A Chick Flick: Rescuing battery hens and why you should only buy organic eggs

In November, my sister Hannah took in four battery hens from the British Hen Welfare Trust. They looked skeletal and raw, having spent their lives inside in the dark with no space to stretch their wings.

But now three of them are doing great and it’s wonderful to see them running up to greet visitors, exploring, dust-bathing and generally being crazy chickens. Sadly one died early on, not used to the cold.

Hannah and I made a video to highlight just how much difference a bit of care and space makes to their lives. The take-home message is that we shouldn’t be eating chicken and eggs that come from cages.

And even free-range systems vary so much that hens could still spend most of their lives crammed in dark barns.

In the first three months of 2018, according to Defra, 45% of eggs in the UK were still from caged hens while 51% were free range.

The solution is to either buy organic eggs, which have higher animal welfare standards, or avoid eggs and chicken entirely. I really find it hard to believe that (even drunk at 2am in the chicken shop) anyone would want to eat the eggs or meat that came from hens that looked like Hannah’s did.

 

Vegan herby dumplings and onion soup

Let’s talk butter. Beurre noisette, almond croissants, madeleines, hollandaise, Nigella’s Marmite butter pasta… this is essentially a list of my life’s greatest moments. My corpulent childhood golden labrador once ate half a pound of butter when our backs were turned and I can’t say I blame her. 

So it is with a very heavy heart that I have cut it out, after learning that it is one of the most carbon intensive foods around. Since going vegan, I have been trying to find recipes where I can replace it without feeling like I’m missing out on life. Cold-pressed rapeseed and sunflower are the oils with the smallest carbon footprints and have roughly a quarter of the footprint of butter. Read this article for a great environmental comparison of butter and margarine. 

Enter steamed dumplings. They are partly about high fat content, traditionally from suet, but mostly about texture – fluffy and doughy.

To make them I swapped butter for margarine in this herby dumpling recipe. I steamed them for 25 minutes in a huge cast iron pot of onion soup subbing beef stock for veggie and using nice white wine.

The only vegan margarine I can find that uses sustainable palm oil is Biona sunflower spread, but it’s expensive at £3.49 for a 500g tub. I can’t find any margarines that don’t use palm oil at all. I tried to bypass margarine and use rapeseed oil on its own but it was a massive fail. 

I used Flora Freedom (£1.80 for 500g) which has sustainable palm oil label of sorts – its parent company Unilever says it plans to source its oil completely sustainably by 2019. A big part of the problem is a transparent supply chain but by the end of this year they aim to have full traceability. It’s not perfect but it’s better than most others, which make no promises at all to end deforestation and treat workers fairly. 

RECIPE

Makes 14 medium sized dumplings

Ingredients

  • 140g cold margarine, diced
  • 250g self-raising flour
  • 2 tbsp chopped mixed herbs – try parsley, thyme and sage or chives

Method

  1. Rub the marg into the flour with your fingertips until it looks like fine breadcrumbs. Add the herbs, plus salt and pepper. Drizzle over 150ml water, and stir in quickly with a cutlery knife to form a light dough. Shape into 14 ping pong sized balls.
  2. 25 minutes before your soup or stew is cooked, place the dumplings on top, put the lid on and steam.

 

Restaurant review: World Vegan Month at Foxlow

Upmarket meaty chain flirts with veganism

Foxlow, 8-10 Lower James St, Soho, London W1F 9EL (020 7680 2710). Two-course meal for two, including drinks: £26

★★★★☆

The best thing about eating in Foxlow, to be completely honest, is that you can get two courses for £10 on their veggie/ vegan menu. This, and the copper hanging lamps, teal subway tiles and gold table edging, give succour to the budget-ailed diner who would like to pretend she regularly meets friends for lunch in Soho.

For £3 more you can drink bottomless filter coffee until the caffeine buzz becomes unbearable, at which point you have pretty much won London.

Foxlow is a small chain of restaurants for meat lovers. It is the sister of steak chain Hawksmoor and its usual lunch fare includes rare breed ribs for starters and ribeye for mains. Not a place, then, where you would expect a vegan menu. But lo, in honour of World Vegan Month this November, Foxlow has devised one.

