wakes up before 6.30am even on weekends), watched most of a TV series, had a day where I didn't leave the house except to go for a run, went out with friends twice, did loads of wedding stuff, watched lots of football on TV, went to a football match, hung out with my parents, made a recipe I'd wanted to make for years (the Caramelised Garlic Tart from Ottolenghi's Plenty was worth the wait, and the peeling of all the garlic - it was excellent!)
I also went along to my first GoodGym session this month - the concept is really cool. It's basically a running club, but you run to somewhere to do work in the community and then run back! We went to a local community centre and helped out clearing out the garden and cleaning windows. It was such a great opportunity to do something nice locally! I am definitely much more of a solo runner, but it's made me think about what I can do to help out more in my local area.

Where I've been

This month I have eaten vegan poutine at Grub, watched Bolton Wanders play Sheffield United (not successfully, but I had a great time nevertheless!) and realised that Lyme Park is a lovely place to get engaged, but not to do parkrun (it's one of the hardest in the UK and now I know why!)

What I've bought
I got a bit obsessed with Sugarhill Boutique this month, and finally caved and bought the Llama jumper and a stripey top I've been pining after for months, waiting for them to go in the sale. And I also bought a cute top with ice lollies on for my Friday-Sunday summer uniform of jeans-and-a-printed-top.
I obviously put my new yellow dress with (some of...) my other VERY DIFFERENT yellow dresses

I also bought yet another yellow floral dress. No shame! I couldn't resist and plus, it was from Oasis which is my favourite shop, and it's perfect.

Finally, I got excited for the new season and couldn't not buy this ridiculous sequin cosy jumper. I'm going to be wearing the hell out of it in December! (It's still available!)

What I've been reading
Ooh I've read some great books this month! Here are all the books I read in August:

Ponti
The Myth of the Nice Girl
Horrostor
The Nix
The Unseen World
The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox
The Hand the First Held Mine
From a low and quiet sea
Bitter Orange

I loved The Myth of the Nice Girl as a non-fiction read about women in business and leadership which I read over a weekend, and I adored The Nix and both the Maggie O Farrell books. I also really enjoyed Bitter Orange and From a Low and Quiet Sea. It was an excellent reading month!

What I've been watching
Phil is a huge Tom Cruise fan and has spent the last 4 and a half years trying to get me on board (mostly successfully) and we both absolutely love the Mission:Impossible films, so we were absolutely buzzing to see Fallout!

We actually ended up seeing it twice this month, once just after it came out, and then again in IMAX. I think it's absolutely brilliant and by far my favourite in the series (and that's saying something!).

Our local cinema recently got a 4DX screen where your seat moves, they spray water at you, pump in noises and blast you with air, so we decided to test it out by going to see The Meg. The film is utterly ridiculous but it's the perfect film for 4DX - it's so fun to be moved around in sync with the film's action. I probably wouldn't recommend The Meg but I'd definitely recommend 4DX!

At home we finally finished The Handmaid's Tale, and to fill the dark-female-led-drama hole in our lives we started Sharp Objects. I read the book years ago but cannot remember anything about it at all, which is great because we have two episodes left and I'm as uncertain about where the ending is going to go as Phil is!

We've also watched Boogie Nights and Predator for two of our Sunday night films, and two Netflix documentaries, Casting JonBenet which I found completely fascinating and really unusually done, and Jim & Andy.

What I've been reading online

Lots this month! As I mentioned last month, I've been scrolling less through my social media feeds (I haven't had notifications on for months, and I don't have any of the apps on my phone) and if I do read my phone, I try to read articles instead. Hence this very long list of great reads this month.

From Yes and Yes:
Why you need to literally schedule fun into your life
How to use your failures to plan for success
A better way to think about busy
Why we can't break bad habits
Why you should make an "every damn day list"
You're totally allowed to buy that latte (and other shocking money insights)
I'm wasting my likeable on the wrong people. Are you?
How to stay smart

From The Pool:
Hollywood isn't doing as well with diversity as it thinks
Having a wedding has become a live Instagram performance
The joy of a hobby - not a side hussle
The rise of "verbal Instagram" and why we need to turn off the filters in real life
Self-care can involved margheritas and babybel cheese
Is coconut oil poison or an acceptable way to fry your food?

