Tag Archives: Challenges

Cookbook challenge

20 Jul

My vegan challenge has ended but my quest to cook every recipe from a cookbook continues. Over the past few weeks, these are the recipes that I have cooked.

Carrot heart Sushi

I have made sushi before but never before with a heart made out of carrot running down the middle. It was a bit fiddly to “carve” the heart into the carrot and at one end it looked more like a heart than the other end. It was quite a nice idea and something a little bit different to do.

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Smoked Tofu and Crunchy Veg Sushi

This was a straight forward recipe to do. I could see me making this again in the future as an alternative to using salmon in the sushi. All in all, both of the sushi recipes were good and easy to make. But is it only me who ends up making misshapen sushi?

Squash Soup with Caramelized Ginger

I’m not sure how I managed to find a squash in July because I always thought that squashes were in season during autumn. As soon as I saw it, I knew that I had to buy it so that I could tick this one off the list. It wasn’t very hard to make but the squash that I bought was about five times the amount that the recipe required so I ended up making some soup to freeze as well as roasting some of the squash to have as a side dish for a evening meal.

Indian Chickpea and Pomegranate Salad

The hardest part of this recipe was getting the seed out of the pomegranate. I have never bought a pomegranate before and there must be a simpler way to cut into it than the way that I did because it ended with the red juice of the pomegranate being sprayed all over the kitchen counters and all over me. Nevertheless, it was a tasty and filling lunch. If I made it again, I would make sure that I bought the pomegranate pre-prepared.

Courgette Cake

I have never made a cake without eggs before but this recipe, obviously, didn’t contain any eggs. I had to proof the mixture and I am not sure if I left it for long enough because it didn’t look like it had risen as much as it should have. This cake was described in the book as being “perfect for a snack during the day” and I thought it would be a nice alternative to eating fruit during the working day. Unfortunately, my boyfriend tried a piece and the cake was gone before the end of Sunday evening.

Baked Sweet Potato with Lentil and Avocado Salad and a Grapefruit Dip

This was the recipe that helped me perfect my lentil cooking skills (finally!). The salad was really easy to make once the lentils were cooked and cools. I am not sure I have had a baked sweet potato before (I definitely haven’t done it myself before). This was a nice change from salads for lunch. I didn’t add the grapefruit to the dip because I couldn’t find any grapefruits in our local supermarket when I went, so I added some chives to the dip inside which complimented the lentils.

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Grilled Mini Peppers with Rainbow Bulgur

This was another new option that I tried out for lunch. Before changing to a vegan diet, I haven’t eaten bulgur wheat before but I am definitely a convert! The thing that took the most amount of time was cooking the bulgur and waiting for the mini peppers to cook in the oven.

Chia and Cashew Pudding with Apricot Purée

I haven’t ventured into cooking many of the dessert options in the book. But it just so happened that I had all of the ingredients in the cupboard so I thought that I would do it. It was a bit messy because most of the ingredients need to be put into a blender and it was a bit of a pain to get it out. Waiting for the chia seeds to swell up took the longest amount of time for the whole recipe. Because the pots that I had were small, I ended up making four so that we could have it for dessert for two nights in a row.

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Peanut Butter and Puffed Rice Crispies

I wanted to take these on a hike that I went on but I made the mixture slightly too wet and they hadn’t set overnight so I couldn’t take them with me. They weren’t hard to make but I am not sure that I would make them again – they tasted okay but they weren’t so special.

That makes 47 out of a possible 100. Almost half-way there!

