Thursday, 27 March 2014

Coffee Almond Cake with creamy frosting- vegan

The creamy frosting will stay firmer if you keep the cake in the fridge- but hang on; this may dry out the cake... forget it; just eat all the cake in one go ;)
If ever there was a cake with which to impress upon non-vegan friends that eggs and dairy are just not necessary, this could well be it. This cake has it all- it's sweet, light and fluffy but deliciously creamy and rich as well. 
It's always good to use the least processed ingredients possible, so although it's easy to make frosting with vegan margarine, it's not the healthiest or the tastiest option. That's where coconut milk comes in handy, because you can separate out the solids and whisk them into a delicious and light cream. Provided you keep it in the fridge, it will stay that way too. For this cake, I also added unrefined icing sugar.

400g self-raising flour
4 tsps baking powder
200g soft light brown sugar
100ml strong Barleycup "coffee" (powder/ granules mixed with water)
150ml melted coconut oil
300ml unsweetened soya milk
For the filling and frosting:
the solid "cream" from 2 cans of coconut milk
8 level tabs unrefined icing sugar
1 tab Barleycup powder
slivered almonds to decorate (walnuts also work really well). To sliver them, just put them in a plastic bag and bash them with the end of a rolling pin- great fun!
  • Make the cake by beating all the wet ingredients into the dry mixture for two minutes.
  • Spoon the batter evenly into 2 prepared cake tins/moulds (2x 8" tins is probably about right- I used heart shapes so they didn't have a diameter measurement.
  • Bake for 20-25 min in an oven preheated to 180C- if a thin skewer inserted into the centre of the cakes comes out clean, they are done.
  • Leave your cakes to cool completely. Meanwhile, make the frosting: beat the coconut cream until smooth and fluffy, adding the other ingredients. Mix thoroughly. Put in the fridge for about half an hour.
  • When the cakes are cooled, whisk the frosting until stiff, and sandwich the cakes together with it, plus a generous layer of nuts. Top with the rest of the frosting and decorate the top with the rest of the nuts.

It looks conventional enough to take to a potluck with non-vegan friends, but is completely free from animal products.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Urban Decay 24/7 Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner- vegan, cruelty free

On your eyelids, the actual colour is a little more purple and less grey; more like the colour you can see on the tip of the brush.
I was given a Debenhams gift card from work colleagues as a birthday present last month, and still had some money left on it, so last weekend I decided to go and see if they had any makeup that was suitable for vegans. I had a quick look online for some cruelty and animal product-free brands before I set off, and was delighted to find one brand there, Urban Decay. I don't wear a lot of makeup- just a bit for work- but whatever I do wear needs to stay on all day as I don't have the time (or patience) to keep reapplying. None of the Urban Decay products are tested on animals, but not all of them are vegan as although they do not contain lanolin (a quite allergenic oil derived from wool) they may contain carmine (aka cochineal or crimson lake), a purplish-red pigment made from crushed and boiled insects. So really the success of my mission depended on how much I could find out about the ingredients once I got there...
Cute compact mirror from Poundland (of all places)
I was impressed from the start by the friendly but not pushy sales assistants at the counter, who were only too happy to look up the ingredients of any product for me. They were even quite knowledgeable without referring to the catalogue they call their "Bible". Unfortunately the "Bible", although it helpfully indicated the vegan products with a symbol, was not up to date so the newest ranges were not included. I was very taken by some of the intense violet shades of powder eyeshadow, but sadly these all contained carmine, as did a lot of the lipglosses. One of the assistants explained to me that blues and greens were usually animal-free but that pinks, reds and purples often contained carmine. But now I was set on purple, and eventually picked out a metallic deep plum liquid eyeliner from the 24/7 range, a shade called Retrograde. It set me back £14: more than I would usually pay for makeup, but this was my last installment of birthday fun so I didn't mind treating myself.
Eager to test its staying power, I put some on as soon as I got home. It went on very smoothly, probably because the short brush is designed to be easy to hold and control. It makes a very fine line, but you can keep going over it until it is as thick as you like. Although it takes a couple of seconds longer to dry than I'm used to, once on it will not smudge. (I do get the feeling that it could flake if applied thickly, however.) I only put it on my upper lids. The metallic colour of Retrograde is super glossy and its light-catching quality really accentuates the eyes. I was so happy to see that once on, it is quite satisfyingly and unmistakeably purple. Even after I had gone for a run and got all sweaty, it pretty much stayed put, too. The ultimate test was a day at work, however: getting there in wind and rain, working all day and then cooking- it passed with flying colours and was still going strong after dinner, even though the rest of my eye makeup had long since faded. I could easily get used to this good quality stuff; there are some other colours in the range such as silver and turquoise which would make a useful addition to anyone's makeup bag, and I'd love to try a blue or green powder eyeshadow too!

Disclaimer: I was not approached by Urban Decay to write a review of this product, nor offered it as a free sample. This post is just my personal opinion.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Baked Mini Falafels- vegan, gluten free

These healthier, smaller falafels are perfect for packed lunches or a Middle Eastern mezze platter.
I promised I'd make falafels in the cake pop maker, and here they are: once I had devised the recipe, the mixture was quick and easy to throw together, and the cooking was way less fussy than deep frying, as well as being healthier. The texture is a little different from regular falafels- they have no chopped onion and they are a little smoother-but they are nonetheless delicious.
Don't worry ifyou haven't got a cake pop maker- you can shape the falafels  hand then brush them lightly with oil and bake them at 200C until they are firm and brown.This recipe makes about 24 falafels, depending on size.
Serve with wholemeal pitta bread, crisp salad, olives and creamy, tangy tahini sauce.
 2 tabs olive oil
1/2 tsp compound hing
400g chickpeas, cooked and drained
2 tabs chickpea (gram) flour
2 tsps ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tab chopped flat-leaved parsley
1 tsp seasalt
a pinch of black pepper
1x flax egg

  • Mash the chickpeas- no need to use a food processor; you get a more interesting texture using a potato masher
  • Mix in the rest of the ingredients.
  • Cook for 15 minutes in a preheated cake pop maker, or shape by hand, lightly brush with oil and bake at 200C on a baking sheet until lightly browned and crispy on the outside. (You get a crispier finish if you bake them in the oven, but cute little shapes if you use a cake pop maker.)
  • Falafels are delicious in pitta bread with a sauce made from tahini, lemon juice, salt and water, salad and olives. You can also serve them as part of a mezze platter, like we did: we added salad, olives, crispy spice-coated roast potato wedges and aubergine pate...yum!

One more week to go and we are on BST, so with any luck these artificially-lit shots will be a thing of the past! (At least until October...)