Friday, 14 December 2012

Part 1: Christmas at Bentovention

Hello all! We're are getting truly into the Christmas spirit here at Bentovention House. Although a couple of trays of mince pies have been baked earlier in December, I have waited until now to start cooking in preparation for parties and the Christmas week. Although my Christmas pudding is always made well in advance (see my previous post for a picture), I leave the baking of the Christmas cake until the week before Christmas. That is because I really don't like a heavy fruit cake so I bake a light fruit cake similar to a simnel cake instead. With more cake and less fruit in its anatomy, it won't keep for as long as a dense fruit cake. I will be baking the simnel-Christmas cake next week and posting up a recipe and pictures on here to share. In the mean time, here are some other Christmas recipes I have veganised and put my own interpretation on. 

Vegan Treacle Mincemeat

I used to put vegetable suet in my mincemeat, but I don't any more. I didn't find the suet added flavour, but it certainly added calories and fat. If the mincemeat is cooked then certainly the suet would act as a preservative and also bind the mixture together, but there is so much sugar content in this recipe that I wouldn't bother worrying whether anything will start living in it!

500g of fat, juicy raisins
300g of chopped glace' cherries
200g of mixed candied peel
200g of black treacle
200g of golden syrup
1 jar of orange marmalade with shreds.

Throw it all into a bowl and mix it until you have a dark, sticky, delicious mess. Jar it up in a sterilised jar (I do mine in the oven for twenty minutes on a medium heat), then use when required.

Vegan Devil's Food Cake

For anyone like me that isn't overly fond of fruit cakes, the white iced chocolate cake is a nice festive  alternative. I came up with this veganised recipe for Devil's Food Cake yesterday so that my daughter will have a yummy dessert to share with her friends at the Christmas party she is having tonight.

4 tablespoons of cocoa powder
175g of boiling water
1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
100g of dark chocolate
125g of dairy free spread (I use 'Pure')
350g of caster sugar
4 tablespoons of oil (I use walnut oil, any type is fine)
300g of plain flour
200ml of rice or soy milk

For the frosting:
250g of dairy free spread
500g of icing sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
(blend into a paste, adding more spread/icing sugar than the recipe suggests if you don't get the thick creamy consistency you expect. There are no hard and fast rules on how much to use.)

I used some chopped dairy free white chocolate buttons for the top. I think some grated dark chocolate would do just as nicely.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Put the cocoa into a heat proof bowl and mix into a paste with the boiling water. Add a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda and blend well. Set aside to cool.

Break up the chocolate into another heat proof bowl and melt over a pan of simmering water. Stir until smooth and set aside.

Put the soft spread into a mixing bowl and beat until very soft, then beat in the sugar until completely blended. Fold in the flour in three batches, along with the oil. Mix well.

Add the cocoa liquid into the melted chocolate and mix together. Fold in the chocolate mixture into the cake batter thoroughly until there are no streaks.

Divide the mixture between two cake pans and bake for about thirty minutes until risen and firm.

Decorate when completely cooled.

And finally, just a little update about the sloe gin I mentioned in my last post. I have now decanted it back into the original gin bottle ready for Christmas. I couldn't help having a little sample to make sure it was okay. It is unbelievably delicious. Shop bought slow gin usually tastes like pure sugar syrup and is thick and sickly. This home made batch has a sweetness to it, but retains a slightly tart aftertaste. It is absolutely perfect. Making sloe gin has been an all 'round success, from the wonderful afternoon I spent hunting sloes with my dear friend and my children, to the anticipation of it while it quietly did its thing in the cool, dark of my cupboard, and now this delicious prize at the end of it all.  I am pleased as punch.

Keep a look out next week for the second instalment of Christmas at Bentovention when I will show you my take on a Christmas cake and fill you in on any other treats I've made in the mean time.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Coming soon: Christmas at Bentovention

Hello all! Here at 'Fort Bentovention' (I have lovingly dubbed my home a fort since this past summer when we had some absolutely beautiful wooden decking and fencing build in our back garden), I am winding down my research work as a PhD student in preparation for a long break over December. While I work, I am listening to Christmas carols, which was initially just as a cheery background to my typing, but has now become a gentle reminder that I must work hard to finish in time for the break I want to take. 

My mind is frequently distracted during the day, as I ponder new vegan recipes I'd like to try in December. Last Christmas I made this cranberry, walnut and chestnut wellington, which was absolutely delicious. It was a recipe I copied from a friend's cookery book. I believe the name of the book was "How to have the best Christmas ever" or something similar. I took the non-vegan recipe and veganised it with some clever substitutions.

