POUR ME A DRINK, DARLINGS, IT’S TIME FOR NEW YEAR’S BLOODY RESOLUTIONS AGAIN

Well well WELL. 2018. You have been a bit of a bastard, haven’t you, you saucy rascal. Let’s not even get into global events, but I can personally say that I don’t think I fulfilled a single one of the resolutions I wrote on this blog a year ago. But I’m not going to beat myself up about it – that’s not the point of New Year’s Resolutions, plus negative self-talk is SO not hot right now.

One of my resolutions was to blog once a fortnight. That would have totalled 26 blog posts in the year…. I managed 7. 8, if I finish this before Tuesday. My circumstances were just not, I’m sad to say, conducive to blogging about food and cooking. As well as working a full-time job this year, I also produced a short film, three music videos and a play. If I had had time to blog more, my eating/cooking habits would have led to blog articles such as:

  • Turns Out You Can Stir-fry Pretty Much Anything, Even if it Comes in a Tin!
  • How Many Times Can You Reheat Takeaway Thai? Asking for a Friend
  • Oh No I Missed Lunch Again and Now I’m a Grumpy Cow
  • Why Does the Supermarket Close at 9pm? Yay, Toast For Dinner
  • I Added Up How Much I’ve Spent On UberEats and Now I Hate Myself
  • Stress Eating and Me: A Story of One Girl and 17 Tim Tams
  • Today I Bought a Bag of Vegetables, Then Came Home and Ate Frozen Pizza
  • I Woke Up Hungry with a Headache: The Perils of Wine as a Meal Replacement
Dad’s vegan laksa. Honestly, what a show-off.

Not exactly the inspiring food-loving content I’m looking to fill this blog with. A new year awaits us, however! And if we can get past how odd and displeasing the number “2019” sounds and looks, then we can see this new year as fresh and full of promises as all new years seem to be. I’m moving house – back with family who love me, which I’m very excited about. They also have a very nice kitchen. This WILL be the year of preparing my lunches on the weekends, that I am determined to follow through with – I really need to save money, for starters. So I’m going to dive deep into Pinterest and BBC Good Food and my Nigella books and start writing actual LISTS, actual PLANS of salads and buddha bowls and dishes I can pre-prepare that I won’t be tempted to abandon in the work fridge as soon as someone mentions hot chips.

And I’m really going to try very hard to write more. I love it when I actually get to do it, and even if only a handful of people read and enjoy what I write here, then that’s motivation enough for me to keep going for now. It’s nice to think I’m putting some good energy out into the world, and not just carbon emissions. Helps assuage the guilt a little bit when I forget to rinse the recycling. (NOT the same I know, I’m joking, promise I’ll get better at it Mum, yes really I promise).

Yeah, dad made this too.

As for other New Year’s Resolutions? Well, I want to exercise more (don’t we all). I think I probably need to drink less. (Yes, I know what I titled this article. 2019 doesn’t start til Tuesday, thank you very much). And I think spending more time preparing my own healthy and delicious meals will help with these – it’s the sort of lifestyle shift that seems to go hand in hand. Whether I have the willpower to say no to a Sunday pub session with my mates in order to go home and roast cauliflower is another story – but I’m really hoping I can find a bit more balance this year coming.

I want to concentrate on eating and preparing real food. Less packets, less processed stuff, less numbers. More fresh vegetables and herbs and green things (EXCEPT coriander, obviously. I’m here to make myself feel healthier, not eat actual poison). I want to learn techniques I haven’t mastered yet – my dad’s vegan laksa is high on the list. Actually, getting on my dad’s level in general would be good this year. I can’t count the number of times he’s texted me amazing-looking (vegan!) meals he’s cooked, while I’m at home eating shredded cheese straight from the bag. It’s got to stop.

Closeup pic of Dad’s laksa taken by my lovely guest Anais. Yes, it’s delicious as it looks. Smarmy bugger.

And apart from just my health, and bank balance, and one-upping my dad, there’s the other big reason I need to cook more this year. I cannot meditate. I suck at it. I’ve tried all the things, the apps, the breathing exercises, the visualisations – it does not work for me. I love yoga, but during the meditation at the end I either a) fall asleep or b) lie there thinking about important topics such as how it would sound if Sam Heughan from Outlander were to say my name in his beautiful accent. I find emptying my mind an impossible task. The concept of “mindfulness” is baffling to me – I’m pretty much always thinking about the past and/or the future.

But when you’re cooking, you have to live in the present. Or you’ll burn something, or chop the end of your finger off. Cooking forces me to focus, and I truly find the task of creating something new from a bunch of raw ingredients a very satisfying experience. I’ve noticed that when I don’t find time to cook for a while, I feel more stressed and just… less happy. I think cooking might genuinely be my therapy. The kitchen is my happy place (…until it’s time to do the washing up).

