Monday, 17 July 2017

The Precious Pea Organic Houmous

The Precious Pea (previously known as The Precious Pod) is based in Tunley near Bath, run by partners Ayleen and Mark who make organic houmous in small batches, with no less than 61.5% chickpeas in the mix, so no skimping on the main ingredient.   Their obsession with houmous,  means they only make it three days a week, to ensure consistency and for taste testing of the batches made that week.  Ayleen kindly sent me all six flavours, plain, turmeric, smoked, harissa, red pepper and kalamata to try.

I had the plain houmous for lunch, with a huge salad and homegrown Charlotte potatoes, it is not too smooth, nor too chunky and the balance of flavours is spot on, the best houmous I have eaten.

The kalamata houmous was fantastic on a wholemeal wrap, with carrot and cauliflower tabbouleh and roast piquillo peppers.   I love olives, so this combination was a classic in my opinion and a fabulous taste sensation.

The red pepper houmous, was delicious on sesame rice cakes for a light lunch, again great flavours and texture.

I had been told how fantastic the smoked houmous was, by The Allotment Vegan Restaurant, they were not kidding,

A deep smokey flavour, not too much, not too little, which was delicious on pan fried mushrooms on toast, for Sunday breakfast.   The fact Steven and I ate the whole pot between us, says it all.

The harissa houmous made with sun dried tomatoes and chilli flakes, would be great dolloped on top of a tagine.  However I ate it for lunch, on a massive salad, but enjoyed it so much, I forgot to take the photo.

I have yet to try the turmeric flavour (as Steven polished off the first one I bought), I bet it would be brilliant with poppadums or spread on chapatis, so will update this review, when I have.   My favourites up to now, are the plain and smoked, I could not choose between them, I could easily eat a pot of each anytime.

I like supporting smaller companies, instead of the big guys and I love the ethos behind The Precious Pea and their quality products, so let us hope Booths retain this on the shelf, so I can keep feeding my addiction.

Disclaimer:   I received free samples of this product and have not been paid for this review and all opinions are my own.

Thursday, 13 July 2017


I love risotto, so making Arancini (rice balls) was a no brainer and although in Italy they are filled with cheese or meat, I filled mine with roast piquillo peppers.   However you can fill them with whatever you fancy like vegan cheese or cooked sausage, chopped olives or garlic mushrooms.   I like to make bulk portions so I have things ready in the freezer, but you can halve or quarter the recipe to suit.

300 g Arborio rice
2 onions finely chopped
1 litre vegetable stock
25 g Parmesan (I used Good Carma Foods Original Parmesan alternative)
2 x 400 g can cannellini beans
2 garlic cloves crushed
200 g roast piquillo peppers (I used Spanish Passion)
2 handfuls of basil
4 tbsp gluten free breadcrumbs (I used Clearspring)
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper

Makes 27-30

Saute the onion and garlic in the oil for 15 mins, until really soft and browned.

Add the rice to the pan and stir well to coat the rice with the oil, then add some of the stock, stir and allow the rice to soak up the liquid.

Meanwhile blitz one can of beans and their liquid, with a stick blender and drain the other can.

Add the blitzed bean mixture to the pan, with more stock, so the rice starts to plump up and soften.

Add the cheese, drained beans and plenty salt and pepper to the pan, combine well and continue cooking, making sure it does not stick to the pan.

The mixture needs to be quite thick, so it can be formed into balls, so when the rice is al dente (meaning to the tooth) soft but still with a bite, it is ready.   Rip the basil up into pieces and add to the pan and stir through.

Scrape into a bowl and allow to cool, which makes the mixture coagulate slightly, making it easier to handle.

Sprinkle a thin layer of breadcrumbs into a dish, to coat the balls as you make them.

Weigh the mixture into 60 g portions, flatten slightly and make a small hollow in the middle, then add a few pieces of the roast pepper.   Mould the rice around the pepper, so it is completely concealed and shape into a round ball.   This is easiest using the palm of your hand to hold the risotto mixture and form with the other hand, but for photograph purposes I had to put the rice ball down, to take the pic.

Roll the rice balls in the breadcrumbs so they are evenly coated and place on a baking tray.

The Arancini freeze really well, so at this stage put them in the freezer, until solid and then bag up.