V is for Victory (and Vegan) – Part II

17 Jul

As I mentioned yesterday in this blog post, I have now completed Challenge #14 on my #40Before40 list. Although the challenge is over, I will be continuing to eat vegan (at least part-time) for a while into the future. And these are the reasons why:1.If you have been following my blog for a while, you will know that I have been simultaneously this challenge along side my challenge to cook every recipe from a cookbook which is the 25th challenge on my list of #40Before40 challenges. I am about half-way through this challenge so there are still plenty more dinners, desserts and salads that I need to eat in order to complete this challenge as well. Come back soon to hear how I have been getting on with the latest recipes I have cooked.2. In order to celebrate my achievement, I will be having a vegan BBQ for some of my friends to enjoy some of the new recipes that I have learnt over the past few months. I really do think that this is an achievement. Before I started the challenge, I was a meat-eater and I went cold turkey for this challenge. (Possibly not the best turn of phase in the instance – perhaps cold tofu is more apt?) There will be some meat options at this BBQ party but more than 90% of the food will be vegan.3. I recently read an article on BBC about the growing rise of flexitarianism, which is people who eat vegan or vegetarian part-time. As my other half is keen to get back to eating meat (even though he has not gone hungry during this time), it seems like this would be a reasonable solution: I can chose to eat vegan but when we eat together we can eat meat and dairy products.4. I have lost quite a lot of weight during the past three months. I am a little worried that if I switch back to my diet from before that I will put all of the weight on again. However, I haven’t felt like I have been starving myself in the same way as I have felt when I have been on other diets. Being at least a part-time vegan would mean that I would be able to continue to control my weight.5. It may sound arrogant to say it but I know that this challenge has had a positive impact on the environment. I have been eating a lot more locally grown products. I won’t bore you with details about how much water, carbon dioxide and grain I have saved during this time. But there are lots of details about this on the internet if you are interest. This alone is motivation for keeping to a vegan diet for at least some of the time.6. I haven’t found it too difficult to refrain from eating meat. My Achilles heal is cheese. Living in Switzerland with the thought of not eating cheese during the winter fondue season would feel like Hell on earth for me. This is the reason why I chose to do this challenge in the summer months. So never having cheese again is not something that I could contemplate. If you hear news from Switzerland by the end of the week that there is a cheese shortage then you know that I have been making up for lost time!7. Being a vegan isn’t that bad. It can be tricky to eat out sometimes but more and more restaurants are catering for people with different dietary requirements. As I have said, I have never been hungry (apart from the very first week) and there are definitely lots of options, if you can plan ahead and are creative!Those are the reasons why I will be sticking with veganism for the moment. Come back soon to see if I do manage to complete my 25th challenge of cooking every recipe from a (vegan) cookbook!salad-2756467__340.jpg

Films I have seen recently

13 Jun

I have made a renewed effort to watch as many films as possible lately from my Challenge #8: To watch all the films on iMDB’s Top 250 list. What has helped is that my boyfriend is now onboard with the project so I have someone to watch the films with even though he is not a film buff. Luckily this means that he hasn’t seen the films that I still need to see so I have no guilt for making him sit through films he has already seen.

Here are the films that I have seen recently.

2. Godfather

It says a lot about a film when the least disturbing part of the film is when someone wakes up with a horse’s head in their bed. I actually thought that the Mafia did leave horses’ heads in peoples’ beds but actually that myth has been brought into society’s consciousness from this film. It’s funny how films have the ability to do that. Although the film was long, I was so engrossed in the action that I didn’t realise how long it was.

6. Schindler’s List

Obviously I knew what the theme of this film was before I sat down to watch it and I think I have seen parts of it before but I definitely haven’t watched it all the way through. I wasn’t expecting it to be a fun way to spend a Saturday evening and it wasn’t. But it is an important story to tell and that is why it is high on the list. The best part of the movie was having to watch a young Liam Neeson for three hours.

73. Vertigo

I found this movie a strange watch but strange in a good way. A man hires his former school friend and detective to follow his wife because she keeps disappearing and he doesn’t know where she is going. He doesn’t suspect that she is being unfaithful but that she has some psychological issues and that she might harm herself. The former decective does this and discovers that something isn’t quite right. He is suffering from vertigo after an incident that forced him to retire from the police force. I won’t spoil the ending but the scene where James Stewart’s character has a weird dream was disturbing. I can see why people think that this is Hitchcock’s best film. Incidentally, I miss his cameo in the film so I might have to watch it in the future to see if I can spot him.