This year, I'm leaning more towards the idea of a seitan roast. Whilst looking for a tasty recipe online,  I found this creation that is described step by step by Jezebel (follow the link to see for yourself). It's based on a recipe first shown here on I've never made my own seitan before, but I'm excited to try it. It also appears to be a sizeable creation, so it will offer me the vegan equivalent of 'cold-cuts' for sandwiches the following week, as well as a tasty addition to noodle soup.

Through December I will be sure to post pictures of the cookery and crafting creations that my children and I will work on together. I will be making a large batch of my own recipe vegan mincemeat, sampling the sloe gin I jarred up in early November, coming up with a Christmas party menu for friends and family and crafting some home made tree decorations. Check back in December for pictures and recipes that I will post up for you as I go along. For now, back to work for me, but here's a sneaky peak of how the sloe gin is looking. Check out that amazing, rich colour.

And here's a picture of this year's (vegan) Christmas pudding, which was made in 2011. It's a cherry and grenadine pudding, so I'm looking forward to trying out that experimental combination of flavours. I have high hopes for it.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Halloween Treat: Vegan shortbread werewolf claws

I happened to have a hand shaped sandwich cutter which came in handy (excuse the pun) for these, but the shape wouldn't be all that difficult to cut out.

I used my usual vegan shortbread recipe, which is very simple. Three ingredients in a bowl and less than five minutes to blend.

1 part sugar
1 part vegan spread
1.5 - 2.0 parts flour

Mix with your fingers, beginning with the 1.5 parts flour to 1 parts each of sugar and spread. If it ends up too sloppy (more towards a cake mix) add the rest of your flour and rub into the rest. The consistency should be less like pastry and more like a thick cookie batter. You should be able to lift it out of the bowl in one big ball, but it should still feel a little greasy and loose.

It doesn't need colouring, since it will turn slightly golden in the oven, but you could add some vegetable based food colouring the way I have, to get more of a flesh tone. The fingernails are whole almond halves tucked into the hand before cooking.

Cut out shapes and place on a lined baking tray. Initially cook for 15 minutes at 170 degrees. The shapes should only have the merest hint of golden baked colour on the edges before they are removed form the oven. Leave them an extra 5 to 10 minutes if they are not right. Allow to cool before using a spatula to remove them from the tray. They will further solidify during cooling.


Monday, 22 October 2012

Halloween at Bentovention - Mummy sausages and spooky mash

Happy Halloween! I have been enjoying finding lots of Halloween foodie inspiration on the many wonderful vegan blogs that are out there. I discovered the idea for tonight's dinner (Mummy sausages and spooky mash) at Wing It Vegan but the original recipe is from 365 Halloween. Follow the links to see some great pictures of this meal created by other vegan bloggers. I didn't shape the mash with an icing piper, which is how I think they are usually done. I just made little piles of potato and then shaped them quickly with a spoon. I wanted the meal to be put together quickly so that it would still be nice and hot. After the photo was taken I surrounded the spooks and the pastry wrapped sausage in a gravy-yard. The children and I thought the whole thing was extra delicious because of its cuteness value.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

No.108 'Butternut squash and garlic stars' bento

This is Wednesday's bento for little t. I have given him a little more of our leftover pesto pasta, some slices of fried butternut squash and some homemade (vegan) garlic bread stars. For his dessert he has a satsuma and a little pack of caramel flavoured biscuits. My husband brought lots of these home from a recent hotel visit since he doesn't eat biscuits at all. They are one of those wonderful 'accidentally vegan' discoveries! In fact, I just had a couple with my evening cup of tea.

No.107 'Maths' bento for back to school!

It appears I've cast a shadow over the bento when I took this photograph. That's a shame, but the colours are still quite vibrant looking. Big T and little t are back to school today and now that I have my morning chores out of the way I am embarking on an afternoon of quiet, PhD related work and tea drinking. Big T took the same food as little t today but hers was in a large lunch box and not arranged like a bento. She prefers things plainer now she's in big school. The second year of big school! In this bento, little t has some breaded tofu, pesto pasta, mini carrot sticks and pea pods as filler and some hand cut carrot numbers to make it a maths bento. In the dessert layer he has a home made vegan shortbread boy and some sliced plum. 'A little plum for my little plum' as I always say.

I hope they enjoy their first day back at school. They were both super excited to be going back. I can't wait to hear how their day has been.

Friday, 1 June 2012

No.106 Tofu Wiener Octopus and Spirulina Rice

For tomorrow's bento for little t I have made some super-healthy rice! One cup of rice cooked in my rice cooker with just a quarter of a teaspoon of Spirulina and a half teaspoon of white pepper for seasoning made this gorgeously green coloured rice. I have used the green rice to create an ocean scene, with a hand carved carrot crab, rocket leaf seaweed and tofu wiener octopuses. In the dessert layer he has nectarine and pitted cherries. 

