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.

5 easy ways to have a low-carbon diet

P.S. A ‘low-carbon diet’ is low in all greenhouse gases produced in the life cycle of food. So for beef, that includes methane produced by the cow. It’s easier than saying ‘a diet low in greenhouse gases’!

1. http://www.pnas.org/content/111/33/11996.abstract

2. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301421513009701

3. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2007/oct/25/ethicalliving.foodanddrink

Restaurant review: Riverford at The Duke of Cambridge

Glorious, unfussy organic vegetables

Riverford at The Duke of Cambridge, 30 St Peter’s Street, Islington, London N1 8JT (02073593066). Three-course meal for two, including drinks and tips: £90

★★★★☆

Biting into a slice of tomato topped with crumbly, creamy ricotta, I was suddenly thrown into a cliché. This was just like in Italy, I thought, where I first discovered that tomatoes could taste good raw. Add the oozing alkaline green of basil pesto and I’m molta contenta.

This is to be expected when you eat at the pub supplied by Riverford organics, The Duke of Cambridge. Riverford is famous for its excellent veg box scheme, set up by Guy Watson, who is married to the founder of The Duke, Geetie Singh. Aha.

The Duke, which opened in 1998, is now ‘Britain’s first and only certified organic pub’ and yes, it is bloody good at vegetables. But it’s not just an organic pub – it aims to be sustainable in many aspects, from food waste, to packaging, to its second-hand wooden tables and chairs. It has therefore made it on to my food map of climate-friendly restaurants.

The starter was Tomato Salad, Liquorice Salt, Basil Pesto, Leaves & Ricotta (£8). The tomato was so ripe it barely needed chewing and the pesto was rich with olive oil, which we mopped up with what sadly looked and tasted a lot like bread-maker bread (£2.50). There was no liquorice salt evident to me or any of the other three diners around the table so it would be better not listed on the menu; particularly because the word ‘liquorice’ frightens some people. We shared it between four and that was lovely.

Tomato Salad, Liquorice Salt, Basil Pesto, Leaves & Ricotta

Next was Roasted Squash, Greens, Riso Nerone, Corn Salsa & Medita (£14) – picture at the top. Each vegetable was perfect. The squash was pull-apart stringy, sweet, herby and juicy. Baby kale was lemony and as salty as it could be without being too much. Black jewel-shaped rice with carrots and onion was piled up on the squash, and corn with pickled red onion brought acid and crunch. Grated medita, similar to feta, was extra salty seasoning that melted on the tongue.

We also ate Summer Salad, Batavia, French Beans, Courgette, New Potato, Cherry Tomato, Black Olives & Pesto (£13).

Summer Salad, Batavia, French Beans, Courgette, New Potato, Cherry Tomato, Black Olives & Pesto

Words depicting polytunnels bursting with gluts of August vegetables floated over the table. It was moreish and crunchy and fresh, the kind of dinner you don’t realise is so healthy until you reconsider it later. My only qualm? The veg wasn’t much chopped so with the green, red and yellow colours it looked a little like a toddler’s box of 3D shapes.

Dark, Milk and White Chocolate Brownie, with Cream (£6.50) was pudding. I wanted it to be dense chewy brownie packed with a galaxy of chocolate chunks. But it was a cakey and homogenous block that had been reheated in the oven, making the edges dry out. It came with sour cream that personally, I liked, but it upset the others who had eaten a big spoon of it, just like when my grandma dramatically ate wasabi for the first time.

Value for money? Yes. Organic farming uses more resources and the vegetables were beautiful. There is so much to admire about Riverford and the ethical ethos of the pub. The vibe was rustic and charming with bunches of dried flowers, wooden beams, plenty of windows for light, and the honey-coloured King’s Cross-type bricks.

To be particularly harsh, The Duke won’t excite the very culinarily adventurous. But I would happily bring my friends and family here to gorge on hyper-seasonal, delicious veg. After all, simple, fresh and locally grown is what the Italians are known for – and not what Brits are. Other UK pubs, take note.

Ann’s veggie wontons

Say hello to these delicious tubby little dumplings. They are simple to assemble and would be great to make with friends.

The wontons are filled with shallots, crunchy water chestnut, coriander, green beans and… Quorn chicken.

Yes, Quorn! It has half the carbon footprint of actual chicken, making it a great substitution if you want to cut down your meat intake to help out the planet. It is a processed food but there are no ingredients in Quorn chicken that are suspicious and unlike tofu, it’s not linked to deforestation.

Be sure to use the frozen variety rather than the refrigerated – it has a significantly lower carbon footprint.

Thanks to Ann’s Chinese Kitchen in Newport, South Wales, for the recipe. Ann runs a cookery school out of her home kitchen where she shows you tips and tricks for making mouthwatering Malaysian street food, including these wontons. She caters for vegetarians too. Find out more about the school on her Facebook page.

