Vegan Panna cotta – Guest Post by Olive Irons!!

My friend Olive is a really talented cook and I desperately wanted her to do a guest post for everyone to share her food wisdom and oh boy did she not disappoint! I am so excited to try this recipe, it looks seriously heavenly and exactly what this blog needs at the minute, i.e. a kick up the backside, lol. It’s been so hard trying to fit in blogging around my schedule at present and this post has been an absolute  Godsend, so thankyou Olive.

I’ll just quickly tell you a wee bit about the creator of this super recipe. Olive works at Leiths, which is a very prestigious cookery school in London so you are in very safe hands my friends – this girl knows what she’s talking about. I was so pleased when she agreed to create a delicious vegan dish for y’all and I told her to not even reveal it to me until it was good to go, so I only discovered what it was an hour or so ago, hehe. Not only did she take time out of her own busy schedule to make and test the recipe (several times I’m told because she wanted to make uber sure it would work in your kitchens – how nice is that?) but she also took some seriously beautiful photos.

Without further ado then, here is Olive’s recipe for that spectacular Vegan Panna cotta. Bon appetit!

Hi everyone, I’m Olive, Aine’s friend. I’m not a vegan, and I don’t have much experience with vegan food so this has been quite a challenge for me and of course I’ve had a few disasters along the way!  Aine and I have spent a lot of happy times cooking together and I was really happy when she asked me to write a guest recipe for her blog.  This recipe has been around the houses a bit, I started off using coconut milk but the texture was not very pleasant – I wanted to really try and get a nice luxurious smooth and creamy texture, even with double straining and sieving the coconut just didn’t cut the mustard so I was very pleased when I discovered the soya cream! Three versions later I think I have cracked it – smooth and creamy but not set too firm, you still want a nice amount of wobble.  This recipe will easily double if you’ve got more for dinner and will work with many different fruits depending on what is in season or what you have in your fridge!
Vegan ‘Pannacotta with poached autumn fruits’
Makes 2.
You can either make this in moulds and turn them out into bowls, or you could set it into pretty glasses and serve with the fruit arranged on top.
For the panna cotta:
1 cup soya cream – I used sojade single cream.
1 cup water.
2 heaped teaspoons agar agar flakes.
4 tablespoons of caster sugar.
1 vanilla pod split lengthways.
2 teaspoons vanilla extract.
Put the water, agar agar and vanilla pod in a pan over a low heat and bring to a gentle simmer. Simmer for around 8-10 minutes until all of the agar has dissolved, add the sugar and stir to dissolve.
Remove from the heat and stir in the soya cream and 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract.  Using a very fine sieve strain the mixture into your chosen moulds and refrigerate for at least 5 hours, ideally overnight.
If you have made them in moulds then the easiest way to turn them out is to run a knife around the edge, put your plate or dish on top of the mould and carefully turn it over.  Give it a few gentle shakes and it should come out nice and easily.  I wouldn’t turn them out more than half an hour before you’re going to serve them, and be sure to keep them in the fridge until you’re ready to eat.
Poached fruits:
I’ve used conference pears and blackberries as they’re in abundance at the moment but you could use anything you like, just check out what is in season and what looks delicious.  Some of my favourites are peaches and raspberries, rhubarb, spiced citrus fruits or blackcurrants.
2 large ripe pears.
125g blackberries.
200g caster sugar.
400ml water.
1 vanilla pod.
Put the water, sugar and vanilla pod in a pan over a medium heat.
Carefully peel the pears, cut into quarters and cut put the core, put them straight into the pan.  Bring to the boil and turn right down. Cover with a disc of baking parchment to stop the pears from discolouring.
Poach for about 20-30 minutes or until they are tender.  Remove from the pan.
Carefully drop the blackberries into the poaching liquid and leave poach for five minutes.  Remove from the liquid and serve!
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Cannellini Bean Spread

My bean intake hasn’t bean (hehe) what it should be lately. I rectified this by making Sunday a bean filled extravaganza and what better way to consume a boat load of the things than to make a spread that you can smother on toast, pitta, crackers or in my case, because it’s all I had, rice cakes. I served them alongside a huge bowl of carrot and butterbean soup, which should cover my bean quota for the day.

This is soooooo incredibly easy but very satisfying. If you are bored of hummus, sick of guacamole then this could be a welcome alternative. Cannellini beans are very mild in flavour and have an exquisitely creamy texture that makes them ideal for dips or spreads. You could make this more dip like by adding more water but I was after a thicker consistency, something that I could heap on top of my virtuous rice cake.

