Michelin star vegan Tenerife – At the Ritz.

I am not a dressy person. Dressing up for me means brushing my hair. So when I remembered two kilometres away that I was heading to the Ritz for a two Michelin star dinner I panicked. I’d memorised my itinerary (very badly) apparently and I was now changing rapidly in the back of an empty minibus in a layby while the driver shielded her eyes.
I’d been invited to sample some of Tenerife’s gourmet food. Initially sceptical that I would be able to eat anything at all, time and time again, I was proved wrong.
There were five others in the group I was travelling with, all of whom were meat eaters. Not only do I not eat meat, fish, or dairy of any sort, my gluten intolerance had recently kicked back so I’d had to recut bread out of my diet AGAIN. And I looked like a tramp to boot.
But I was kinda surprised (and delighted, Obvs) when the chef (Basque chef Martin Berasategui) had prepared me a special menu. 

Yes, there were a lot of textures of tomato, but him and his team had gone to a lot of effort to make me feel like I wasn’t missing out.  It was two Michelin starred food, but meat free, which was super exciting. 
  
We started with breads. He brought me rice crackers with different flavours and the things that look like crayons on the table are in fact flavoured butter.

  
Strawberry daiquiri ice cubes arrived next, moulded into the shape of berries. They were incredible – an alcoholic sorbet to cleanse the palette before nine course tasting menu. In reality such a long menu is just an excuse for a chef to show off, but if he continued  showing off like this, fine by me.

  
A series of amuse bouches-esque things arrived next and this was the only bum note of the meal. Spherication had happened here, and it really shouldn’t have. A luminous blob of green didn’t look appetising. It did what it said on the tin – exploded with liquid as I bit into it – but the taste was like chewing on one of those berries from a tree that would kill you. 

It was bitter and left a lingering and hideous aftertaste. That said, it was the only bum note of the meal, but man, it was weird. After eating quite a lot of swish meals, I’ve realised that texture really is important to food. This is where nature excels and sometimes chefs should leave well alone. An example is an apple. It’s crunchy and soft at the same time. Genius. Don’t mess with that.

  
I was then served textures of tomato (which were delicous) while everyone else got slightly cooked oysters cooked in a broth that smelt of the sea. It was served in a dish that looked like a volcano and it smoked…

  
I was grateful for a respite as the chef was unable to come up with nine things that were vegan, so I sipped an amazing gin and tonic while everyone went mad for their next dish. After that, I was served a simple salad with vinaigrette. For anyone who has battled through a tasting menu, you’ll understand when I say that as delicious as everything else was on the table, everybody was envious of my salad.

  
The standout dish of the menu followed – white asparagus tips with a rich mushroom sauce. It was decadent and everyone else was served the same dish, which suggests just how good it was.

  
Then came an egg in broth with salty girolles. 

  
Then gorgeous artichoke hearts, wonderfully turned with a type of Palm syrup and more mushrooms.

Desert was Unphotographed because my phone died and British Airways doesn’t have charging points, even in business. (Gah). But it was lemony, zesty, with lots of sorbets, sugars, and an amazing lime and apple and mint granita sauce. Delish.

Advertisements

Iceland: What I learned about food

I hadn’t gone to Iceland with high hopes for the food scene. In fact I went to Iceland with a bag full of gf spaghetti and a packet of porcini mushrooms. I had only two goals for my trip: experience the dramatic scenery this rocky island has to offer and don’t starve.

IMG_3227

All I can say, is, it was a shame about the hurricane that left us housebound for 3/3 days and, thank god I’d packed the spaghetti. We landed in the worst landing conditions I’d ever flown in in my life. The last hour of the flight from Gatwick could only be described as “rollercoaster-esque.” Every time the plane tried to go down, a gust larger than I’ve felt in a plane before would blow it off course. It was the landing of nightmares, and proof of how awful it was that the whole cabin was laughing hysterically/weeping for the final ten minutes of descent as the plane’s wings careered from 45 degrees left to right. Awful.