Veggie wontons about to be poached in stock

Why is this eco?

Quorn aims to be low-carbon from farm to freezer. About 3.8kg of CO2/equivalent is produced per kg of Quorn chicken pieces while actual chicken produces 6.9kg. Interestingly, frozen Quorn has a lower footprint than the refrigerated stuff, which comes in at 5.5kg. (CO2/eq is used to measure all greenhouse gases under one common unit.)

Quorn is the first global meat substitute to get Carbon Trust certification of its footprint, which basically means it cares a lot about sustainability. Thumbs up.

RECIPE

Makes 15 wontons

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 2 shallots, very finely diced
  • 50g stringless or green beans, also very finely diced
  • 50g frozen Quorn chicken pieces, defrosted and very finely diced (even better if you marinate it in a little ginger, garlic and soy sauce for a few hours beforehand)
  • 1/2 tin of water chestnut, very finely diced
  • 15 frozen wonton wrappers, defrosted
  • 2 tbsp coriander, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp soy sauce
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper
  • 1 egg white
  • Pot of veggie stock (about a litre)

Method

  1. With the oil in a frying pan on a high heat, gently fry the shallots until soft and brown. Add the stringless beans and stir fry until soft for a few minutes. Remove from heat.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix the Quorn with the water chestnut, shallots, coriander, soy sauce and white pepper.

IMG_13603. With a wonton wrapper flat on your palm, add a teaspoon of the mixture in the centre. Dip your finger in the egg white and dab it along all four edges of the wrapper, so that you’ve drawn a square around the filling.

4. Press two opposite corners together, folding the square to make a triangle. Then bunch up the wrapper to enclose the filling and pinch lightly to seal. Use a damp tea towel to keep the remaining wrappers moist while you’re folding.

5. Drop the wontons in a pot of boiling veg stock and poach for 3-4 minutes. Serve with blanched pak choi, noodles and chilli sauce.

 

The amazing vegan onion bhaji sandwich

Vegan food can induce fomo but it can also be stupidly delicious. Meat-eaters and vegans alike, meet the amazing vegan onion bhaji sandwich. Addition of either chutney, pickle or even houmous is mandatory. Take it to a picnic or just be frank with your feelings and cuddle it in bed.

As a bonus, these bhajis are very low-fat as they are baked instead of deep-fried AND they’re gluten-free.

How is this eco?

Vegan diets create the lowest levels of greenhouse gases while veggie diets have half the footprint of meat diets. Bhajis instead of a burger? That’s around 1/14th of the footprint.

The United Nations has been advocating a less meaty diet to help the climate for more than a decade. Europeans eat 70% more protein than needed for a healthy diet. And rearing the animals that we eat contributes to 14.5% of global man-made emissions of greenhouse gases. Eat the bhajis people, it makes sense.

RECIPE

Makes 2 huge sandwiches

Ingredients

For the bhajis

2 tbsp cumin seeds

2 tbsp coriander seeds

3 onions

2 tbsp cooking oil such as rapeseed or vegetable

A pinch of salt

Half a bunch of finely chopped fresh coriander

70g chickpea or gram flour (now in many supermarkets)

3 tbps lemon juice

2 tbsps grated ginger

For the sandwich

2 baguettes

Pickle, chutney or houmous (beetroot pickle works particularly well)

Spinach or salad leaves

 

Method

Preheat the oven to 170C/ 190C fan/ 350F/ gas mark 5. Toast the cumin and coriander in a frying pan for 2-3 minutes on a medium heat. Blend the seeds in a spice blender or a pestle and mortar or keep them whole if you possess neither.

Finely chop the onions into thin half moons.IMG_1230

Using the same pan, heat the oil for a minute then add the onions and cook for 5 minutes on a medium heat until translucent.

In a big bowl combine the salt, coriander, ginger, lemon juice and spices with a couple of tablespoons of water. Mix to make a thick sticky batter that isn’t runny at all.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

Add the onions and mix well to coat them completely.

Cover an oven tray with baking parchment. Use your hands to form 8 bhajis. Dip your fingers in a bowl of water to stop the mixture sticking.

Bake for 15 minutes, turn over the bhajis then bake for 15 minutes more.

Onion bhajis

Slice the baguettes, spread your pickle or chutney generously. Add the bhajis then cram in the leaves.

Restaurant review: Radius 7

Very local food with a sea view

Radius 7, New Road, Stoke Fleming, Dartmouth, Devon TQ6 0NR (01803 770007). Three-course meal for two, including drinks and tips: £80

★★★★☆

The word ‘local’ has suffered the same fate as ‘organic’ in that it has been abused by marketing types as a stamp of authenticity. It conjures up scenes of food on wooden boards, served in buildings with wholesome scrubbed red brick walls.

