Part of series: Ben's Twenty

Ben's First Quarter

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~1,300 words


Last modified: March 30th, 12,022 HE

Thinking in the kitchen. It’s underrated. If you have a recipe, do you have to think? When you open a book that says, Combine A and B, add C, stir, and bake for 20 minutes at 350°F/180°C, do you simply follow the instructions?

Michael Ruhlman, Ruhlman's Twenty

I’ve managed to exceed my initial goal of getting 25 recipes done in Q1, instead managing to plough through 29 with almost-complete success! And only one that wasn’t entirely vegan! Fab!

Panfried & sage–garlic-brined tofu chops with lemon–caper sauce and roasted shallots

This was a bold first choice, perhaps, what with me having never brined anything previously. However, despite my initial uncertainty about whether tofu could even be brined—one wag predicted I would end up with a salty soy soup—it all came off pretty much without a hitch. The roasted shallots are a dead easy side, and when eaten cold the next day the tofu managed to perfectly replicate the taste of leftover fried chicken—a testament to the quantities of salt used in the latter, no doubt.

Winter vegetable garbure and chipotle–corn fritters with cilantro–lime dipping sauce

The garbure was, like all soups, largely uneventful. I did originally try to replace the egg in the mayonnaise with flegg (i.e., ground flaxseed and water), producing the watery disappointment you see above, but a second attempt using aquafaba (i.e., the water from a can of chickpeas) proved more successful. Far, far, far less successful, though, were the fritters, which smelt delicious but were left utterly inedible by my ingenious decision to use popcorn kernels when the recipe called for corn kernel—a lesson learned about the perils of translating US recipes.

Perfect meat loaf with chipotle ketchup and pan-steamed snap peas

Seeking guidance on how to make a vegan meatloaf, I found this recipe, resulting in a chickpeas-and-bread concoction. Given that I had only seeded bread to hand, and I had to extend my limited supply of egg-replacing aquafaba with some flegg, the result was far more loaf than meat, but didn’t taste too bad. Dear Santa, please allow my flat to smell like chipotle all the time.

Mac and cheese with soubise

Vegan cheese, that great dragon, had to be tackled at some point. I’d heard many things about its inability to melt right, it’s plastic consistency and its weird taste, and I can say now with some experience that only two of those three things are correct (although, to be fair, I did use a melting flavour block that is perhaps not representative of the meltability of lay vegan cheese). I also definitely overdid the nutmeg, but overall this one was a success.

Shortbread, plus other Burns Supper things

For Burns Night I went off-menu and put together a scotch broth and some neeps & tatties to go with a vegetarian haggis, but I did take the opportunity to make some surprisingly simple (though maybe a little thin and burnt) shortbread.

Lemon–cumin daal

Not much to say here, this one was just lovely—turns out you can make ghee just as well with plant-based butter.

Lemon confit, part I

I noticed by chance that this recipe requires rather a lot of forward planning—the lemons should cure for around 3 months—so I decided to get the ball rolling now. Tune in next quarter for the results!

Cream of celery root soup and green bean, corn & onion salad with roasted shallot vinaigrette

The celeriac soup was okay, but nothing special; the salad was a disappointment, but then again I find the thought of eating cold onions quite odd. The vinaigrette was good though.

Pulled jackfruit with eastern North Carolina barbecue sauce, brussels sprouts sautéed in spicy butter and spicy roasted green beans with cumin

I, um, misjudged the volume of jackfruit that I would need (aiming for the same weight as the recipe required for pork, without taking into account the different density). The end result was enough jackfruit for a whole week and disappointingly watery barbecue sauce that I had tried to thicken by adding extra sugar, reasoning that it would serve a flour-esque role and produce something more syrupy, but to no avail). The sides were roundly excellent though.

VTR whisky sours

Aquafaba worked fine as an egg replacement, but this suffered from the eternal curse of all cocktails—it’s easier and tastier to just drink the alcohol neat.

Pizza bianco

Whilst this could have been another reckoning with the dastardly vegan cheese, I instead had a lot of non-vegan ingredients in due to having just had a friend stay over. The pizza (or, at least, the first pizza, before I got cocky and tried making the next one thinner) was a resounding success though, so I shall definitely be returning to this one.

Traditional French onion soup

As one of the few recipes in the book I’ve made many times before, I’m something of a dab hand at this one now, and it helps that it’s already basically vegan. However, it did give me another chance to play around with vegan cheese and to be disappointed that the industry doesn’t seem to have branched into replicating specific cheeses yet, like the Emmenthaler or Gruyère called for in the recipe. Yep, it does melt rather oddly.

Rotisserie chicken and leek soup (ft. lemon confit, part II)

For this one, I wanted to try veganising a recipe not by replacing the meat, but by simply removing it. Given that soup is the most tolerant of all preparations, it will probably come as little surprise that, yeah, having a leekier soup is fine. That said, this recipe did involve making a stock, and I could really understand how vegetables impact on the sweetness of a stock after taking a sip of my all-veg preparation (which had a taste, appearance and consistency not unlike watermelon juice). I also got a chance to preview some of my lemon confit in the garnish…

Spicy tofu with bell beppers

I love a good stir fry, and this was no different. I mixed in a bit of tempeh with the tofu for variety, and it was a resounding success.

Grill-roasted prime rib with sautéed mushroom risotto

Firstly, some nice and easy vegan Parmesan—it’s striking just how cheesy nutritional yeast smells, but I did struggle to properly blend all of this with my cheapo food processor.

Secondly, the ribs, and also my first attempt at making seitan. The end result… looked, felt and smelled pretty awful, even after I slathered a couple of them with some harissa paste that I needed to use up. I’d seen a lot of suggestions for how to mimic the ribs element (as otherwise I’d basically just be making seitan steaks), and the most intriguing I found was to use coconut flesh. The results were less than spectacular, and things all started to fall apart when I tried to insert the bones but not to worry: into the fridge it went, until the next day.

And it turns out, after some proper cooking they were markedly more edible (although it helps that everything is lovely when paired with a good risotto. The hardest part was stopping myself from eating all the sautéed mushrooms; definitely a recipe to revisit on its own some day.

Apple–cinnamon doughnuts

And, finally, I wrapped Q1’s tranche of recipes with a sweet treat, which also allowed me to experiment with another egg replacement: mashed banana. As I expected, this added more of a flavour than the other tricks I’d been using, so definitely one to restrict to desserts.