Gizmodo - When a stranger decides to ruin your life
NPR - Black mothers keep dying after giving birth edit: This is fascinating and shocking and really needs a listen
Medium - How deliberate elimination can change your life
The Guardian - It's all love and fun that drive innovations like parkrun
Medium - Laziness does not exist
As the Sparrow Flies - What to do when the travel has to stop
The Curious Reader - Sabrina and the rise of the graphic novel
The New Yorker - How to spend your privilege
The Wedding Shoppe - 10 things your wedding guests don't care about
The Millions - A brief hate affair
Eater - Ruby Tandoh on sugar in our culture
The Paris Review - Seven books I'll never read

I'm having a lovely September so far and I'm hoping that continues for the rest of the month!

Charlotte x

Monday, 27 August 2018

Cookbook review: The Green Roasting Tin

Last year, Rukmini Iyer's The Roasting Tin was hands down my favourite recipe book of the year (maybe even ever). I stumbled over it, as I often do, during a book-buying ban, when my friend Sarah won it in a competition, and once she started sharing photos I was obsessed.

As much as I love to cook, I don't always love spending inordinate amounts of time in the kitchen. As a vegetarian, I spent a LOT of time chopping, and after a long day at work, I don't always want to spend an hour standing in the kitchen stirring and mixing and checking recipes.

One of the things I loved most about the original Roasting Tin was the "shove it in the oven and forget about it" mentality. It completely frees up my evening - I can get a load of washing in, read my book, or do anything that doesn't involve having to stand over a stove!

I've recommended the Roasting Tin to so many people I've lost count. I've bought it for my Mum, two of my colleagues have it, my cousin has it, and I feel like I've shoved it onto most of my Instagram followers!

There are loads of vegetarian recipes in The Roasting Tin (you can read my review of it here) but I was absolutely buzzing when I found out there was going to be an entirely vegetarian sequel.

Even more amazingly, Rukmini herself got in touch with me to ask if she could send me an advanced copy thanks to all my support for The Roasting Tin! I was absolutely thrilled! (edit: this is not a sponsored review at all - the book was a gift and I was under no obligation to write a review for my blog).

I've waited absolutely months to finally get hold of this book, and, spoiler alert, it was completely worth the wait! What's also been great has been the community around this book - my friend, Alice, started the hashtag #tinlads when she got her copy, and I've really enjoyed keeping in the loop with what everyone else using the hashtag was making too!

So, what was it like?


First impressions


This was everything I wanted it to be and more.

First off, I love the way the book is laid out. The first half of the book is all vegan recipes, divided by the time the recipe takes to cook - quick, medium and slow, and then the second half is vegetarian recipes split the same way, so it's really easy to get inspiration depending on what it is you're looking to make and how much time you have.

Secondly, I really feel as though Rukmini has addressed a few issues I had with the first book, with the main one being what to serve each dish with. While some dishes in the original The Roasting Tin felt like complete meals, there were times when I pulled something out of the oven and realised it wasn't really enough on its own. In this book, she has an opening section where she discusses side dishes, and any recipes that requires a side mentions it in the intro.

Finally, I love the mix of dishes here - with everything from classic roasted vegetable dishes reminiscent of the first book, to grains, salads, curries and even stews.

Also, the super-helpful Infographics at the start of each chapter in the original book are back in the middle of this book too.

On to the recipes...

Escalivada: Slow roasted peppers, aubergines and tomatoes with basil and almond dressing
The day after The Green Roasting Tin came out was my Mum's Birthday, and, as I knew she loved the first book, I preordered green version for her. 

We were off to Spain a few weeks later, and while I'd taken a few photos of recipes I wanted to make while we were there, my Mum packed her copy of the book!

This recipe was described as reminiscent of a Spanish cafe, so I knew it would be perfect to make while actually in Spain!

It felt a bit of a risky first - my friend Alice had posted that the recipe hadn't worked for her. Rukmini replied to her tweet and it turned out that Alice's dish was a bit crowded, and that the recipe works better in a metal tin, so I followed the advice and used a huge roasting tin for this one.

It's a funny one that feels like it won't work - you pretty much just chuck everything into a tin unchopped - whole aubergine, whole peppers, whole tomatoes (perfect if you're a tired vegetarian who is sick of spending her life chopped) - and let the oven do its magic.

