Thursday, 4 December 2014

Ingredient of the Month: Brussels Sprouts

Bright green and fresh, Brussels sprouts resemble miniature cabbages!
This month Brussels Sprouts are in season in the Northern Hemisphere and all over the UK people are racking their brains to make them more appealing to serve up on Christmas Day, so what better time to feature them here? Love them or hate them, you have to admit the nutritional profile of these leafy green little beauties is pretty impressive so it makes sense to eat them regularly while they're available. We were blessed with kids who actually like Brussels sprouts, but I remember disliking them myself until I reached my teens so I do understand the need to disguise their slight bitterness somewhat. Personally, though, I think if you choose smallish, fresh-looking bright green sprouts ideally sold still attached to their stalk and use them as soon as possible after buying, they taste a whole lot better. (But forget frozen sprouts. Let's not even go there, please. Yuck!)
The Brussels sprout has been grown in Europe in some form or other since Roman times, and the first modern sprouts were recorded in the 13th century in what is now Belgium, hence their name. They belong to the family of cruciferous vegetables, which also includes the super-nutritious kales, cabbages, broccoli and collards. During the 18th century French settlers took them to the USA, but the main growers these days remain Holland, Germany and the UK.
Health and Nutrition:
Like all the cruciferous vegetables, Brussels sprouts are really, really good for you: they contain sulphoraphane, a potent anti-carcinogen. Steaming and stir-frying does not destroy this, but boiling does. Amongst many other vitamins and minerals, Brussels sprouts are particularly rich in Vitamin K, Vitamin C and iron. Look here for some more info on this amazing family of vegetables. 

We posted a recipe for Brussels sprouts with a maple syrup glaze a couple of years back- check it out here. What's your family-friendly, go-to way of cooking them?

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Festive Goodies 1: Vegan Fudge, vanilla and chocolate flavours

Who doesn't love crumbly, sweet fudge?
Don't you just love it when you realise that something is not going to be that hard after all? That's what happened to me last weekend as I watched the soya milk, cacao butter and brown sugar boiling away and thickening up like fudge should. Result! Fudge and tablet are two very similar sweets that always remind me of my childhood; both my mother and grandmother were great at making them and I remember in particular how I would "help" mum, watching as the ingredients boiled and placing alternate walnut halves and glace cherries on each piece as it set, barely able to wait until it had cooled. I would never have thought of veganising this guilty pleasure treat, but I was in Sainsbury's Free From section the other day and found it there. It was good, so I kept the empty bag to see what the ingredients were. I was excited to find that I had them in the cupboard, so I had a go and here are the results of my first two batches. You could make this and present it in a pretty bag or box to the sweet-toothed vegan in your life as a Christmas gift- or you could just scoff it all yourself; the choice is yours. Expect more from me about fudge, as I tweak and perfect each flavour, subbing in coconut oil for half the cacao butter and experimenting with various extras like maple syrup, nuts and cherries... Enjoy this first episode in this year's Christmas Countdown series on those little treats that really make the season special:

Makes a small batch, enough for one large or two small bags/ boxes.
300g sugar- use light brown soft for chocolate fudge and golden  (unrefined) caster for the vanilla one
100g cacao butter
300ml soya milk
1-1/2 tsps natural  vanilla essence (depends on the strength of the brand you use)

  • Mix everything but the vanilla together in a sturdy pan. If you choose a shallow one that's slightly too big the whole boiling process won't take as long.
  • Over a gentle heat, melt the sugar and cacao butter in so that everything is liquid.
  • Bring to a rolling boil and stir constantly to avoid burning. It will take 15-20 minutes. Use the "soft ball" test to check if your fudge is ready by having a small container of iced water handy. When you drop a little fudge in,  it should cling together to form a soft ball in the water. The colour will be darker than at the atart and the fudge will start to pull away from the sides of the pan as you stir.
  • Remove from the heat and beat fpr a few minutes, to get that slightly grainy texture that all good fudge has. Stir in the vanilla.
  • If making chocolate fudge, add 25g (or more) dark chocolate, broken up. (Make sure the fudge is not too hot when you add this.)
  • Spread into a pan lined with baking parchment and leave for at least half an hour to set.

This is the chocolate version; a little drier in texture, but heavenly all the same!

What's your all-time favourite traditional sweet? Have you veganised it yet? What are your favourite fudge flavours?