BBQ Seitan ‘Ribs’

For our second experience with seitan, it was time to get trashy. The posh, dinner-party-worthy stuffed roulade was a distant memory and I treated Benj to a bit of an indoor cowboy cookout complete with mock barbecue ‘ribs’, corn on the cob and fluffy mashed potatoes.

I followed the recipe for seitan ‘ribz’ from Fat Free Vegan Kitchen with a few tweaks and lazy-boy changes, notably the complete omission of my own homemade BBQ sauce and the introduction of one Budweiser Honey BBQ glaze that we were both extremely excited for. That is, until I checked the back of the jar in a rare ‘lightbulb’ moment to see that the ingredients included worcester sauce, which included anchovies. Not very vegetarian. This would be fine, except we’d already bought the sauce and were nanoseconds away from slathering it all over the very much vegetarian ribs. Plus, both of us had an alcoholic beverage in hand, thus removing the ability to replace the offending item. So, I ended up making my own BBQ sauce after all! Which turned out wonderfully, despite the limited ingredients on hand.

The recipe was really easy to follow and once the dough was made (literally a 5 minute job!) I pressed it into a glass baking dish and cut it into strips to replicate actual ribs. It looked so appetising!

Not. It looks like brains, lets be honest. But I was confident it would be a flavour sensation with some quality oven time, a generous covering of sauce and a stellar line-up of side dishes.

Once the seitan had baked for about half an hour I removed it. I was really impressed with the texture of it – much like the roulade it was chewy and dense with a lovely browned, slightly crispy top from the oven. I’ve bookmarked lots of recipes for boiled seitan and we’ll definitely try it one day but for now I can’t stop making the baked version!

So the seitan was out of the oven, cooling slightly on the counter and all ready for some serious sauce application and then we had Saucegate. I was slightly livid because the whole meal was based around this sauce and now poor Benj couldn’t have any. Panic not, my boy! I hit up Google and using a combination of about 5 ‘Simple Barbecue Sauce’ recipes I came up with a satisfactory combination that miraculously mixed together to actually taste like BBQ sauce.  For the record, I used ketchup, brown sugar, mustard powder and soy sauce in varying amounts until I hit the jackpot. Heated up gently in a pan it was even better! With the seal of approval from Ben, we were back on track. Wearing my special smug face which I reserve exclusively for kitchen successes, I sliced the rib slab into two (cutting the dough before cooking it was a real help as the perforation ensured a clean cut afterwards) and put them into two different baking trays as we now had a Code Red veggie vs meaty situation on our hands and needed to avoid cross contamination.

Ben said I was more than welcome to use the homemade BBQ sauce since I made a lot but I really had thought of nothing but the Bud sauce since we bought it a few hours earlier, and nothing was going to get in the way of that. I do think the surprise addition of anchovies in the sauce has made Ben think a lot more about what he’s buying though and he thanked me profusely for ‘saving him’ afterwards! Bless. It’s surprising how many products that you would never think twice about do contain animal products.

I spread the Bud sauce on my ribs and the homemade one on Ben’s and we put them in the oven to finish off for the last 10 minutes. I was hoping the sauce would get a bit caramelised and sticky and seep into the seitan. Yum!

While the ribs were finishing off we completed our side dishes. Lovely, fresh whole corn on the cob with butter and salt alongside smooth, fluffy mashed potatoes with milk, garlic and slightly more butter than was really necessary. After years of forgoing mashed potato I am now firmly back in the MP camp after learning to make it myself. My favourite way to eat the carby wonder product is still in baked form (with super crispy, olive oiled and salted skin) but I find myself longing for the comfort of mash a lot more now.

We removed the ribs from the oven and the sauce had indeed caramalised nicely, making them smell amazing and even look very similar to actual ribs!

The final verdict? These are amazing! I actually preferred them to real ribs because they are so much easier to eat and obviously a lot less messy. Plus unbelievably lower in calories and fat which is always a bonus (especially when you are still soldiering on with My Fitness Pal, as I bravely am. I’ve lost nearly a stone though! I love seitan!!)

I love how the mashed potatoes in that photo would almost not look out of place on a pavement…if you catch my drift.

The recipe made enough for 8 ribs and due to the thickness and sheer size of each one, we could only manage a pitiful 3 each. Embarrassing. That meant leftovers though! Lunch the following day, in a bread roll with extra sauce. Yum!

Please make these if you have any interest in vegetarian barbecue food – they were so quick and easy and so much more exciting than the usual veggie burgers or sausages that find their way onto barbecues in the summer. Surprise the vegetarian in your life!

You could even push the boat out and make BONES for the ribs a la A Vegan For Dinner! Love that commitment!