The result is absolutely wonderful. So tasty, so unbelievably easy, so fresh-tasting. It made so much we ate it for a few days, and it produces a lot of liquid so it's beautiful with just bread. I particularly loved the roasted garlic.

My oven can be a bit temperamental so the real test will be seeing if this goes as cripsy and collapsed at home, but it's one I'm definitely keen to make again.

Crispy gnocchi with roasted peppers, chilli, rosemary and ricotto

This isn't the kind of recipe I'd normally be interested in (I've never made the roasted gnocchi from the first Roasting Tin book), but a lot of people were posting about this on Twitter and Instagram with the #tinlads hashtag, so it piqued my interest enough to want to give it a go.

It's exactly what I want from the Roasting Tin - super easy, minimal prep, chuck everything in a tin and let your oven do the hard work. 

I knew Phil in particular would love this but I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected - I've already made it again since, and I made it when we had people over for dinner - the ultimate praise!

All-in-one jewelled pearl barley with squash, pomegranate, watercress and feta
I had some goat's cheese to use up so I looked up recipes with feta so I could use it as a substitute, and this looked right up my street.

I always feel a bit nervous when making a recipe where the grain cooks in the oven and this was one of those, but I needn't have worried. This was lovely and Phil in particular enjoyed it.

I made a few substitutions - the aforementioned feta, a bag of spinach, watercress and rocket, and I forgot the garlic and had to fry it off and add it at the end. I only had quite a small squash so I wasn't sure it would make enough but it made loads - enough for dinners for us both and two lunches. 

I did try to use the seeds from my squash but they didn't really roast so next time I'd just use some from a packet!

All-in-one sweet potato Thai curry
I've written in my notes "flipping heck this is absolutely delicious" and this is one of my favourite recipes from the book.

It was another where I wasn't convinced it was going to work, and of course, I was wrong. I really feel as though this book is really well tested which I really appreciate.

I couldn't believe how complex this tastes with so few ingredients!

This made a LOT (which was great, because I got to eat it for lunch for a few days). I definitely want to make it again, and next time I'd like to try it with different veg.

Squash and spinach curry
Another easy dinner after initial prep and really adaptable - I can definitely see myself making this again.

It's quite a mild curry but really tasty.

All-in-one sticky rice with broccoli, squash, chilli and ginger
This is another dish that I would normally overlook but something about it intrigued me. 

I made this in a week where I'd made the squash curry and the pearl barley so I was getting a bit sick of cutting up butternut squashes by this point! 

This takes about an hour so we had to have some emergency cheese and crackers! (This happened a few times...)

Again, I was nervous about the rice in the oven but it was perfect. 

Oven baked shakshuka; roasted peppers, tomatoes and chilli with eggs
Shakshuka is my favourite weekend brunch and it's taken me a long time to find my perfect method (my current favourite is this one from the Guardian), so I had to try a roasted version.

This wasn't loads quicker than my usual method - 45 minutes in the oven vs. my usual 15 minutes hands-on time followed a 30 minute simmer.

It was tasty, but more watery than my usual shakshuka, and I prefer the more concentrated flavour of my stovetop method, but while I won't make it again, it was by no means a fail.

Miso aubergine with tofu, sesame and chilli
This feels like a combo of an Anna Jones miso aubergine recipe I've made and an Aine Carlin miso tofu recipe I also like, and as a lover of miso, aubergine and tofu I was obviously keen.

I was home alone so I halved this recipe, but I could easily have eaten it all!

I flipped the aubergine and tofu halfway through as they were starting to catch, but this might be to do with using slightly less having halved the recipe. I couldn't get spring greens (they're one of my favourite things but my Aldi hasn't had them for a while!) so I used kale, and I added sriracha which was a nice addition and cut through the lime juice which was a little overpowering.

I liked this, but I'm not sure I'd make it again.

Groundnut stew: sweet potato in a peanut and tomato sauce
The combination of sweet potatoes, tomatoes and peanut butter reminded me of an old slow cooker recipe I used to love years ago (I feel like I might have been on my year abroad in 2010 so this was a while ago!) so I went to the liberty of adding kidney beans and spinach into the sauce. This bulked it out a bit so we could just have it with bread.