To create the tofu wiener octopuses chop the wieners in half and slice through one half of each piece, four times, creating the tentacles. Boil the pieces for a couple of minutes to fluff out the tentacles. The eyes are drawn using a toothpick and some vegemite and the little mouths are thin strips of carrot.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

No.105 'Sack Boy' Bento

Recently my children have been playing the 'Little Big Planet' game for Playstation. I have to admit, although it's not the sort of game I enjoy playing, I have developed a fondness for it. The game's graphics, music and playability are not only wonderful but it also presents quite a gentle virtual environment. The character 'Sack Boy' that a player takes on is very endearing! My children particularly enjoy customising his looks as they go along.

As a surprise for little t's bento tomorrow I have created a little Sack Boy for him. A spicy couscous bed and a cauliflower pakora Sack Boy with tomato, cucumber and carrot embellishments and Vegemite eyes. In the second layer is a three fruit salad of mango, kiwi and strawberry. He's going to love it!

Sunday, 29 April 2012

No.104 A Jubilee Bento

At the beginning of June there will be events throughout the UK to celebrate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. Like with the recent royal wedding, there will be street parties and parades and in the case of myself and a few friends, a jubilee themed picnic! With the Diamond Jubilee just around the corner, royal emblems and British flag themed colour schemes and designs are popping up everywhere in shop windows, merchandise and even clothing ranges. Most of the associated merchandise and paraphernalia is not in my taste, but I am well known for having crown shapes in my jewellery. I even have what I refer to as my 'birthday tiara' which is a sparkly little item I pop on my head to wear only on my birthday. So, since crowns are somehting I'm very fond of, I was pleased to re-discover this purple crown food pick in my collection and use it to create a bit Jubilee-ness in little t's bento for tomorrow!

Little t has noodles cooked in a home made broth of vegetable stock and chili, some raw pepper 'frills' and some black pepper fried crispy tofu. In his dessert layer he has a piece of vegan ginger cake I baked yesterday, some satsuma pieces and some juicy blueberries. There in his ginger cake is the crown tooth pick, as placed by the little hands of little t himself.

Below is a picture of another recent bento that was particularly tasty. It has roasted vegetable couscous, grilled vegan burger slices, and a cherry tomato. In the fruit layer there was some pieces of 'Welsh cake' which is like a flat, fried scone, some kiwi and satsuma. Delicious.

If you have any Jubilee celebration plans of your own, leave me a comment and let me know. I'd love to hear what's going on.

My bento article in the WTKF online newsletter

In April I wrote an article to highlight my bento creations, and the making of bento in Western society, to be entered in "Shomen" The Welsh Traditional Karate Federation newsletter.  I've attached a link on the previous text. Take a look. I think it turned out quite well!

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Vegan Simnel Cake

Happy Easter! I'd like to share my vegan friendly Simnel cake recipe with you. It makes a deliciously moist, light fruit cake with a lemon and cinnamon flavour.

To make a round, two layered cake and have enough mixture left over for approximately 9-12 Simnel muffins, use the following quantities:

550g of self raising flour 
300 g of caster sugar
300g of dairy free spread (I use Pure spread)
300g of raisins
300g of chopped glace' cherries
2 tbsp of cinnamon
5 generous tbsp of lemon juice
1 tbsp of mixed spice.
Rice milk or water to soften.

Allow the raisins to soak in the lemon juice overnight. Mix the dried ingredients first, along with the spices then blend into a thick paste with the spread. You'll need to add a little rice milk or water as you mix it up to loosen the paste, but don't make it as sloppy as you would for a cake that includes a raising agent such as baking powder. This cake won't do very much rising since it is meant to be a denser, fruitier cake, more like a loaf. Separate into two tins with enough mixture to just about fill to the brim. Any excess mixture can then be baked at the same time in cupcake cases.

It will take approximately 25 minutes to cook in an oven set at 160 degrees. Check often and take the cupcakes out as soon as the tops have started to brown slightly. 

Before the two sponge halves of the cake have properly cooled, place a layer of marzipan between them. It will melt slightly into the cake and form a nice filling. Once cooled completely decorate the top with a further layer of marzipan and add the traditional marzipan balls if you like. 


Friday, 23 March 2012

No.103 'Rabbits in the flower bed' bento

Hello all! Spring is upon us. I always think that Winter is my favourite season but I can't help getting a bit excited by the beauty of Spring blossoms, the return of all things green and new life springing up all over the place. The view from the back of our house looks over the gardens all up the street, now wonderfully in bloom. There are tiny, leaping rabbits running through the flower beds every day. Even though I am quite poorly and out of action at the moment because I've had my second wisdom tooth out, I can't help but smile at the cheeky baby rabbits somersaulting crazily back and forth.