Plane trauma aside, the fact was it was pretty damn windy. This I put down to Iceland in the winter, but in fact, said the lovely Danish woman in the tourist information, one of the biggest hurricanes to hit Iceland in the last decade was on the horizon. “It’s fine, you’ll be able to do everything. I’ve never seen the golden circle tour shut the whole time I’ve been here.” “Nor have I,” piped up her geriatric colleague. Lo and behold, the Golden Circle tour was shut early next morning because of “hazardous weather conditions.”

IMG_3210

The whole trip then turned into how to literally not get blown away in Reykjavik and becoming extremely well acquainted with Iceland’s  Keflavik airport arrival and departure board online. We watched in horror as every flight switched from delayed to cancelled, and with heavy hearts, realised that we were indeed stranded in Iceland with absolutely nothing to do.

Normally I’d turn to food, but as you may have heard, Iceland is pretty damn expensive. I had some toast out at one point, and I bought a broccoli so I could make my spaghetti into noodles. Otherwise, we just sat, huddled in Kaffitar coffee shop where I finished writing the firs draft of a book I was working on at the time, and wished we could afford more than a filter coffee between two.

IMG_3195

Once, we went into a local supermarket and saw what exciting produce was on offer, but other than packets of dried fish, and really, really expensive red peppers, there was just the usual. We watched lots of people get drunk, and wondered how.

Vegan pizza: yummy or not yummy?

Image

My Holland and Barrett meat free pizza

When I was in the US, I saw a lot of hoohah about Amy’s pizzas. These seemed to be a frozen, gf, vg option for vegans who really just wanted a quick ready meal to eat with their non-vegan, pizza loving brethren. The UK is painfully low on GF-VG pizza stocks. Holland and Barrett, a health food shop, stocks vegan “meat feast” pizza in some of its stores. This has a doughy, flaccid base with almost non-existant tomato sauce and is heaped with chunks of “beef” and “mince” and strange vegan pepperoni. I’ve never been a vegetarian or vegan who craves substitute meat products, and I actually found the whole concept of eating fake meat so weird that I picked off the chunks of whatever they were meant to be.

In the UK, if you’re a vegan craving pizza, what’s the plan? Normally I go to Franco Manca’s and order a pizza with just the tomato and oregano sauce (with extra olives and basil of course). This also works if you go to Pizza Express, or Strada (though make sure you say you’re dairy free or sometimes they sprinkle the base with Parmesan).

Short of making my own with blobs of vegan cheese, I can’t find a decent vegan pizza anywhere. And as much as I’d love to, I can’t eat Mozzarella. So, if you have any hints or tips on where to find good vegan pizzas, please do let me know by tweeting me at @Ellieross102 or leaving a comment below.

I’m desperate folks!

 

 

The fussy eater’s Christmas dinner!

Image

A steamy Christmas dinner with very flat Yorkshires

This year, my mum and dad came round to the fact that I really was severely  intolerant to dairy and gluten, and went all out to ensure that I could enjoy the Christmas cheer. Normally, I hate Christmas food. As a vegetarian, I was always handed a cop-off dry nut roast from M&S while the rest of the family tucked into turkey and ham and all the trimmings. Even though my mum and dad are vegetarian too, before quite recently they still thought that overcooked vegetables were just great, so Christmas dinner usually descended into a soggy, water-logged affair where the sprouts, now light green, would ooze water over the plate soaking the roast potatoes and the nut roast. 

The last five years I have cooked my own Christmas dinner. While everyone else tucked into the turkey, I would cook an innovative veggie main for my mum, dad and I that made the rest of the family envious. Until this year, I really struggled to understand why people enjoyed Christmas dinner.

But then this year, we had a family meal with just my boyfriend, my mum and my dad on Christmas day. My dad encouraged me to try Christmas dinner again, so I conceded. He made everything dairy and gluten free including this amazing tomato, butter bean and lentil nut roast which was absolutely fabulous. 