Phil isn't a massive fan of peanut butter normally so I wasn't sure how he'd feel about it but he really enjoyed it. Definitely one to make again!!

Gado gado: Indonesian salad with warm potatoes, green beans, beansprouts and peanut-coconut dressing
I've written in my notes "I mean it's roast potatoes and peanut sauce, of course I loved it!". Seriously though, the peanut sauce is absolutely incredible, this is absolutely delicious and I even loved the beansprouts, which I don't normally like. One of my favourite recipes in the book.

Three bean chilli with avocado salsa
I feel like I say this in every review of every book - I make and eat a lot of chilli. Chilli is one of my favourite foods, and I reckon we eat it at least once a fortnight and I have a few favourites (the Bosh! one I made last month is up there at the moment with the butternut squash chilli from Love Real Food and the super-thick chilli from the Minimalist Baker book), but I was obviously intrigued by a hands-off, oven-only version.

This wasn't my absolute favourite chilli, but I liked how hands off it was so I wouldn't rule out making it again, but it was easy and tasty, and I enjoyed the accompanying avocado salsa which deliciously refreshing.

Sweet potato and parsnip tagine with dates and coriander
My first fail! I'm not sure what went wrong here - perhaps the foil wasn't tight enough on the lid of my dish, or I cut the pieces too large, or I used the wrong kind of dish? I took it out of the oven after an hour to rock-hard veg and not being sure whether to put it back in the oven or throw it in the microwave, I decided to give it a quick go in my Instant Pot. I also added chickpeas because I feel like a tagine always needs chickpeas!

I'm a huge fan of tagine which is another thing I make frequently, so once I got this right it was delicious, but I'm still not sure what I did wrong!

Spicy Harissa sprouts and broccoli with halloumi and spinach
You know what, I don't think I actually like sprouts. I think I really, really, really want to like sprouts, but actually, unless it's Christmas and they're smothered in gravy and cranberry sauce and tradition, I don't think I like them.

So the halloumi was lovely and the harissa was lovely and the broccoli was lovely but I need accept that I don't like sprouts!

Herb-stuffed roasted onions with cherry tomatoes and cannellini beans
This was really unusual! I don't really know how to describe it - Phil said it seemed like a series of side dishes. But it wasn't a bad thing at all!

The baked buttery onions were gorgeous and I loved the lemony beans and feta - we ate all four portions between us with crusty bread.

All-in-one daal with roasted shallots, coriander, pomegranate and cashews
Dal is my favourite food. I love a delicious bowl of spicy, creamy mush. It's the best. I've almost never met a dal I didn't like, but as with chilli, I have my favourites (it's another Aine Carlin recipe, and is weirdly, one of the simplest dal recipes I have. Some things don't need to be complicated!).

I was very nervous about this going dry - especially as I used green lentils instead of brown because that was what I had in, and because I went out to my physio appointment while this was in the oven so I couldn't check on it. It was tense peeling back the foil!
This is probably the recipe with the longest cooking time of anything I made - about 1 hour 20 in total, not included peeling those pesky shallots! But I think it was my absolute favourite.

I will definitely be making this again (with regular onions!) and I didn't think the pomegranate seeds were totally necessary, but as someone who eats dal as often as I do, I did not expect to find a few favourite!

Conclusion

Everything I wanted it to be and more. It was hard to stop cooking from it so I could finally write a review! I think this is the most I've made from one book to review!

I still have a few things I want to make - I plan to make the ratatouille next time Phil is out as he's not a big fan, and there are so many things I know I'm going to make again and again.

My favourite recipes were the dal, gado gado, groundnut stew and sweet potato Thai curry, but there were only a couple of recipes I wouldn't make again.

I didn't think the first book could be topped, but she's done it. A huge triumph for veggies and non-veggies alike!

Charlotte x

Saturday, 4 August 2018

July Life Lately

July was a month where it felt like I spent the whole time being away, or preparing to go away, so I feel as though I was super busy without actually doing much!

We started the month in Centre Parcs (which I talked about last month), spent 8 days in Spain, and then two days after I got back from Spain I was down in London for 4 days, so it feels like I haven't actually been home much at all!