74. North by Northwest

I didn’t realise that this was a Hitchcock film but I did manage to spot him in his cameo appearance at the start of the film when he is a man who misses the bus. Cary Grant must have been the George Clooney of his day. But I was troubled by how calm and collected he was when he is kidnapped in a case of apparent mistaken identity. Some of Grant’s lines reminded me of Connery’s Bond: very short and witty one-liners. I was disappointed by the ending. Mini Spoiler Alert! There was a near-impossible situation that I was dying to know what had happened but you never really know how they get out of it.

90. Full Metal Jacket

This is a film about the Vietnamese War. It showed the harsh reality of life in the military and life at war. I can’t put my finger on it but it had a different feel to other war films and wasn’t just scene of people getting blown to pieces (although there was a bit of that too). Probably I found the film particularly interesting because I went to Vietnam last year and learnt lot about a war that I didn’t know a lot about. The film portrayal is always different from the reality. I noticed that this is where the phase “Me love you long time” comes from as one of the Vietnamese prostitutes says it to some of the soldiers in the film.

144. Mr Smith goes to Washington

I am slowly falling in love with old black and white films. Smith is appointed to the Senate and wants make changes that will positively influence the lives of the people he is serving. His desire to make improvements is dislike by his fellow senators, who try to discredit him. This story is as relevant today as it was when it was made. I really enjoyed it.

183. Shutter Island

I have been avoiding this film for a number of years. It turns out that I thought this film was not the Ewan McGregor film with a similar name that was panned by the critics but a film starring Leonardo DiCaprio. At about one hour into the film, I realised what the plot twist was and I felt very smug about being able to work it out so quickly. However, it didn’t spoil the film for me because the acting was so good. Personally, I think that this movie should be much higher up the list. I would highly recommend it, if you haven’t already seen it.

244. Beauty and the Beast

This is the 1991 animated version and not the recent remake starring Emma Watson. Being a huge lover of animated films, I have no idea why this one passed me by, especially as this is the only Disney where the male lead character is under a spell and it is the female that needs to save him, rather than the other way round. Funnily enough, I did know most of the songs. We visited Disney in 1991 and 1993 and I remember the songs being on repeat. It’s funny how irrelevant things like that stay with you for 27 years but I can’t remember where I put my keys.

And so, I have now seen 103 film out of 250 or 41% complete (which sounds more impressive!)

 

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Challenge #25

16 May

Challenge #25 is currently under way. This challenge was to cook every recipe from one cookbook. The inspiration for this came from a film called Julie and Julia, that I saw and is based on a true story. A bored New Yorker (Julie) decides to cook all 524 recipes from Julia Childs’ “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” in a year.

My challenge is not so daring. There was no way that I was going to choose such a long and complex book to cook but I thought it was an interesting challenge because: don’t we all have at least one cookbook at home that we have tried only a handful of recipes from?

Because I was new to being a vegan, I decided (with the persuasion of my friend, Stefan) that a vegan cookbook would be a book to chose. Then I could use recipes from book during my three months of being vegan. The book I chose is called Vegan on the Go. I don’t consider this cheating – I still have to cook all of the 100 plus dishes.

If you make a quick calculation, 100 dishes into 90-ish days means that I should be able to complete this easily in the time that my other challenge is running.

In practice, this hasn’t really happened. If I make a salad for lunch, I will make it to have for a couple of days. To cook 100 dishes while I am working full-time is also difficult because some of the recipes take a while to prepare. 14 of the dishes are desserts so these can’t be eaten for breakfast or lunch, even if I want to.

So, I will be cooking as many of the recipes in the coming months and then finishing off with the rest later.

Here is my progress so far:

Spinach and Banana Smoothie – I have had a lot of smoothies and this one was very similar to what I normally make. I did substitute the orange for grapefruit as we had this ingredient at home and needed to use it.

Guacamole – this is one of my favourites and the recipe was very similar to the one that I normally use.