Piccola Roma – Bishops Waltham

We’d been wanting to try this new Italian restaurant for ages but only got a chance last Thursday, a good excuse to celebrate the start of the long weekend!

We went for drinks in the newly refurbished Crown Inn beforehand – absolutely beautiful inside and worlds away from it’s previous incarnation – I actually struggled to believe it was the same pub once we were inside! Definitely worth a visit if you are in the village and the perfect place for a cozy glass of wine before dinner.

We arrived at Piccola Roma about 8pm and it was very quiet in the small restaurant with only a couple of tables occupied. The lovely owner greeted us and said we could pick any table we wanted, a huge bonus in my book! We chose a little table for two right in the window and ordered a glass of wine and a beer.

The decoration is really lovely inside with dimly lit tables and a generally romantic atmosphere. There was a couple on the table next to us and a family  on a larger table near the door. There was a huge print of the Colosseum stretching over the wall next to us which got us chatting about how much we’d like to visit Rome one day.

We perused the menu first and decided to share a couple of starters in order to leave room for what sounded like a stellar line-up of main choices.

We ordered mixed olives and the bruchetta. Both came out looking magnificent!

The olives were perfect – fat, pitted and doused in a flavourful garlic, chilli and herb oil. The bruchetta was presented as a trio and we halved each one to ensure a complete tasting experience. My favourite was the chopped olives – perhaps an olive overdose for some given our second starter but the intense olive hit was just perfect teamed with the crispy grilled bread. The mixed pepper and sliced tomato bruchetta were also lovely and we obviously scraped the plate clean of balsamic glaze.

I was having some trouble deciding what to order for my main and was stuck between a having a bowl of cheesy, creamy, comforting tortellini or just going for it with a massive steak. The owner came over and chatted to us for a bit and eventually I plumped for the steak after she declared it “the best I’ve ever eaten!” Obviously biased but I’m not going to let a declaration like that pass me by and before I knew it I’d ordered it, medium rare please.

Ben was absolutely spolit for choice at this restaurant and had a choice of at least 3 different main courses! We had seen on the online menu that they served an aubergine parmigana which he was quite keen to try but after asking our server we learned it had been taken off due to lack of interest. Unfortunate but understandable. In the end he went for the pesto pasta with a side salad of onions and tomatoes.

Our main courses were brought out and I literally could not have been more excited to see the sheer size of my steak. Ben said as soon as he saw it he knew we’d be coming back! It was a 10oz rib-eye steak with a creamy dolcelatte sauce, chips and a salad. I have recently become obsessed with blue cheese and have been adding it to pretty much everything I eat so the chance to have a steak slathered in it pretty much made my day.

We were both impressed because I have only ever had a steak like this in Florida – sitting proudly on the plate, taller than everything else. Normally I get a bog-standard sirloin or similar which, while delicious, cannot match the impressive appearance of a fillet or rib-eye. The steak was perfectly cooked and in fact next time I may have to chicken out somewhat and order it medium as  the thick, meaty centre was very very rare. As it should have been! Only I wasn’t expecting the sheer girth of it and overcompensated thinking they would err on the side of caution.

The insanely rich sauce complimented every single bite of the steak. I was so tempted to ask for more sauce (pretty much to just drink) but I remembered I am actually on a ‘diet’ (using the MyFitnessPal app, it’s amazing!) and although we had walked to the village and so burned an additional 300 odd calories, I really shouldn’t push my luck. As it was I really scraped my plate clean, using the chips more as a vehicle to get sauce into my mouth than a side dish in their own right. They deserved more than that really as they were lovely chips.

Ben was very happy with his main course and although it appears quite small and forlorn in the vast bowl, he was actually struggling to finish!

His side dish of onion and tomato salad was somewhat resplendent in appearance and rather stole the show from his main.

More balsamic glaze, score! He was pleased because the pasta was cooked al-dente (they actually state this on the menu and you can ask for it to be cooked longer if you prefer) and the pesto was fresh and flavoursome. The salad provided a lovely contrast to the pasta and helped break up the unavoidable monotony that afflicts most pasta dishes.

We were contentedly full after our main courses and I was pleased we had shared a starter (although does it really count as sharing if you order 2…) and happy to leave without dessert in order to avoid the wrath of MyFitnessPal. Our dinner came to £42 which we thought was really very reasonable with a drink each and starters. Saying that, I did order the most expensive thing on the menu so we could have quite easily kept costs down if I’d gone for the tortellini. Oops.