Here's what I did get up to this month...

What I've been doing

This month, 5 months earlier than billed, I hit my Goodreads reading goal for the year! I set my goal as 4o books even though I know over the last couple of years I've been reading about twice as voraciously! I didn't want to make reading a chore, and give myself some big lofty goal which would make me pick up novellas instead of big, lofty books I really wanted to read. I'm really proud of achieving my goal already, and I'm currently up to 51 books. I reckon I'll read somewhere between 70 and 80 books this year.
I hung out with some doggies.

We've started to tentatively think about redoing our living room. We had it redecorated a few months ago but we've not really been in a rush to buy new furniture (I nearly said "to get it finished" but I don't think a room in a house is ever "finished"!). We've got a few ideas of what we want, after a few trips to Next and IKEA and Dunelm, and we've made a start putting pictures back up after we took them all down after we decorated, and we got a lovely floating shelf from IKEA which I'm totally in love with. We're taking it very one-step-at-a-time so we don't rush into any decisions but I'm excited for make progress.
For my Birthday last year I got a little set for growing your own herbs on the window ledge and a few months ago I finally got it all set up. I'm not green fingered by any stretch of the imagination (RIP the tomatoes I tried to grow), but I love my little herb garden and I was really worried they would all die while we were on holiday. So before we went away I decided to at least use them if there was going to be a chance I'd be coming home to dead mulch, and it was really exciting to use my own basil, dill, coriander and mint! And thanks to a little plastic mini greenhouse find in the Aldi middle aisle, they survived my time away!

Where I've been
Gig tickets these days are so expensive that Phil and I have a game called "who would you pay £60 to go and see?", and honestly, the list is pretty short. But when tickets went on sale for The Killers, even though they were £65 (we honestly did dither over the extra £5!) we had to go for it. I last saw The Killers at Leeds festival in 2008 so I knew it was going to be a good show. We didn't get off to a good start - it took us 3 hours to get the 22 miles to Bolton, and we thought we were going to miss the gig! We ended up arriving only 5 minutes before they came on stage! They were absolutely incredible - one of the best gigs I've been to in ages!
This month I also headed off to Spain with Phil and my parents for 8 days. I absolutely love getting away, turning off my phone for a week, completely disconnected from the world and focusing on reading, eating and nice walks by the sea. 

I also had a busy trip to London this month. I was down for work doing some courses in the week and Phil was heading down for at weekend for his friend's Birthday so we made a nice little weekend of it. We did some tourism at Burgess pakrun - eventually! Turned out after waiting 20 minutes for a bus that all the buses were cancelled, ran to another bus stop and waited 10 minutes for the bus, got on board and found out we couldn't both board with one contactless card and ended up having to run the 1.5 miles to the park! We arrived 5 minutes late, and exhausted, so we didn't get our best parkrun times, but it was an absolutely beautiful park so I'm glad we made it! We spent the afternoon exploring Walthamstow Wetlands which was gorgeous, went to a gin bar in an industrial park and had a great time catching up with Phil's friends from uni.

What I've bought
Whatever the opposite of an impulse buyer is, that's me. This month I finally bought a top and a jumper I've been wanting to buy for probably 4 months.

It's not quite the weather yet, but I am so excited to wear my new llama jumper and stripey top
And along the theme of quirky prints and stripes, I also got this stripey (check!) banana print (check!) top for €2.50 from Primark in Spain.

What I've been reading
So as I mentioned earlier, I hit my Goodreads challenge of 40 books read this year, and I actually hit it before I went on holiday and read 7 books. 

Here's what I read this month:

I Capture the Castle
The Cabin at the end of the World
The Stepford Wives
Everything I Never Told You
Instructions for a Heatwave
The Great Believers
Gentlemen and Playes
My Year of Rest and Relaxation
The Water Cure
The Party
Educated
This Must be the Place

My favourites were The Stepford Wives, Everything I Never Told You, The Water Cure, Educated and This Must be the Place. I cannot get enough Maggie O' Farrell at the moment and This Must Be the Place left me broken and bereft when it was over!