The roast potatoes were flour-free and fondenty and delicious. The sprouts weren’t overcooked. Mum made some cranberry sauce which actually worked. And, best of all, he even made me some little Yorkshire Puddings that were dairy and gluten free. Which, considering that a Yorkie is basically flour and milk was an absolutely wonderful (if slightly flat) achievement. 

Image

Super out of focus

It has been the only meal in living memory where nothing was compromised and I was able to eat everything on the plate. And that, being able to join in with everybody else because there were so few of us, made the day pretty special. And, even though visiting extended family members over the last few days has meant that I’ve had to live off potatoes only for three days, the memory of the effort my mum and dad put into to making Christmas edible for me got me through!

But I’m interested in how other vegans and vegetarians celebrate Christmas. Do you go traditional and still have a nut-roast? Or do you just have the trimmings? Has anyone just cooked themselves a separate meal and brought it to the table? 

To hell with the Wasabi christmas special sushi

Image

Take that sign down, buddy

Ok, enough. Anybody who knows me knows that I crave sushi most hours of the day. I could eat it for breakfast or supper. I crave the fiery wasabi paste and love the umami flavour from the soy sauce mixing with nori. The palate cleansing pickled ginger is equally good. The chains in London aren’t wonderful, but they do ok sushi. I wrote a post way back when about the top places to buy sushi in London, and this totally still stands: Wasabi, as a chain, are the best.

But their vegetarian Christmas special is beyond disgusting. With flabby pumpkin croquettes and a solitary pomegranate seed placed gingerly on top of the breadcrumb, it’s just a weird combination. Even more strange is the extremely generous helping of Thai Sweet Chilli sauce. What is this shit? Fusion Thai, Japanese, Middle-Eastern Christmas Sctick? It SUCKs-bin it.

Plus, you marketing apes at Wasabi, don’t think just because I’m vegetarian I want to eat this crap. Give me back the massive vegetarian platter for £5.45 and keep your arbitrary christmas themed sushi. Because nobody, nobody in the history of the world has ever gone: “Oh, it’s the 25th of Christmas. Bin the roast potatoes and pudding darling, we’re off to get some Christmas sushi! I hope they still have that single festive pomegranate seed on it! That would really bring some sparkle to my yuletide celebrations!”

So no. Stop it. No.

Strada: a guide for Vegans and Coeliacs

Image

I have a soft spot in my heart for this fancy chain Italian restaurant. I worked there on and off this year to save money for my Masters, and also before, up north in Sheffield after I resigned from KPMG and when I was saving up to move to Italy. Strada has struggled with its identity recently: is it still the posh Pizza Express, and what else can it offer to justify those expensive prices? Staff recently were given a missive to “act casual”: Strada, the home of anniversaries and reliable birthday meals became more like an Italian diner. Except, it didn’t really. The food stayed pretty good, and, like any good chain, it’s consistently tasty.

However, as Pizza Express and Pizza Hut make the move to Gluten Free pizza bases, how can Strada compete? Other than invest in some gluten-free pizza dough, I’m not sure I have the answer. However, to all you vegans out there, rest assured that Strada’s pizza dough is absolutely, 100% dairy and egg free-just wheat flour, rapeseed oil and yeast.

Strada’s big draw is the Aglio: flatbread with garlic oil and rosemary. Ask for it with garlic oil, and remind your server not to let it even waft near butter and this is what you’ll levae Strada remembering. It smells divine, and waitressing pre GF and Vg, this was what I craved at the end of every long shift.

The tricolore salad with the mozzarella, tomatoes and avocado can be made into a satisfying bicolore. Ask for extra avocado to make up for the protein deficit, or ask for an egg to be sliced up and added instead. If your server is good, they should be happy to offer you this alternative.

In terms of mains, vegans are well served with the Puttanesca, a cheeseless pizza covered with capers, fresh basil and chilli flakes. Bear in mind this comes with anchovies, so ask for the anchovies to be switched with mushrooms to make a satisfying meal. Also, a drizzle of chilli oil and extra garlic comes in handy because without the Mozzarella it can be quite dry. Still pretty delicious though.