Hummus – again I have made this a lot in the past and the recipe was almost the same as what I normally use.

Brocolli cakes with Mango and Avocado Salsa – I made these and put them on the grill and they were really easy to make. I was a bit worried that they would disintegrate during cooking but they didn’t. The salsa was delicious and I have made that again to have with grilled vegetables.

Gazpacho –  this took ages to make. I had to peel fresh tomatoes, deseed and core them. It took a long time and the kitchen looked like a bomb had gone off after I had finished. The result was good. It was the first time that I had even eaten Gazpacho. I enjoyed it, especially as we ate it on the balony in the sunshine.

Brocolli Cream Soup – in case you are wondering the cream in the soup was coconut milk, which does not come from a cow. Brocolli and Stilton is one of my favourite soups but this was a nice alternative. I would happily make this again and again.

Creamed Carrot Soup – again this was made with coconut milk. The recipe also had ginger in it which gave the soup a refreshing kick to it. Delicious!

Spicy Quinoa Chilli – I made this back in November last year. The recipe is basically the same as a chilli with meat but the meat is substituted with Quinoa. I made far too much of it and was eating it for about four days. It was a good job that it was nice or it would have ended up in the bin!

Panzanella (Italian Bread Salad) – I’ve made this a couple of times to take into work with me. It is so easy to make and so tasty as well. The receipe says to take the dressing in a bottle and then add it to the salad. I had to take an unused travel shampoo bottle with me because we didn’t have any small bottles to transport the dressing. Putting the bottle in the dishwasher was a mistake because it was too hot and the bottle melted a bit.

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Sweet Potato Burgers with BBQ sauce – as I am yet to find a vegan BBQ sauce in Switzerland and I am not a huge fan of it anyway, I missed this bit of the recipe out. The burger was easy to make. The main ingredients were sweet potato, courgette and breadcrumbs. It really didn’t take too long to make. I now have to convinced my boyfriend that these are worthy of a regular place on our BBQ.

Sweetcorn frittatas with Mango Chutney

This was a bit messy to make. You have to salt and then squeeze water out of the courgettes which takes time. The actual making of the mixture was pretty straight forward and they were cooked quickly. I made a jar of the chutney because we had two large mangoes to use and I thought it would be nice to have with other dishes like a curry or on the side of a salad. I think I was heavy-handed with the curry powder but apart from that it was delicious. I served it with salad as well.

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Asparagus Quiche – rather than make a one large quiche, I made four smaller ones so that I could take them into work. I cheated slightly because I didn’t make the pasty myself but used shop-bought vegan pastry instead. I should have added chillis to the filling but there weren’t any in the shop, so I used chilli flakes instead. I think the fresh chilli would have enhanced the flavour but it still tasted good.

Fruity Macadamia Cream – I made this back in November as well. I didn’t like the texture of it. Maybe I hadn’t blitzed the macadamica nuts enough but the others said that they liked it. I wouldn’t make this again, unless I had to.

12 recipes from just over 100 done!

Plastic? Not fantastic

9 May

I read an article last week on the BBC website about a woman who tried to live for a month without using plastic. I thought this was a little bit crazy (which is rich coming from someone who voluntarily is attempting to switch to a vegan diet for three months).

Every week when we come back from the supermarket, we spend at least five minutes unwrapping things that have been unnecessarily been wrapped in plastic that can’t be recycled. I don’t understand why fruits like strawberries come in plastic tubs with lids when years ago they were packaged in punnets made out of wood or cardboard. Surely it be better for sellers to used cardboard that consumers can recycle.

The most ridiculous example I have ever seen was in Tesco. Two large baking potatoes were wrapped in cellophane. Surely, it is more convenient to have a sign that says: “Take two potatoes for 50p”? Perhaps the management think that their customers will not be able to understand the sign.