What I've been loving
You might remember by obsession with The Roasting Tin last year. It was my favourite recipe book of 2017, maybe even ever. I've lost count of the number of copies I encouraged friends to buy - two of my colleagues have it, my cousin has it, I bought a copy for my Mum - it's my most recommended book ever.
So I was obviously ecstatic last year when I found out there was going to be a Green Roasting Tin full of vegetarian and vegan recipes! Rumi actually messaged me herself and said she wanted to send me an advanced copy to thank me for all my support for The Roasting Tin which was absolutely lovely and completely unexpected!

I'll be reviewing it soon, but for now you can see everything I've cooked from it on my Instagram, and I'm also using Alice's hashtag, #tinlads

I have a habit of getting super excited about new podcasts, downloading hundreds, getting my phone full and then deleting them, and about two months ago I was looking for book podcasts to supplement my beloved What Page are you On? and one recommendation I got was Reading Glasses. It sat in my "unlistened" pile for weeks until a few weeks ago when I decided to give it a go, and now I'm obsessed! Unlike What page are you On? it's less about particular books and reviews and recommendations, and more about reading life and book culture. I absolutely love Mallory and Brea and I would recommend this to anyone who loves reading and talking about reading!

What I've been watching
Well, football didn't come home but I absolutely bloody loved the World Cup. I watched every single game I could and I was absolutely gutted when it was over - good job the Premier League Season starts next week!

Phil and I have been putting off watching All About Eve for years - it's been a running joke that we would never watch it. We kept hearing how good it was (Buzzfeed chose it as its number 1 Best Picture winning film a few years ago) but we just didn't fancy it. But this month, on a football-less Saturday night, we finally caved. And guys, it's so so so good. SO good! We totally get it now! It's on Netflix so you should definitely watch it.

We're finally catching up (although still totally behind) on The Handmaid's Tale. It's not always the easiest thing to watch (so dark, so depressing) but it's absolutely brilliant. I'm really intrigued by where this season is going!

In other "films-we've-been-meaning-to-watch-forever", this month we also watched Before Sunrise which we both completely adored. It's the exact kind of film we both love and I found myself crying at the end but didn't know why?! I can't wait to watch the rest of the trilogy.

What I've been reading online
I've been working on scrolling less and when I want a break to look at my phone (usually when I'm drying my hair!) I've been trying to read articles instead. Here are some of my favourites I read in July:

A Rosie Outlook - Sacking off my 2018 resolutions
What Olivia Did - When jeans don't fit
The Guardian - How the psychology of the England football team could change your life
Biscuits and Blisters - Spare Change
The Pool - Insatiable's fat-shaming feels unfunny – and potentially dangerous and also my girl Bethany Rutter's piece on this too
Medium - Why waking up at 6am won't make you productive
Yes and Yes - How to feel richer and fancier without spending any money
Vix Meldrew - Making friends as an adult
The Pool - When is knowledge not power? When you’re a woman picking up the pieces

Hope your July was great and your August is going well so far!

Charlotte x

Sunday, 15 July 2018

Cookbook review - Bosh!

It's not often that a vegan cookbook gets genuine hype in the mainstream. 

I was on a book-buying ban when I first started hearing about this (doesn't this always happen? It was the same thing with The Roasting Tin last year which ended up being my cookbook of the year). My friend Sophie had made a few recipes from it and posted about them on Instagram and told me I'd love the book, and then it was the book of May at Cookbookamonth. I don't watch videos online much, so I'd never heard of the "Bosh boys", but I started to noticed their names popping up more and more, and hearing about the popularity of this book and their recipes.

So, one day after work, after finding out it was on offer in Waterstones, I caved.

First Impressions


This book gives a brilliant first impression. It makes vegan food so accessible and easy and importantly, fun. While I have no problem ordering nutritional yeast or vital wheat gluten online, I like that it doesn't include a lot of "obscure" ingredients which can put people off, and instead focuses on plants, pulses, nuts and the occasional bit of tofu.

I don't think if this is the intention or how it's marketed, but I feel as though it's a book for meat-eaters intrigued to try vegan food. It makes everything seem quite easy and it's not preachy at all about the benefits of vegan food of a vegan diet. It also, thankfully, doesn't preach a "clean" agenda, but there are a few comments about "healthy" (which I personally dislike only because it's so subjective). However one recipe shout about how it's "healthier" than a takeaway, yet includes half a bottle of sweet chilli sauce. BUT I would rather it be this way - desserts and chocolate and pizza and burgers - with no "healthy" or "clean" agenda.