So here’s to a 2019 filled with good food, creative recipes, and more vegetables. And if a handsome Scottish man appears and volunteers to do my washing up… well, I won’t say no.

And now just to prove I can whip up my own amazing, crowd-pleasing and yes, vegan, dishes: the recipe for my dinner party favourite: delicious and easy vegan lasagne!

Pic of me preparing this lasagne for a recent gathering. It’s my recipe, but shout out to the Agrarian Kitchen anyway cause they’re brilliant and you should check them out!

DELICIOUS VEGAN LASAGNE

This fulfils one of my main requirements for vegan food: you can’t tell it’s vegan. And everyone who’s ever tried it has loved it. You’ll need a pretty big lasagne pan (or two medium-sized ones). I don’t do small quantities.

INGREDIENTS:

For the vegan bolognese sauce:

  • 700g mushrooms of your choice (I mean, not magic ones. But swiss, cup, brown – all good).
  • 2 x tins diced tomatoes
  • 1 x jar passata
  • 2 x large brown onions
  • 4 x large carrots
  • 6 x sticks celery
  • 2 x large zucchini
  • 4 x cloves garlic
  • 1 x bunch fresh basil
  • 3 x tbsp tomato paste
  • 1/2 bottle red wine (oh no, whatever will you do with the other half)
  • salt, pepper, and a healthy dollop of tomato ketchup (or 1 tbsp brown sugar and 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar)

For the vegan béchamel sauce:

  • 1 litre soy milk
  • 2 tbsp nuttelex (or other margarine)
  • 2 tbsp plain flour
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • salt and pepper

For the breadcrumb topping:

  • 1 1/2 cups breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1 tbsp dried italian herbs

AND two packets of lasagne sheets! Not the kind with egg, duh.

Same recipe, different day!

METHOD:

  1. Let’s start with the bolognese. Finely chop all the veggies. In a large saucepan start with the onion, celery and carrot with a big slug of olive oil. Cook on a medium heat until the onion is translucent and it starts to smell gooooood.
  2. Add the garlic (crushed), mushrooms and zucchini and cook for a few more minutes, stirring frequently.
  3. Add the tins of tomatoes, tomato paste, passata, wine, and two tomato tins full of water. Bring to the boil then turn down to simmer gently with a lid on.
  4. Pre heat the oven to 180ºC. (I ALWAYS forget).
  5. Bechamel sauce is super easy but a little bit time consuming! Once you start you’re pretty much stuck at the stove for 20 mins so don’t start any other time sensitive activities, like a scrabble game or what have you. Start with a roux – that’s just flour and butter, or in this case margarine. In a smallish saucepan, melt the Nuttelex until it starts to bubble a bit, then add the flour and stir with a wooden spoon for a minute or so. It’ll be like a ball of dough, or thick paste.
  6. Slowly, and I mean SLOWLY, add the soy milk, whisking the whole time. It’ll thin out and thicken up, this will probably happen a few times. YOU DON’T WANT LUMPS. Lumpy béchamel is the stuff of broken dreams. When you’ve used all the soy milk and have a nice, creamy thickness, take off the heat and whisk in the nutmeg and a pinch of salt and pepper. Taste it, add more if needed.
  7. Time to add the last touches to your bolognese – torn up fresh basil, salt, pepper, and yes, ketchup. Sorry not sorry. Don’t forget that lasagne sauce needs to be a bit thinner than regular bolognese – it’s got to coat the pasta to cook it. If you like, add some extra wine or water (I know which I’d choose).
  8. Mix the breadcrumbs, nutritional yeast and dried herbs with some salt and pepper in a separate bowl.
  9. Time to build! Start with a layer of sauce that covers the bottom of your pan/s. Then a layer of pasta sheets (no crossovers, but no gaps either! You might have to break some to make them fit). Then I like to go sauce, pasta, sauce, drizzle of béchamel, pasta, sauce, pasta, sauce, LOTS of béchamel and then the crumbly topping spread evenly on at the end. Depending on the depth of your dish, you may be have to do more or less layers.
  10. Whack in the oven and bake for about half an hour. Keep an eye on it though and make sure the top doesn’t burn. Stick a fork in the middle and make sure there are no crunchy bits – crunchy bits equal uncooked pasta.
  11. When it’s done, take it out, and serve with garlic bread and green salad and enjoy everyone’s surprise when you tell them it’s vegan!
Picture by Greta Nash. Lasagne by meeeeee

Please leave any ideas/questions/thoughts here, I'd love to hear them!