I never now put carrots, apples or bananas in a bag before weighing them. I just weigh them and put the stick on one of the carrots, for example. The people at the check-out know that you have weighed all of the items and if they don’t believe you they can always check that the weight is the same as what is printed out on the label. [A short note: in Switzerland, you have to weigh the fresh produce on a scale and take them to the check-out. It isn’t like the UK, where this is done by the check-out operator on a set of scales that they have built into the till]

The woman in the article managed to only use 43 items of plastic over the course of the month which, when you considered that she had a family, is unbelievably impressive. I am not sure that we would be able to do that.

We did recently discover a couple of farm shops near us where it is possible to take all of your own containers. You take what you want and then leave the money in a jar. One of the shops is even open on Sunday which is a rarity in Switzerland but very handy for us to know in case we need anything when the rest of the shops are closed.

I do have a bad conscious about how much we buy that we can’t recycle. I have even started to compost our food waste, which means that the bin doesn’t smell and we have less rubbish. But, in reality, it is large supermarkets who need to think about making their package more environmentally-friendly. I personally think that the governments should put pressure on supermarkets but until that time comes (and it could be a very long time) I will be trying to reduce my use of plastic to as little as possible.

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3 weeks in

6 May

Three weeks in and my challenge is still going well. This week I ate out a total of four times (yes, four) and managed not to starve as well as go to a BBQ on a bank holiday. Here is my week in food…

Aubergine

If we are what we eat, I am dangerously close to waking up next week as a n aubergine. I have made Moroccan aubergine dip called Zaalouk, Aubergine Schnitzel, grilled aubergine, Aubergine Rollmops and a Turkish dish called Imam Bayildi- I’ve never been a huge fan of aubergine; partly because I have never known what to do with it apart from put it in a curry. But there are so many things you can do it. I might lay off in for a few weeks though before I create an aubergine shortage in Central Europe.

Recommendations

My friend Araz recommended the Turkish dish. My dear God it was so tasty and so simple to make. I will definitely be making it again and long after my challenge is over. Although I am definitely not going hungry on this diet, I’m always very open to recommendations so if you know of any vegan recipes please feel free to let me know!

Eating out

I had brunch with a writing friend. I was so jealous of her delicious bread topped with egg and cottage cheese. Thank god she didn’t order anything with bacon! I might have done or said something that I regretted. I had a delicious and healthy açai bowl full of fruity goodness, which was the only vegan option on the menu.

I had lunch during the week with the recruiter who placed me at my new job. He wanted to catch up and see how the first few weeks in the new place were going. Going to a very good Italian restaurant where they serve incredible but non-vegan pizzas and pastas for you to ask if you can have the goats cheese salad without the goats cheese was incredible difficult! I got a very strange look from the waiter but hey-ho, that’s life!

I also met a friend, who initially wanted to go to an all-you-can-eat pizza place. She was good about finding somewhere else to go instead. We went to a place called The Artisan which grows a lot of its own ingredients in the garden outside the restaurant and has a lot of vegan options. I had the vegan burger which came with homemade vegan cheese and a vegan ice cream. I was very happy when I left.

For team lunch, I suggested a Morrocan place where I had a nice salad and vegetable couscous. I am not sure if many of the other liked it but I definitely did. To be honest I was just happy to be able to have something off the menu.

May Day BBQ

The first of May was a bank holiday in Switzerland and I was invited to a BBQ. I was nervous about going because I would have to tell yet more people that I was being vegan “for fun” for a while. I was surprised that we had a interesting and funny discussion about my challenge (and the other challenges that I will be doing). I took along a sweet potato burger, sweetcorn frittas and mango chutney that I had made at home. Mark was very sweet and offered to cook my burger before the others so that I didn’t get the fat from the sausages, chicken and steak that other people had brought along. This was a crying shame because I was hoping that some of the flavours from the other food would make its way to my burger! Only joking! My food was delicious and for once I didn’t have food envy. I also go my very own vegan cupcakes to finish the meal that Stefan had made just for me!