We will definitely be going back to Piccola Roma given it’s fantastic food, convenient location and friendly service. The owner was very pleasant to chat to and we learnt that she lived in Rome for 6 years and actually met her husband there, the chef at Piccola Roma! Fantastic to hear we were receiving real authentic Italian food and for me, lovely to hear the back story from someone who is so obviously passionate about Italy and Rome.

Potato Dauphinoise

On New Years Eve just gone, me and Ben were house-sitting for some friends of his Dad. As tempting as it was to go out, pay £20 to get into our local (normally free) pub, drink weak-but-overpriced cocktails all night, experience the anti-climax of midnight with people throwing up on the pavement next to us and then have to walk home because we couldn’t afford to pay £80 for a taxi, we chose to stay in.

We decided to spend the evening in their cosy house, cooking a lavish dinner and drinking copious amounts of vodka. As we both still live with our parents (my dream of a polka dot kitchen all of my own is still very much a dream…) it’s really nice when we get asked to house-sit and can cook in the kitchen, especially this particular house as it has a gorgeous, 1950’s style kitchen with cream appliances and duck egg blue accessories and I just love it.

We were originally going to cook a dish from Hugh FW’s Veg Every Day book that I bought Benj for Christmas but I impulsively decided I wanted to make potato dauphinoise, one of my very favourite dishes. I wanted to make something ‘meaty’ to go alongside it to counteract the creamy/heavy/carbyness, but we find this is quite difficult to do with vegetarian dishes. A lot of recipes involve cheese, lots are one-pot dishes that wouldn’t need a potato-based side and the rest are Asian/Oriental inspired.

It seems to be hard to replicate the British “meat, potato and veg” dish in vegetarian food, purely because veggie food is so often more successful when the whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts (Quorn chicken fillets!) Quorn do a “steak” which is quite nice but I wanted something a lot more special for NYE. I think it’s the lack of ready formed fake meat that makes it tricky when wanting a ‘British plate’ as most of it is in minced or chunk format which needs to have more done to it than just slapped on the plate next to the side dish. Stuffed peppers would work, as would stuffed mushrooms, but I really am not the biggest fan of mushrooms unless they are very very finely chopped. Although, as you’ll see in this post, the times they are a’changing!

We did consider buying tempeh and I even considered making it for a few ambitious seconds but in the end I decided a tart would suffice. Still more unnecessary carbs but we were getting desperate at this point! My Dad made Ben an awesome mushroom tart for our annual Boxing day bubble and squeak and meat fest and we wanted to recreate it.

To cut a long story short, we made both the dauphinoise and the mini mushroom tarts and they were delicious. But, I overcooked the dauphinoise and it really annoyed me. REALLY annoyed me. Obviously, we ate all of it but ever since then I’ve been researching recipes and trying to figure out how and why I went wrong. I needed to make it again!

Dauphinoise take 2 occurred last Sunday. I bought all the ingredients again and launched into a second attempt at the dauphinoise. I knew that the first time, my mistake was putting the oven on too high so that the cream split immediately, causing a kind of unattractive spongy mass to form over the sliced potatoes, worlds away from the creamy, silky sauce I was aiming for. So, this time I was prepared to just take it slow, put the oven on nice and low and let it cook quietly away for a couple of hours.

The end result? Good…but still not perfect! The cream STILL curdled even though I only put it on about 150. It was salvageable though as I pressed down so the potatoes absorbed some of the water that was produced when the cream curdled. In the end it all sort of came together quite nicely, albeit still lacking in the sauce department. Again, we managed to force down the entire trayful as we do not discriminate when it comes to potato-based foods…but I was still a little broken-hearted.

Since my second attempt I have continued to Google extensively and came across a recipe that sounds to be pretty perfect, written by that founder of calm and collected cooking, Nigel Slater. He suggests mandolining the potatoes which is incidentally what I did the first time we made potato dauphinoise a couple of years ago and strangely opted out of these past two times. Although I like the idea of a satisfying bite of thick potato in each mouthful, it seems the very thinly sliced works better in this dish.

The tart this time was delicious with a much richer flavour than our first try. However, it was our first experience with ready-to-roll puff pastry and we unfortunately forgot to par bake it first so the bottom was slightly soggy. The filling was a lot nicer than our NYE attempt though; a simple mixture of chopped and caramelised red onions, very finely chopped button mushrooms (how brave of me!) and soya mince with lots of sage and rosemary. We also spread some caramelised onion chutney on the bottom of the tart which provided an intense hit of flavour.

Next time we make these (and there will be a next time!) I think we will revert back to the original smaller size for a more photogenic finish and make the filling a bit more generous in each.

A final shot of the dauphinoise looking almost acceptable…I’m sure you’ll be seeing this again very soon as I just can’t stop thinking about it!