Today's bento has rabbits in the flower beds, too. A bed of mediterranean spiced tomato cous cous with juicy tomato flowers, spinach leaves and carrot rabbits. The second layer has pickled gherkins and three tiny tomato puff pastry rolls. This bento is going to be on show today at little t's school because he is giving a talk about bento as an assessment. He has practised a wonderful talk about the origins of bento making and how our family enjoy our bento creations. He will present his own meal as part of the talk and he has a large colourful board with pictures of our bento all over it along with some bento facts. I am so proud of him.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

A Very Vegan Valentine's Day

A very happy Valentine's day to you from Bentovention! Mr. Bentovention was away today so it has just been Big T, little t and I at home enjoying heart themed baking, puzzles, games and crafts. This morning we made vegan chocolate muffins and cherry heart shaped shortbread. Over lunch we solved a few Valentine's Day cryptograms, mazes and sudoko downloaded from Activity Village, a great free resource online for children's craft ideas. This afternoon we sat down together and got our sewing projects out. Big T continued work on her embroidered 'self portrait' that she's creating and little t continued work on his cross stitched little picture of his toy penguin. I like to encourage 'free style' sewing rather than working often from pre-packaged designs. We just pick up whatever bits and bobs we have in the sewing box, thread a needle and improvise. With a child's imagination added to the mix, we get some beautiful, unique results. 

While the children worked on their ongoing projects I put together something that I'd planned to make especially for Valentine's Day. A pixellated shaped heart in red felt with an embroidered chemical compound for chili. I have a spot to hang it in the kitchen that will be just right. 

While we are renovating the house in bigger ways than usual and I am engrossed in writing my PhD thesis, my bento creations are going largely undocumented. That will change as soon as my kitchen is finished and things have settled down. Best wishes to you all!

Vegan chocolate muffins: 200g of self raising flour, 100g of caster sugar, 100g of cocoa powder, 200g of dairy free spread, 1tsp of baking powder and a dash of rice milk to soften the mixture. Bake for 25 minutes at 170 degrees in the middle of the oven. For the topping blend dairy free spread, cocoa powder, icing sugar and rice milk in small quantities until you achieve the consistency you like. Add a cherry or an icing heart.

Vegan cherry shortbread: 200g of dairy free spread, 350g plain flour, 200g of caster sugar, a dash of red food colouring, strawberry flavouring and chopped glace' cherries. Blend into a loose paste and leave to cool in the fridge for 20 minutes. Roll out and cut with a cookie cutter before baking at 160 degrees for approx. 15 minutes. The biscuits will further harden as they cool so beware of over cooking them. Enjoy!

And finally, here is a picture of my sewing project for the day.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

No.102 Christmas at Bentovention

Hello all! Big T and little t returned to school after their Christmas break yesterday. We had a nice time together over the festive period and cooked and baked to our hearts' content. Most of our baking went un-photographed, since our priority was relaxing and enjoying one another's company rather than documenting our activities. Sadly, that also meant that we took very few photographs of our Christmas time at all! Just a few on the 25th.

I'd like to share a few of the Christmas things I did photograph. Above is one of the school lunches little t had before the holidays. It contains vegan sausage and stuffing panini sandwiches, a home made treacle-mincemeat mince pie, soy-cheese and crackers, a satsuma and purple plum, a box of raisins and a candy cane. I usually put tinsel and an ornament on the cooler bags the children have for bento at Christmas time but this year I came up with the idea of gift wrapping the actual lunch.

Below are the two centrepieces the children made for our living room and dining room. The gold platter was Big T's design and the red platter was little t's. I gave them glass dishes, candles, ribbon, scented dried flowers, slices of orange I baked in the oven with cinnamon and holly snippets, then I let them make their own arrangements. I was REALLY pleased with the outcome.

Next up are some pictures of the main dish I made for Christmas day, which was a nut and cranberry wellington. The filling consisted of pureed chestnut, chopped walnuts, garlic, wholemeal breadcrumbs, steamed cranberries and fried, diced white onion. The pastry was also my own vegan creation, which I did make a little thick in places. It held it all together though. The children thought it was delicious and my husband thought it was double delicious (he had a double portion!).

For all of you that enjoy a peak into my cooking and my home life here on Bentovention I'd like to wish you a happy new year to come! little t and Big T have started to take soup and tea in their new flasks to school each day while the weather is so bitterly cold. Normal bento making will be resumed again soon!


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