Tied to the kitchen

I seem to be spending most of my weekend in the kitchen preparing and making things. I am enjoying trying new things but I’m not sure if I can carry on with such passion for the next 9 weeks. It would be nice just to grab something from the supermarket and warm it up. I also feel like I am taking a step back for woman-kind by spending so much time in the room that they have been trying to get out of. I have a line from Annie Lennox and Aretha Franklin’s Sisters are Doin’ It for Themselves (“They’re coming out of the kitchen and they’ve got something to say to you!”) on a constant loop in my head. But actually I’m really enjoying it so I will be staying there for the time being!

Staying strong

28 Apr

Two weeks into my vegan challenge and I am still going strong. This week has been a bit more difficult because we had a team dinner on Thursday but I managed to enjoy the evening and some food without too much hassle.

I have to say that I generally am feeling pretty good. I am sleeping better but I am not sure if this is because of the diet or just because I am more tired this week and I have slept better. But I have heard that sleeping better is one of the positive side effects of a vegan diet. I don’t think that I have lost weight (which is another health benefit, if you need to lose a few pounds) but we don’t have a pair of scales at home so I can’t be sure.

Anyway, here are some of the highs and lows from this week.

Soups

Soups are one of my favourite things to eat and it is easy to make a homemade vegan soup at home. Last Sunday it felt like I spent most of the day making soup. I made a Gazpacho soup, a Spanish soup that is served cold. Apparently this is one of my boyfriend’s favourites –  who knew? Luckily it got the seal of approval from him but it was fairly time consuming to make. I’m not sure that I would make it again unless I found a simpler recipe. I also made a carrot, ginger and coriander soup using carrots from our garden, which I put in the freeze for a week in the future, and a broccoli soup to eat during the week after work so that I don’t have to spend a lot of time preparing something. I must say that the broccoli soup was delicious. An absolute favourite of mine is Stilton and Broccoli soup which is off-limits but I didn’t miss the cheese at all.

Packed lunches

Taking packed lunches into work has been a life saver because there isn’t a huge variety of vegan-friendly sandwiches and salad available in supermarkets. So long as you plan in advance, a homemade pack lunch is perfect. I made an Italian bread salad to have twice this week at work. It was really easy to make and I even made the croutons for the “bread” art of the salad. It didn’t take any time at all to make and, because the weather has been so warm, I sat outside in the park and enjoyed my lunch there.

Although the choice for sandwiches isn’t huge, I have discovered that there is a vegan range in Coop (one of the supermarkets in Switzerland) which has some really nice vegan wraps. As I ran out of time to make all my packed lunches this week, I tried the hummus wrap and was really impressed by it.

Recipes

The soups and the Italian bread salad have all come from my vegan cookbook which has not only given me some great recipes but also ideas about how I can make substitutions in my own cooking. Some of the recipes are a bit complicated and they require quite a few ingredients but I am slowly building up a good range of ingredients to draw upon in our cupboards. Again with the recipes, as with everything else, you need the time to plan and to make the dishes. I have already realised that I need to find a lot more alternatives or I will find that the diet becomes very boring very quickly.

The first BBQ

Although we can’t grill meat on the grill, we can grill vegetables! We had our first BBQ of 2018 last weekend and we didn’t go hungry. I made a spicy salsa, a guacemole, salad and a huge variety of vegetables. It was delicious! I was keen to try making a lentil burger to go on the grill but Markus wasn’t so keen. It remains on my to-do list and we will definitely be trying it one day soon.

Team event

On Thursday we had a team event at a very nice restaurant in Zürich. Not many of the team know that I have taken up a vegan diet and I’m not sure what they will think when I say that I am doing in voluntarily. There are lots of vegan restaurants in Zürich but this wasn’t one of them. It turned out the only thing I could have was a salad which grilled vegetables. I checked that the house dressing wasn’t made with milk, cream or honey. It was cruel to watch everyone else tucking into a medium rare steak or fish but I genuinely enjoyed what I ordered. I cringed when someone mentioned having a dessert but then I saw that they had a mango sorbet on the menu and it made me smile. The choice available to me was limited but I still enjoyed the evening.