The extra virgin olive oil and oregano added to the vague Italian theme but I couldn’t help but feel that a little truffle oil would’ve helped matters considerably but seeing as I am not currently in possession of all my pantry goodies the evoo had to do. I didn’t excessively salt the spread because I knew I was going to top my rice cakes with gherkins (pickles), which are quite salty in themselves but if you are having this as a stand alone dish I wouldn’t scrimp on the salt or indeed freshly ground pepper.

You could pop the whole lot into a food processor and be done with it but there really is no need as the beans mash very easily with a fork. Don’t be afraid to use the dried oregano liberally, it enhances the dish greatly and the aroma is seriously divine.

And that is that. Cannellini Bean Spread. It’s barely even a recipe!

cannellini bean spread

400g organic cannellini beans

sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

dried oregano

extra virgin olive oil


Drain and rinse the cannellini beans. Transfer to a bowl. Mash with the back of a fork. Season with salt and pepper. Give it a further mashing ensuring there are no lumps.

Drizzle over a little extra virgin olive oil – a tablespoon or so – and generously sprinkle in the oregano. Mix thoroughly before altering consistency to your taste with some water.

When adding water do so a little add a time – a teaspoon to err on the side of caution. In total I only added about a tablespoon of water, just enough to loosen the mixture. Taste, season if necessary and add a bit more oregano if you wish.

Transfer to a small bowl, drizzle over a smidge more evoo and a last sprinkling of oregano.

Spread on toast, pitta, crackers or rice cakes. Also delicious in sandwiches or alternatively heat through for an excellent cannellini bean mash, which can accompany a whole host of dishes.

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The Perfect Baked Potato

I just had the perfect baked potato. It’s not the first time either. I’ve been using this method for years now and time and again I end up with exquisite baked potatoes – fluffy on the inside, crispy on the out. For years I avoided making baked potatoes because I thought they were a bit of a faff – how silly was I? But they’ve become a staple in our house and we eat them with just about anything and they are particularly suited to leftovers.

I made a batch of chilli sin carne last night with the thinking it would last me a few days and as with most leftovers the flavours only got better and made an excellent accompaniment to my spuds. The chilli isn’t the important bit, of course, but this chilli was kind of amazing especially given the kitchen constraints I have presently – i’ll never take my spice cupboard for granted again! I did a kidney bean/black bean combo this time around and I was really happy with the result. Incredibly tasty and substantial, you won’t need a huge portion believe me, particularly if you serve it with the jacket potatoes.

Onto the spud in question. There are a few key steps that will ensure the perfectness I am promising. If they are followed to the letter I will be amazed if your own baked pots will be anything less than stunning. These will also make fantabulous twice baked potatoes and whilst I was tempted to do that with these babies, when I cut them open I knew they were too good to mess around with. Simple is, more often than not, best.

the perfect baked potato

1 large white organic potato

extra virgin olive oil

sea salt


Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees celsius/400 degrees fahrenheit.

Prick the potato all over with a fork – at least six times. Rub the entire potato in the oil. Sprinkle with sea salt and cracked black pepper.

Place directly onto oven shelf and bake for (at least) an hour (and it will depend on your oven) or until the skin is crispy on the outside. Halve lengthways and serve on its own, with soy butter or any topping you fancy. I heartily recommend chilli!

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What a vegan actor eats on tour and a great Vegan Porcini Mushroom Risotto Recipe!

Here I am, a week into our tour and I’m gradually getting into some sort of cooking routine. Whilst it’s nice to be in a kitchen I can’t deny I am really missing my own but I’m trying to put that out of my mind because the last thing I need to be right now is homesick (f.y.i. I’m terribly homesick).  Anywho, I’m pretty pleased with this weeks eats – you’ll see there are lots of greens and even though there may seem to be a distinct lack of grains and beans, never fear, I can assure you I am getting sufficient protein during lunch in the form of chickpeas, hummus, quinoa and the like.

My photos are dismal and for that I can only apologise, as I’m still getting used to the flash and the dreadful light in the accommodation we are currently living in. My aim for this week is to focus on my photography, as I’ve been rushing the shots just because I’m usually starving and just want to eat the food I’ve prepared. My Husband has been visiting this weekend and has helped me sort out a few photography/lighting issues I’ve been having so I’m hopeful the next batch will be much improved – he’s so clever!