For any dairy-free eaters out there, it’s good to note that every pizza can be altered. Tell your server that you’re allergic to dairy and they have a big fat button on the till that says “Dairy allergy.” If they’re super good (and Strada staff are trained within an inch of their life-trust me, they’ll even go up to the pass and have a quiet word with the chef letting him know that table 17 has an allergy).

If you’re after risotto or pasta, make the point that you have allergies to your server again. The verdure is a fail-safe choice (remember to remind your server that you’d like it cheese free, just in case). If you crave the tang of cheese, I would suggest adding a hefty helping of balsamic vinegar and chilli oil to it and a squeeze of lemon. If it’s not busy, ask the bar to fetch you a slice. Mix it all together and you’ve got a pretty neat approximation of the tangy flavour Grana Padano. The addition of as many herbs as you can get helps to add more flavour (extra basil was always appreciated) and a hefty grind of black-pepper makes the blandest Strada meal sing.

Finally, the pasta. Penne Arrabiata is the obvious safe choice for vegans (not gluten free yet I’m afraid, although, like Pizza Express, if it’s very quiet if you bring you’re own pasta, the chefs will cook the sauce of your choice with it). Otherwise, ask for a vegetarian version of the strozzapreti luganega: no sausage, bacon, cheese or butter, but instead just the spinach, some big mushrooms, lemon and some garlic oil. Ok, so it’s not identical, but the chef’s work better if you just alter the menu, than asking them to be creative going crazily off-piste. Plus, your server will have to press fewer buttons on the till which is always appreciated. There’s nothing worse than having to find out where “extra, extra aubergine” is on the till for a children’s menu.

So there you have it. How to do Strada, the vegan way. If you’re gluten free too, as I am, I’d give Strada a bit of a wide berth unless you really, really like risotto and olives, because that, I’m afraid is what you’re stuck with until they catch up with their competitors.

Buon appetito!

Vegan, gluten-free peanut butter and oat cookies

IMG_0520Image

I have a perpetual problem with making vegan and gluten free cookies. Rice flour, or the Doves GF flour that I normally use in cakes makes biscuits too dusty and crumbly, It’s difficult to achieve that gooey effect that’s so great with non-GF cookies. I found a recipe on a wonderful blog called Paint and Tofu for peanut butter, chocolate and oatmeal cookies but they weren’t gluten free. I’ve adapted the recipe a little, but full credit goes to this wonderful recipe on her blog. It really is a brilliant recipe, and all I’ve done is tweak it to make all you coeliacs out there happy too.

Ingredients

Half a cup of crunchy peanut butter

One cup of GF (Red Mill) rolled oats

One cup of GF Doves plain flour

Half a cup of soya or almond milk

Half a cup of muscavdo sugar (this makes them a little chewier with a slightly more caramelly flavour

Half a cup of vegetarian granulated sugar

A third of a cup of sunflower oil

A pinch of salt

You can add some grated dark chocolate to this, or, if you have them dark chocolate chips. I chopped up 1.2 a bar of chunks of Morissons cooking chocolate (87p) and whacked them in, but it’s made it a little rich. Chunks of fresh apple would lighten this.

Method

First, mix all the wet ingredients together including the peanut butter.

Add in the flour, oats and chocolate. If the mixture is still too wet, add a little more flour.

Grease a baking sheet, turn the oven’s temperature to 180 degrees and roll into balls. Flatten balls with the back of a fork. They don’t grow so you can fit them snugly next to each other.

Bake for 8-10 minutes. Don’t cook for any longer. You want a cookie, not a crisp. They’ll be gooey on the inside, and, best of all, there’s no egg so you don’t need to cook them through to ensure edibility.

Leave on the tray for a minute or two after you’ve got them out or they’ll collapse and then stack up on a plate and serve.