From an initial flick through there are a lot of the standard fayre you expect from a vegan book - a veggie chilli, curries, tofu scramble, stir fry, salads, veggie burgers, lasagne - but there are a lot of interesting twists on these recipes (more on this below).

Finally, if you haven't been able to tell from the exclamation mark in the title, the language is a bit Jamie-Oliver-circa-2004/Joe Wicks in terms of over-the-top enthusiasm. I've learned to ignore it because it's pretty grating but you do get used to it.


Recipes I tried

I tried 7 recipes from this book. I usually like to try 10, but I ran out of time with going on holiday. However there are still loads of recipes I want to try, so maybe I'll do an update in a few months. It's also not helped that it's been roasting while I've been using this book, so Mushroom Wellington and Rich and Creamy Lasagne were not the kinds of things I wanted to be eating! I still have about another 20 recipes I was intrigued by.

edit: As I've mentioned in previous posts, I haven't been as active on Instagram over the past few months, so as a result I don't have photos on all the recipes I made. Apologies for that.

Sticky Shiitake Mushrooms

I shop at Aldi so I couldn't get shiitake mushrooms, so I just used portabellos, but next time I'd probably use regular mushrooms, as Phil later dropped the bombshell that he doesn't like "big mushrooms".

This was super quick and easy and so so delicious that I kept saying "do you like it? Do you like it? I love it - what do you think?". Also a great storecupboard recipe - all I needed was the mushrooms.

Recipe here.

Veggie kebabs with spicy shashlik marinade

As a veggie in the summer, you eat a lot of veggie skewers (and grilled halloumi, but I will never complain about that. Keep bringing the grilled halloumi!). I love a veggie skewer, but I especially love the different marinade options the book provides (side note: are these marinades if they don't marinate? They just kind of get tossed in and then cooked - do you need some rest time to be a true marinade? Anyway....)

I found the instructions here didn't make loads of sense (covering the veg in the sauce first then threading sounded messy to me), so I threaded them first then poured the marinade over them, but oh my god the marinade. There are a lot of ingredients in this (18!), but they all get thrown into a blender and whizzed up to make the most divine spicy, yoghurt-y sauce (oh confession, I used regular greek yoghurt).

This made A LOT. I used a few fewer tomatoes and still ended up with 13 skewers. I was eating this for days, which was fine. 

I really liked that you baked them, so you can have a BBQ without actually owning a BBQ (something we do at least once a fortnight and still call it BBQ cause there are things on sticks). 

So this was a hit, so much so that I made them again with a different marinade - see further down...

Creamy Korma

OH MY GOD THIS WAS SO SO SO GOOD.

Okay it was a bit of a faff. Roasting the veg, toasting seeds, frying things off and then blending them up (you definitely need a blender for this book), and it takes about an hour, but oh my god so good!

I added chickpeas for some extra protein, and got 5 portions. Some of the serving sizes are a range (eg. 2-4) in this book which can be confusing, but saying that a lot of my books suggest child-sized portions so it was quite nice to not feel judged if your portions were towards the lower end of the number of people it suggests.

This was just amazing. The lime and salt really help cut through that creaminess and I would definitely make this again and experiment with different vegetables or pulses in the sauce.

Sweet and sour tofu
We love tofu in our house and I'm always trying to find new and exciting ways to cook it.

Sweet and sour prawns used to be my takeaway staple (I do still eat fish but very rarely these days), so I was really excited to make a vegan version.

It was quite hands-on and intense - if you've ever done a Jamie Oliver 15 Minute Meal you'll know what I mean. However I was making rice, cauliflower rice and warming spring rolls at the same time. It took about half an hour in total.

Bloody hell this was good. It tasted EXACTLY like my favourite takeaway prawns - so sweet and sticky and tangy - and the texture on the tofu was so crispy on the outside - exactly how I like it. I think this would be a great gateway for people who want to try tofu but don't know where to start.

Rogan Bosh
One thing I like about this book is it makes the idea of making your own curry pastes much less intimidating. The paste here is a blend of chillies, garlic, ginger, tomato puree and water, but along with the spice mix, both tastes and smells exactly like a jarred curry paste.