Kale, avocado & fresh herb salad, and carrot houmous with carrot top pesto and sourdough

We started with a smoky, creamy carrot houmous, on slices of sourdough, and a leafy pile of kale, avocado and herb salad. The houmous had a nice hit of tahini, which went nicely with carrot top pesto and pumpkin seeds. The kale was vinegary, offset by the avocado, and came with a meagre amount of squash. As it goes, the avocado, having been flown to the UK from lands afar, would have been unnecessary had there been more squash, which is in season and abundant in our own country.

Aubergine ‘steak’ with wild mushrooms and vegan béarnaise sauce, and spice-roasted cauliflower with chickpeas, wilted spinach and curried aubergine sauce

The aubergine steak sure looked like steak, and would please most people to whom the heavily lentilled vegan aesthetic does not appeal. As a meaty restaurant, it makes sense to ground the vegan menu in familiar territory, where diners don’t roll their eyes at descriptions of nut roast and tofu and the like.

The sauce was nice and sweet, the mushrooms added to the umami meaty vibe and and the béarnaise was cleverly veganised, although nothing will ever replace the taste of butter. I would only add that it could do with a side of veg or chips, which I suppose is my fault for not foreseeing.

The cauliflower, in the running for 2017’s most fashionable vegetable, was wonderful thanks to the sauces. The curried aubergine one tasted a bit like HP, and a cauliflower puree brought creamy goodness. The attention to detail of the spicing and seasoning was obvious and the fried chickpeas and wilted spinach helped mop the sauces up.

It’s worth pointing out that on the Thursday that I went to Foxlow with a friend, we turned up at 1pm without booking and were seated straight away. There are other branches in Balham, Chiswick and Clerkenwell.

Foxlow has a 3-star Sustainable Restaurant Association rating – the highest. The rating is based on ingredient sourcing, looking after workers, and caring for the environment. The introduction of more veggie/ vegan options is the cherry on top, given that beef, Foxlow’s specialty, is such a greenhouse gas-intensive food. Even better, rumour has it the dishes are staying put.

 

5 of my favourite vegan recipes for Veganuary

If you’re one of the 80,000 who have signed up to Veganuary this year, help is at hand! These are five recipes that I would be making if I was vegan or not.

Of all the mainstream diets, veganism has the lowest impact on the planet. Going veggie is a huge help but dairy often has a bigger carbon footprint than chicken or eggs. This paper by Oxford University academics suggests vegan diets have half the greenhouse gas emissions of normal meat diets.

So keep going, you’re doing a great thing!

1. Jamie’s vegan shepherd’s pie 

The list of ingredients is a little long but I couldn’t believe how good it tastes. It has protein in the pulses to fill you up, and you can add vegan cheese to the top while the pie is cooking if you’re missing dairy. I’m usually very suspicious of vegan cheese but when it’s melted it all seems to be much nicer!

2. Vegan cheese sauce for nachos (or cauliflower cheese)

This one is going to seem mad but I can’t tell you enough how good it is. The combination of potatoes, carrots and nutritional yeast seems improbable — but it works and the best thing is, it’s so much healthier than actual cheese!

For dinner, I cut tortilla wraps into triangles, bake them in the oven for 10 minutes until toasted, pour the cheese sauce over the top and add salsa, jalapenos, refried beans and anything else vaguely Mexican. Do it.

3. Romesco sauce

I am forever sharing the recipe for this smokey red pepper, tomato, almond and paprika dip. I’ve taken it to pretty much every party I’ve ever been to. It also involves barely any cooking and makes for great packed lunches with roast veg and roast chickpeas.

4. BBQ baked beans

Another one of Jamie’s, serve it with or without vegan cheese and coconut yoghurt on the side. It’s great for the slow cooker and would go well with veggie sausages too.

