A taste of what’s been on my plate
IAM NO good with change. The passing of summer into autumn makes me sad. Especially when I have felt cheated of sunshine after the July/ August gloom-fest. The only thing to do is a bit of comfort eating. Fortunately, autumn brings a wealth of new flavours. Apples, pears, plums and figs all make me smile. Squash, wild mushrooms and root veg such as celeriac come into their own.
Vegetables are getting top billing in many restaurants but another trend gaining traction is veganism, which is crossing into the mainstream. It is not just lentils and nut roasts — there are even indulgent treats aimed at those whose diets are free from all things animal. Two of those treats have landed on my desk in the past few weeks.
The memorably named Freaks of Nature has produced two chilled KLBD-hechshered vegan cheesecake pots. Sugar (unrefined) is added — from dates and coconut nectar. Both pots have layers of different flavours made from blended cashew nuts, on an unsweetened, cheesecake-like base.
The Choc and Awe cheesecake was flavoured with cacao powder and cacao butter but was overly chocolatey. The Strawberry Blonde pulled it off better, the fruity layer cutting nicely through the stickiness of the creamy cashew custard. A great snack for the kosher vegan — and for anyone intolerant of eggs, dairy, soya or gluten.
The other treat I tried out was one for those who entertain free-from friends (plenty of those about these days). Free and Easy cake mixes contain no wheat, gluten, refined sugar, nut, soya or dairy; they are not so far kosher approved. Baking to fit that bill would take hours of research and most likely result in a headache — not to mention a questionable cake.
This clever mix takes away all the stress. To prepare it, you add oil, water, milk (of any sort) and, if appropriate, an egg. Vegans add more oil or water instead of the egg. I tested out the chocolate version, which is also sugar-free.
The mix needed more water than the pack advised, as it was a bit claggy — but it baked up fine. I knocked up a couple of loaves while hosting three children on a playdate, so it clearly did not require much input.
Our guests were most entertained by clods of mixture flying from my beaters — a problem solved by adding more liquid. A visiting dairy- and gluten-free friend gave it the thumbsup. The mixtures available are carrot cake, ginger and chocolate and the pack instructs you how to make them up into cupcakes, two loaves or two 20cm sponge cakes. I will keep a packet handy for unexpected vegan visitors.
Another new snack comes from kosher food brand, Providence Deli. I am already a fan of its sun-dried tomatoes and pesto, so I was interested to see it has just launched two new snack pots, one of hummus and one tahini, with a stash of crunchy crackers to dip into them. Add a pile of crudités and you have a healthy snack or light lunch. Watch out for them in Tesco.
I have been doing my fair share of eating out this month, too. First stop was Italian stalwart, Carluccio’s, which has just introduced a vegan/vegetarian menu — Cucina Verde. It was launched upstairs at the Garrick Street restaurant, central London, in the presence of the late Antonio Carluccio himself. He had been acting as consultant to the group and was happy to schmooze starstruck journalists and bloggers like me. I found him utterly charming.
Staff were clearly on their best behaviour for the royal visit. The manageress divulged that Carluccio was a frequent visitor, often summoning a chef from the depths of the building to give his honest feedback on each dish he ordered.
On the new menu — from which guests were invited to order from freely — are old favourites such as risotto al funghi; spinach and ricotta ravioli and penne giardiniera — penne with courgette, chilli and garlic, served with crispy spinach balls and cheese.
Additions to the menu include orecchiette al cavolfiore — earshaped pasta with a cauliflower sauce, with sautéed kale, chilli and roasted turmeric, plus spaghetti con polpette di pane (with balls of bread, semi-dried tomatoes, garlic, capers and olives in a tomato sauce).
A roasted butternut squash comes with pesto, goat’s cheese and crunchy breadcrumbs. Each dish marked with a “VO” can be rendered vegan.
In September, I was at Windows on the World — or, to be more precise — windows on to Park Lane and a corner of London inhabited by the royals, the rich and the very rich.
The Hilton hotel, atop which this venue sits, has long been dwarfed by the city’s other architectural giants and the 1960s edifice looks a little tired and dated from the outside. The views, how- nibbles: Healthy portable pot Providence Deli snack
ever, are still spectacular, from wherever you are seated.
I took my mother to Galvin at Windows for her birthday. The Galvin brothers, chefs Jeff and Chris, have operated their restaurant here for 11 years and we had not visited since they opened.
We were there for the special set menu, which offers two courses for £31 and three for £37.
On a Wednesday lunchtime, the dining room hummed with the conversation of businesspeople. Our table — east-facing — was close enough to our neighbours to allow us to ogle their food choices without forcing us to share their conversation. Service was