Sometimes my cooking experiments fail!

This last week has been unusual for me, because I’ve been back and forth between Manchester and London, via Liverpool but having a particularly cultured time. When at home, I’ve tried my hand at some recipes for Judi, with variable success. Just because I am co-writing a healthy cookery book does not mean that I am any kind of experienced or skilful chef. Judi has the cooking skills, but in the kitchen, I am a plodder.

This is not to belittle the current recipes for our book, which are delicious and a source of great pride to us both.

My worst attempt has been to try to make a vegan mousse. I had read that you can use ‘silken tofu,’ in place of eggs. This has the consistency and appearance of white blancmange presented in a pool of water and has minimal flavour. It’s quite nice in stir fries but not a great idea for a dessert.

I found a recipe on Google and tried to modify it, to make me my own. It used molten dark chocolate and vanilla. I added stevia, rather than sugar and also orange rind and orange blossom water. I also decided to do a fruity version and roasted rhubarb in the oven, with fresh strawberries and the juice of an orange and grated ginger and again mixed this with beaten silken tofu and refrigerated both mousses.

caffeine chocolate coffee cup

The ingredients for both desserts had been delicious but the end results were quite disgusting, with the texture of grainy mud and an over-riding blandness. I was reminded of my childhood, when I had wondered why coffee flavoured chocolates were ‘a thing’ but you could not buy tea flavoured chocolate? Together with my best friend, Louise, I had mixed cold milky tea with vegetarian gelatine and then coated the gloopy sweets in chocolate, to create something uniquely inedible.

I have had more success with my carrot cake, which is currently on its third version. The first was too banana-y, the second, my mother assured me, needed more dried fruit and more sweetness. The latest version has used wholemeal flour, carrots, (being what it says on the label,) walnuts, sultanas, cranberries and a sprinkling of further walnuts and desiccated coconut, which looks sophisticated but has to be slightly pushed into the cake mixture with a palate knife, to prevent it from all falling off, when you try to cut the cake. There is olive oil in place of margarine and half of the sugar in the original recipe has been replaced by stevia. I am pleased with the end result, but perhaps it needs to be a little sweeter?

Low Sugar Carrot Cake



(Weirdly, while typing this, a musician being interviewed on the radio, talked about walking off stage and going to eat a piece of carrot cake!!)


I mentioned that I have had a cultured time. This started with an Irish music festival, in Liverpool. It was a beautiful sunny day and we were lucky to be able to sit on the ground against a fence, in semi-shade, quite close to the front. We saw ‘the Dubliners,’ all quite elderly and ‘the Chieftains’ of a similar demographic, however, there was a beautiful female violinist, who I was told was the inspiration for the Ed Sheeran song ‘Gallway Girl’ (however, Wikipedia says it was Niamh Dunne of the band, Beoga.)

Van Morrison was the headliner and he appeared natty in a navy pinstripe suit with fine gold stripes, blue floral shirt and jade green neck scarf. He started off in a huff, it seemed, as he was late to start, but by the end of his act, he was ‘rocking’. The saddest thing was seeing Shane Macgowan, of the Pogues, being wheeled onto the stage. He has been ravaged by ill health and a bad fall, after a life of alcohol excess. Seeing his premature decline was a strong reminder of the need for a healthy lifestyle.

Van Morrison
Van Morrison and his band


I also went to see the ‘Terracotta Warriors’ (not to be confused with the ‘Ricotta Warriors’, which is what I had accidentally called them) being displayed at the Liverpool World Museum. I also went to the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Art, the Rodin exhibition at the British Museum and to the Frida Kahlo exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum!

royal academy
Entrance to the Royal Academy of Art jazzed  up for the Summer Exhibition

All these events are highly recommended, but nothing to do with food. I wanted to mention that I went to a nutrition conference, where I had the opportunity to meet Dr Rupy Aujla, the writer of ‘the Doctor’s Kitchen.’ He was handsome, friendly and self-deprecating. Incredibly, he has used money from the advance for his book to fund education programs on nutrition for medical students. I have tried out the ‘pistachio, fennel and red cabbage slaw’ from his book this week and it is completely delicious.

From the conference, I learned about vitamin K2, the benefits of which are only recently coming to be appreciated. It appears to stop calcium from being deposited in blood vessels and instead it goes into bones, helping to reduce the risk of heart disease and also to prevent osteoporosis and probably helping to cut the risk of prostate cancer. K1 is present in green leafy vegetables and green tea and it is easy to get enough in your diet. In contrast, K2 is produced by fermented foods and is richest in Japanese Natto, (a soybean curd, which apparently tastes like sweaty socks.) Lesser amounts can be found in egg yolk, cheese, butter, chicken, offal and sauerkraut, kefir etc.

Most people do not have enough K2 in their diet, so tablets may be considered. It appears to be very safe but the ideal dose is not exactly clear yet, perhaps 100-200 micrograms daily. The maximum may be about 350 micrograms. There could be a theoretical risk of increased blood clots at very high dosage and it is not safe in people taking warfarin medication.

The highlight of my week was making aioli dressing with my mother-in-law. She had made seabass for supper and was sorry to have no mayonnaise. On the spur of the moment, she decided to make fresh aioli, as she’d previously told me how delicious it is. She tipped 2 egg yolks into a bowl and then slowly dripped in extra virgin olive oil with one hand, while constantly beating with the other. Her precision was incredible.

making mayonnaise

My own attempts had great blobs of olive oil, spoiling the texture. The juice of half of a lemon, a little mustard and a dash of balsamic vinegar and 3 cloves of crushed olives were all added. (I was sorry about the vinegar, as it changed the colour from sunny yellow to ochre and might perhaps have been omitted.) Like all good chefs, Shelagh was able to tell from the appearance and feel, when her dressing was ready, without recourse to any measuring and it was, of course, quite wonderful.

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