What you see here is a few nights meals consisting of leek and potato mash, vegan sausage rolls, peas – super comfort food. Spaghetti with a fresh pasta sauce made with skinned tomatoes, red onion, peppers, courgettes, capers and flat leaf parsley. I made enough for two nights and the second time I served it with a colossal amount of savoy cabbage, which I boiled, seasoned and doused in balsamic vinegar. The risotto was the winner of the week though and I even had it cold for my lunch, which sounds horrid but it was actually totally delicious with a real peppery bite – seriously yum!

I’ve chosen to focus on one recipe out of the three featured and I hope you’ll be happy it is the risotto. Risotto is one of my favourite dishes although I often find restaurants don’t do it justice. Contrary to popular belief you do not need parmesan or indeed cream in order to make a creamy flavourful risotto. Nope, all you need is a little patience, a good stirring hand and a whole lotta love. Porcini mushrooms are a real treat in my opinion and really enhance this dish – they aren’t cheap but you don’t need many so one packet will definitely do two meals.

The other essential component is most certainly the mange tout. They add the perfect crunch and texture to the dish and have renewed my love for these odd little vegetables. Why odd? Well, they are flat and crunchy, unsuspectingly so and for that reason I’ve always found them slightly amusing. The same goes for radishes – funny little things. In a nutshell, feel free to mess around with the other ingredients; add, eliminate etc. but with regards to the porcini’s and the mange tout, leave ’em in!

Also, I’ll try to keep the title of my next post to a minimum, they’re just getting silly now.

porcini mushroom, mange tout, pea and spinach risotto

1 onion

handful of dried porcini mushrooms

5 or 6 closed cup mushrooms

1 cup frozen peas

large handful of mange tout

large handful of baby leaf spinach

1 cup arborio rice

2/3 cloves garlic

1 vegetable stock cube

dried oregano

olive oil

soya butter

salt and pepper

Bring a large pan of water to the boil, add the stock cube, allowing it to dissolve and then turn the heat right down or off.

Cover the porcini mushrooms in boiling water and set them aside to rehydrate for 25-30minutes.

Heat a little olive oil and soya butter in a large pan on a medium heat. Finely chop the onion, add to pan, season and allow to soften for several minutes.

Mince the garlic, add to pan and cook for a few minutes ensuring the garlic doesn’t colour.

Sprinkle in a teaspoon or so of dried oregano. Add the arborio rice and allow the grains to cook for a minute or two. Ladel in some stock. When the grains have absorbed the liquid add another ladel.

Chop the closed cup mushrooms and add to pan. Season and allow to cook for a minute or two before ladelling in more stock. Keep the risotto moving and do not leave it unattended. Get as much air into the risotto as you can utilizing a flipping motion.

Drain the porcini mushrooms, squeeze out the excess liquid and add to pan. Cook for a few minutes allowing the mushrooms to heat through.

Finally stir in the frozen peas, mange tout and spinach. Ladel in some more stock. The rice grains should retain some bite but still be unctuous and creamy. A tricky balance but one that definitely can be achieved through constant stirring. Taste, season if necessary and serve with freshly chopped parsley, chives or a good grind of black pepper.

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Better late than never, kinda like Bourbons, Bat Biscuits!

That’s a mouthful isn’t it? Aaaaaaand, before I go any further I should clarify a few things. The ‘biscuit’ is meant in the British sense – as in something with a cup of tea – and the Bourbon reference is because these biscuits turned out rather like that most classic of British biccies, much to my delight and has given me an idea for a another great treat. Ah, yes! The ‘better late than never’ is obviously because I’d planned to post this on Halloween but yep, you guessed it, I was busy rehearsing, although I did have time to attend a party the Theatre company threw and for which I dressed up as Tetris and carved a pumpkin with the face of Jack Skeleton. Feel free to be impressed.

Ooof, what a week and to be honest the memory of making these biscuits is rather faded – or should that be jaded? I just don’t know anymore. Anyway, what I do remember is eating them and they were really good. The important thing to note here is that they aren’t very sweet, which might seem strange for a biscuit but it was entirely intentional. Again, think Bourbons – not too sweet and actually not too chocolately, which might seem like a head scratcher given there’s a 1/4 cup of cocoa powder in the mix and they are coated with some seriously intense melted chocolate. Trust me though, this is the case and they benefit from a lack of sugar especially if you take sugar in your tea.