Like making a curry from a jarred paste, this is a really easy recipe once you've completed those initial steps.  It's another 15-minute-meal-esque speedy rampage, which meant I did misread a few steps and found myself confused at why I was frying the aubergine first when it wasn't going into the pan til the onions had cooked for 15 minutes. 

The sauce is quite dry, and it encourages you to add as much water as you need to get it to a "thick, gravy-like consistency", but my addition of spinach, and the water it needed to get it to wilt, along with the water it releases, ended up making the finished dish a little watery. Next time I would consider cooking the spinach separately or adding it in earlier, as it was a nice addition.

Considering the easy of the curry paste here, I'm really keen to give this another go with different vegetables, maybe with some tinned tomatoes for a more curry-like texture, but the flavours are completely spot on.

Recipe here.

Veggie kebabs with Asian BBQ marinade
As mentioned earlier, I decided to give the veggie kebabs another go with a different marinade, and settled for the Asian BBQ marinade, which was a mix of chillies, garlic, coriander, ginger, agave syrup, vinegar and soy sauce. 

I didn't agave syrup (though maple would, I'm sure, have been a fine substitute), so being a non-vegan I used honey.

Having already done the spicy shashlik marinade, I knew what I was doing a bit more here, so I used a lot less veg (eschewing the aubergine which had remained a bit spongey last time) and brushing the marinade on. This was really, really good and I loved how easy to was to make what felt like a completely different dish from just a different marinade.

I'm keen to try the rich satay sauce next and really feel as though my summer BBQ game has been upped thanks to these kebabs!

Ultimate chilli

On my original list of "recipes I want to cook from this book", this didn't make the cut.

I make vegetarian chilli at least once a month, maybe even once a fortnight, and I have a few favourite go-to recipes - Cookie and Kate's Butternut Squash chilli from Love Real Food and the Super-thick Three Bean Chilli from Minimalist Baker. Both of these are delicious, made of storecupboard ingredients and can be made in the slow cooker or in my Instant Pot.

So I'm not sure what made me revisit this, but upon another look I was intrigued by the unusual ingredients list - red wine and chocolate are fairly common in chilli, but also maple syrup, soy sauce and cinnamon? I was curious.

Another thing I loved was the idea of making "mushroom mince". This isn't a new idea - I've seen Jack Monroe do it months ago, but I'd never done it myself. 

Like my previous comment, the order of instructions was odd - mincing the mushrooms is the first step although you don't add them til the last 10 minutes, although doing them first does mean you only need one pan (edit: The recipe does say you need two pans though so maybe not?)

Anyway, this was super super super delicious. For a house that eats veggie chilli often, Phil declared this his favourite chilli, and I really loved it too. The only downside, for me, is with the red wine needing to be cooked off, it's not really an option for the slow cooker (however I wonder if I could make it in my Instant Pot? One to look into), and it's a good 45 minutes from start to finish, and even then I would have preferred a longer simmer.

Recipe here.


Conclusion


In conclusion, I absolutely loved this book. There are still loads of things I haven't gotten around to making yet - giant burrito cake, Thai red curry paste, homemade naan, onion fried rice, vegan sticky toffee pudding, hash browns, so I know this is a book I'll keep going back to.

For me, the sweet and sour tofu and korma recipes were as close as I've ever tasted to takeaway and a complete revelation, and the marinades for the skewers were so simple, but have really given me great ideas for my next BBQ.

I think this is the perfect introduction to vegan food for those transitioning into eating less meat, or curious carnivores. It makes vegan food fun and exciting and interesting, and not just salads and meat substitutes (although I do love both of these things!). 

It's vegan without too much of a health agenda, and it's not preachy or judgemental. I love the emphasis at the start of the book on how well-tested all the recipes are, and there's a great section about learning to cook and how to continuously improve which is really inspiring and helpful. 

The whole thing is very positive and inspirational, without being unattainable, and I really like how easy and accessible they make vegan cooking - they talk about opportunities to try new things and develop new skills, not about anything being missing from their lives without meat or dairy.

I'm excited to see more from Henry and Ian and I'm sure another Bosh book won't be far away, and if it's a good as this one, I'll be sure to buy it!

Charlotte x