5. Oatly oat milk

Okay this last one’s not a recipe but it’s important! Finding the best alt milk for tea has become a weird hobby of mine. The Barista version of Oatly’s oat milk is super creamy, goes perfectly in tea and coffee and has the most naturally milky taste in my opinion. It’s also great in porridge and smoothies.

The company’s ethics are sound and they grow all their organic oats in Sweden so you know the provenance of the ingredients isn’t dodgy.

Veggie sausage, tomato, leek and potato one-pot

One-pot life is coming round again and I couldn’t be happier. Well, nearly one-pot, there are sausages to be had here. This very cheap stew is great to take to work in a flask, or have at home as the winter chill creeps in.

Why is this eco?

Firstly, because I’m using veggie sausages. Quorn sausages are one option, although not vegan, if that’s what you’re looking for, as they contain a small amount of (free range) egg white.

Quorn as a company is really fabulous at reducing carbon in its production chain, and is the only fake meat in the world to get Carbon Trust certification, which is the gold stamp of good carbon practices. Quorn is much friendlier in terms of greenhouse gases than meat.

There isn’t an exact carbon footprint calculation of Quorn sausages but the company does say ‘Quorn products can have a carbon footprint up to 13 times lower than beef and 4 times lower than chicken’ in its 2017 sustainability report. Pork sits somewhere between the carbon footprint of beef and chicken, so the footprint of Quorn sausages is likely to be somewhere between 4 to 13 times lower than regular sausages.

Linda McCartney sausages, however, are made of soya. This would be fine if there was some kind of sustainable certification to say the soya was not causing deforestation or destruction of biodiverse regions such as the Brazilian Cerrado or the Amazon.

But there isn’t. When I emailed the company, they said simply that they sourced their soya from ‘the Americas’.

Seeing as thousands of square kilometres of lovely biodiverse, carbon-absorbing land have been razed just to grow soy over the last few decades in South America, this does not bode well. I’ve asked for more precise information and asked for comment.

Why is deforestation bad? It accounts for 11% of man-made greenhouse gas emissions, more than 1 billion people depend on forests for their livelihoods and it is causing the extinction of animals. Every year we continue to lose another 30,000 square kilometres of forest – equivalent to the size of England.

So, until I know that Linda’s sausages aren’t contributing to deforestation, I absolutely cannot recommend the brand. However, it is worth pointing out that most chicken and beef that we eat is also fed on soya, which is also often uncertified and is an even less efficient use of energy.

Rant over, back to the recipe!

RECIPE

Feeds 4

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsps veg or sunflower oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 3cm piece of ginger, finely chopped
  • 3 leeks, sliced into 1 cm pieces
  • 1 big potato cut into 2cm dice
  • 2 big carrots, cut into 2 cm dice
  • 600ml veg stock (I used two Knorr cubes)
  • Chilli flakes, as much as you can handle
  • 125g yellow split peas
  • 2 x 400g tinned tomatoes
  • 2 tbsps tomato puree
  • 6 veggie sausages
  • Fresh coriander, finely chopped

Method

  1. Heat the oil in a large casserole pot. Over a medium heat, fry the onion, garlic and ginger for 2 minutes. Add the leek, potato and carrot and sweat for 2 more minutes. Add the stock, chilli, split peas, tomatoes and tomato puree.
  2. Preheat the oven to the temperature needed to cook the veggie sausages.
  3. Cook the stew over a high heat for 15 minutes, with no lid. Stir frequently to check nothing is sticking to the bottom.
  4. Turn the heat down low and simmer for 30 minutes, in the meantime cook the sausages for the amount of time specified on the packet. When they’re cooked, chop them up and add to the one-pot. Stir in the coriander and serve.

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Oaty easy vegan biscuit flapjacks

There is a magical thing that happens when you combine baked goods with offices. Inbuilt cake radars have been fine-tuned over years and people can sniff the stuff from 20 desks away. Then suddenly, it’s gone.

These biscjacks are a perfect oaty 3pm office stopgap. Tea is mandatory.

P.S. They’re also really cheap to make!

Why are they eco? 