If I were to change anything I might go either way with the ginger – leave it out or double the amount. I’m undecided as yet and I may have to do two batches just to taste the outcome – what a hardship eating those will be! It’s definitely essential to blitz the porridge oats – the texture just won’t be right otherwise but feel free to sub the flour with one to your liking. For a gluten free biccie brown rice flour would work nicely and if you’re not keen on soya milk any other non-dairy will be just as good. The shape of these make for easy eating too and are super for dunking – just ask my hubbie who went through a box load of them at work.

Who said bat biscuits were just for Halloween! Make like a bat and use your somewhat less advanced sonar skills to find your kitchen and make these delightful little morsels at once.

Bat Biscuits

1 cup spelt flour

1/2 cup porridge oats

1/4 cup cocoa  powder

1/4 cup ground almonds

1 tsp  ground ginger

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 cup soya milk

1/4 cup oil

Chocolate topping

1/2 cup dairy free dark chocolate buttons

splash of soya milk

Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees celsius/390 fahrenheit.

Blitz the porridge oats in a blender until they are flour like.

Mix all the dry ingredients in a large bowl.

Combine the soya milk and oil and set it aside – it will curdle a bit, that is fine.

Gradually pour the soya/oil mixture into the dry ingredients and mix until a firm dough ball is formed. If it is too dry add a little more soya milk or if it’s too wet stop adding liquid and add some more flour.

Roll out the dough and use the cookie cutter to cut out bat shapes – or any other shape you wish. I think (can’t quite remember) I got about 18 biscuits.

Bake in oven for 20-30 minutes ensuring to keep an eye on them. Cool on a cooling rack.

Melt the chocolate buttons and soya in a heavy bottomed pan and spread on the cooled biscuits. Allow to cool/set before eating.

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Tofu Scramble

I’m back! After an unintentional two week hiatus I am hopefully back on blogging track. Rehearsals have been manic and there was simply no free time to post any recipes much to my disappointment – I was beginning to get blogging withdrawal symptoms. It’s been quite difficult to cook in the evenings also so I’ve been relying too much on shop bought food, which has not agreed with me but thankfully we are now at the start of our tour and I finally get some routine back.

Over the past two weeks I’ve consumed a ton of hummus, heaps of raw veg, way too many Nakd bars and I almost overdosed on Marmite rice cakes. The only hot dishes I managed to cook was a tofu stir fry, a thai red curry and pasta with pesto (the brand I use is Dress Italian sun ripened tomato pesto, which has no parmesan and is suitable for vegans). I mustn’t forget my ultimate standby ready meal ingredient that has been a life saver over this past fortnight……..the totally delectable Linda McCartney sausages, which I used in several meals including a delicious sausage, mushroom and spring onion sandwich, a sausage and beans meal and today a vegan breakfast consisting of tofu scramble, vegan sausage and toast.

Here then is the recipe for that super simple tofu scramble. Normally, i.e. in my own kitchen, I would use tumeric to give it lovely golden colour and maybe some mushrooms but I had to work with what I had and it turned out pretty well. The photo is of the leftovers  – a falafel, pasta, tofu scramble combo, which may sound pretty random but was actually rather satisfying. Oh, good news my vegan friends! I discovered that Cauldron have removed the honey from their falafel so we can now eat them to our hearts content – woop woop!!

I digress, back to the matter at hand…..that lovely tofu scramble. It’s good to be back – I missed y’all x

tofu scramble

300g extra firm tofu (I used the Cauldron brand)

1/2 red onion

1/2 red pepper

1/2 green pepper

2 large garlic cloves

handful chopped flat leaf parsley

1 tbsp oregano

salt and pepper

Heat a little olive oil and/or some soy butter in a frying pan/skillet. Finely dice the onion and add to pan along with some sea salt. Allow to soften but not colour.

Chop the pepper into small pieces and add to pan. Sweat for a few minutes before adding the minced garlic. Season, add the oregano and cook for at least 10 minutes until the veg is soft ensuring to stir frequently.

Crumble in the tofu – not too finely as some larger chunks are good for texture. Generously season and cook for 7-10 minutes, again, stirring frequently.

Before serving add the chopped parsley, taste and season if necessary. Great on its own, with toast or as part of a vegan cooked breakfast. Enjoy!

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