But local is much more than a middle class buzzword. Buying locally is good for the economy and means fewer food miles. It can also allow restaurants to build a better relationship with suppliers so that less waste is created. And a transparent supply chain suggests people are fairly treated and paid at every stage of production.

Radius 7 does local very well.

Sat on a hill that suddenly plunges into the English Channel, the restaurant started out in 2015 with the idea that ALL of its food would come from within a 7-mile radius. Two years on, the proportion is 85% local (they said butchers’ prices were becoming too high) but it is still an impressive achievement.

For starters I had Salt and Pepper Onion Petals (£2.95) which arrived deep fried and with garlic mayo. The onion had been part caramelised before being battered which made for mouthfuls of sweet sticky jam and crunchy fried coating.

Salt and Pepper Onion Petals with garlic mayonnaise

My five and a half fellow diners happily saw off heavily cheddared soufflés, scallops with black pudding and peas, and summer minestrone soup.

Wild Mushroom and Mascarpone Arancini (£12.95) with pea puree and beer battered asparagus came next. It was at this point I realised everything I had ordered was deep fried. With my battered starter and the veggie mains menu mostly filled with fried goods (beignets and croquettes too) there could be a better balance. It may have been created for vegetarians who are afraid of vegetables but I am not.

IMG_1090
Wild Mushroom and Mascarpone Arancini, with beer battered asparagus

The arancini, which are fried risotto balls, were crisp and well-seasoned, with fat chunks of meaty mushroom inside. The asparagus was juicy and sweet, although the batter was probably unnecessary and did not taste much of beer. However, I was abruptly disappointed when I discovered I had eaten them all. The creamy pea puree was a good foil to the beige but was too salty.

Elsewhere on the table, silenced mouths lapped up crab claws, langoustines and mussels draped in wild samphire and garlic butter. There was a platter of mackerel pâté, prawns, smoked salmon and crab, and steaks with onion rings and veg, and chips to mop up peppercorn sauce. A slow braised ox cheek glazed in Doombar ale and black treacle was eaten in a religious daze as deep as the dark meat lacquer.

crab claws, langoustines and mussels
Fisherman’s Catch – crab claws, langoustines and mussels 

Defeated, only one of the group ordered dessert. Dark Chocolate & Peanut Butter Cheesecake (£5.95) with salted caramel came on a wooden board supplied by the local tree surgeon. A thick, rich, creamy, generous chocolatey jar affirmed that Radius 7 knows what it is doing.

Dark Chocolate and Peanut Butter Cheesecake with salted caramel, berries and brownies 

The whole meal happened effortlessly, with no delays except when waiting for the bill during an influx of diners. The building is a wonderfully light space that benefits from a high ceiling and two long walls of windows, with the sea visible over the rooftops. On this Friday night it had a pleasant hum helped along with relaxed, assured staff.

Radius 7 could make even more of its local mantra, which is not advertised in the restaurant or online. Arguably the best it has to offer is the seafood, which comes from nearby Brixham, one of the biggest fishing ports in the UK. The restaurant also grows its own microherbs in a polytunnel out back and is looking into stocking Dart Valley wine alongside its Salcombe and Exmoor Wicked Wolf gins.

From an environmental perspective, local food does not always translate to a smaller carbon footprint because most emissions happen in the field rather than during transport. But it still helps, especially if the food is in season and grown easily in Britain.

Moreover it points to a thoughtful and sustainable way of restauranting that I am happy to buy into. Even if the deep fat frier had a bit of a heavy night.

Organic or not?

new-piktochart_23382820_fa24eb92dedadaacd45b48f00f753b9df2b043d5.png

1. https://www.ciwf.org.uk/your-food/dairy/

2. https://www.ciwf.org.uk/news/2009/08/organic-is-better

3. http://www.organicresearchcentre.com/manage/authincludes/article_uploads/ORC%20Biodiversity%20benefits%20of%2 0organic%20farming%20v4.pdf

4. http://www.globalissues.org/article/170/why-is-biodiversity-important-who-cares

5. http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/STUD/2016/581922/EPRS_STU(2016)581922_EN.pdf

6. https://www.iarc.fr/en/media-centre/iarcnews/pdf/MonographVolume112.pdf

7. http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=56311#.WWTSBtPyt3I

8. https://www.elementascience.org/articles/10.12952/journal.elementa.000116/

9. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-19465692

10. http://www.water.org.uk/news-water-uk/latest-news/research-shows-more-action-needed-protect-against-growing-drought-risk

11. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/06/12/think-organic-food-is-better-for-you-animals-and-the-planet-thin/