I swapped butter for sunflower oil in this recipe, which helps cut down the carbon footprint. Oil, depending on the type and size of the bottle, has about half the footprint of butter. It’s such an easy swap that translates to many other recipes.

RECIPE

(Blender needed)

Makes 8 biscuit flapjacks

Ingredients

  • 220g oats (any type)
  • 40g brown sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp vanilla essence
  • 70ml sunflower oil
  • 30ml water
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 8 blackberries (optional –  they’re in season so pick them from the hedgerows!)

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 190C/ 170C fan/ gas mark 5.

2. Whizz the oats with a blender or a hand blender until it is a coarse flour. It should only take a few seconds. Set aside 20g and put the rest in a large bowl. Mix with the brown sugar and baking powder. Add the vanilla essence, oil and water. Mix again.

3. With your two hands, scoop up a small bit of the mixture and push your thumb against your fingers three times, until the mixture has been pushed back into the bowl. Turn the bowl 90 degrees. Repeat until the mixture resembles sandy breadcrumbs.

4. Squash the mixture into a ball of dough and on a floured surface using the 20g remaining oats, then shape into a round circle or a rectangle, about 1cm thick. Cut into 8 triangles or squares. Push a blackberry into the centre of each one.

5. Bake for 25 minutes. Enjoy!

 

Fudgiest ever (vegan) chocolate brownies

Holy moly, I’ve done it. I have found the greatest chocolate bar on the planet. It is like one big bar of Nutella because it is made with hazelnut paste and hazelnut cocoa cream. It is also massive, it is smooth and it is crunchy, it is purity, it is ataraxia, it is my relationship status. Oh, and it’s vegan.

So I have done a clever one and made it the melty middle inside some extremely fudgy vegan chocolate brownies.

Go forth, bakers, and foller.

By the way, the chocolate bar is called Vego, it really is quite expensive at roughly £3 per 150g bar (shop around) but quite clearly I believe it is worth it.

Why is this eco?

This recipe is vegan, meaning no butter or eggs. Instead of butter I used vegetable oil (rapeseed) which has about half the carbon footprint. I’ve written about swapping butter for oil before if you want to know the numbers.

Vego bars are also organic, which is seen as a more sustainable way of farming. And they don’t contain palm oil – unlike many other chocolate bars. Rainforests are still being torn down in the name of palm oil. It is immensely damaging to animals, local people and the climate.

Vego bars are also Fairtrade. Just eat the chocolate, okay.

RECIPE

Makes 9 brownies

** TIME KLAXON**
You will need to leave the batter to rest for at least four hours. This lets the flour and cocoa absorb the liquid and results in a chewy, fudgy brownie rather than a cakey, crumbly one. It also means no weird vegan substitute for eggs.

Ingredients

  • 80ml vegetable or sunflower oil
  • 80g dark chocolate (check it’s vegan, dark usually is)
  • 1tsp instant coffee
  • 200g dark brown sugar
  • 300ml water
  • 100g self-raising flour
  • 40g cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 150g bar of Vego (or other vegan chocolate if you must)

Method

  1. In a saucepan over a low heat, warm the oil and regular dark chocolate until it melts. Take it off the heat, stir in the coffee then add the water and brown sugar. Whisk until combined.
  2. Sieve the flour and cocoa powder into a medium-sized bowl. Pour in the chocolate/oil/sugar mixture steadily, whisking all the time. Add the vanilla.
  3. Allow the mixture to cool, cover the bowl and leave in the fridge overnight or for at least 4 hours.
  4. Heat oven to 170C/ 150C fan/ gas 4. Grease and line an 18cm square tin with baking parchment. You can use a 20cm tin but take 2 minutes off the cooking time.
  5. Pour the mixture into the brownie tin. Break the Vego bar down the segment lines and then chop in half lengthways. That gives you 10 pieces. Imagine a grid of 9 brownies in your tin and place a Vego piece into the centre of each one, pressing down until you hit the bottom of the tin. Like so:
  6. Bake for 30 minutes. Allow the brownies to cool in the tin for around 30 minutes, then cut into 9 squares. Devour.