The traditional way of cooking, is to deep fry the Arancini, but I have no deep fat fryer, so you can either gently shallow fry in oil, turning frequently or bake in the oven at 180º for 25-30 mins, until browned and crisp on the outside.

I served with a warm roast vegetable salad and some basil pesto.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

P&O Cruise A716 Azura 16th June - 30th June 2017

As readers of my blog will know, I am an avid P&O Cruises fan and this was my 34th with the company and my third on Azura. 

On arrival in our cabin, I received an explanatory letter off the Senior Restaurant Manager, regarding dietary requirements, however you really do need to ask and not be put off, as some members of staff are better equipped to advise you than others.

I went prepared taking various vegan goodies with me including Oatly cream, Good Carma Foods Parmesan alternative and flatbreads.   P&O are always improving the diet section in the buffet restaurant, so great to see vegan yogurt, margarine, various plant milks, including rice, soya, almond and oat and vegan cheese, which I think was Violife.   I hope they extend the range to include cakes, brownies and maybe alternatives like oat cream, crème fraiche or custard, whereas now no sweet treats are available, apart from fruit, sorbet or soya ice-cream. 

Many of the salad options in the buffet on this cruise were uninspiring and contained dairy, even the guacamole had sour cream in and I was constantly asking staff, what the ingredients of each dish were.   There were no hot options either, only chips and it would be a big improvement if there was clear labelling, so passengers could make an informed choice without constantly taking up staff time.  However most of the vegetables were unbuttered and I loved the roast vegetables on offer, so with salad I could eat, my Parmesan to add cheesy flavour and flatbreads, I did not starve.   However if a vegan new to P&O got on board, you would be highly disappointed with the lack of choice and this is another area needs addressing.

There are several select dining restaurants on board, with two vegan options on one of The Beach House menus and a heavily dairy based menu in fine dining Epicurean, so I dined in the main dining room (MDR) every night.   I hope the vegan options improve in these areas in the future, so I can visit, but they need to get away from the heavy reliance on dairy and eggs, which I think is lazy menu design.

I was overjoyed to find my Head Waiter was no other than Jit (Prosunjit Kanjilal) who looked after me on my Christmas cruise on Oriana, so I knew I would be well looked after.

The first night's dinner is always a little confused, as you order off that night's menus and have to try and tweak dishes to suit.   In my case I had to go off menu and request egg free gluten free pasta with tomato sauce, as there was nothing remotely vegan. 

Our waiters were Clint and Ashwani and wine waiter Anjani, all very professional and helpful, yet friendly and we enjoyed our chats each evening and it made coming down to dinner, something to look forward to each night.

Our waiters Clint (left) & Ashwani (right)

Jit yet again listened to my ideas of mix and match dishes off the MDR lunch and dinner menus and vegetarian menus.   The role of a Head Waiter is to liase with the diet chef and in all the cruises I have done, Jit is a Premier League Head Waiter and I hope to see him again in the future.

I managed four courses most nights and once I requested olive oil to drizzle on salads and soups, Clint ensured it was on the table every night.   I have included a snapshot of photos of the dinners I had on board.

Vegetable Pakoras with Mint & Coriander Chutney

Nicoise Salad

Mushroom Pate with Corncakes

Dolmades & Houmous

Guacamole & Pickled Vegetables

Beetroot & Roast Tomato Salad

Cauliflower Tabbouleh with Avocado

Mushroom Soup

Pumpkin Soup

Celeriac & Apple Soup

Roast Tomato Soup

 Beetroot Risotto with Balsamic Onions

Stir Fry Vegetables with Crispy Rice Noodles

 Peperonata Pasta

 Chickpea Cakes with Houmous & Chips

 Chickpea Cassoulet

 'Fish' & Chips with Mushy Peas

 Mushroom & Rocket Risotto

 Garlic Mushroom & Pine Nut Pasta 

 Potato Rosti with Aubergine & Courgette Sauce

Cottage Pie

Mushroom Pudding with Chips

 Grilled Pineapple

 Stewed Rhubarb & Ginger

 Caramelised Apple with Raisins

Caramelised Pineapple

I took my Oatly cream and Parmesan down to dinner when needed, as they have no vegan Parmesan, but hopefully this will change as time goes on.   I was impressed with diet chef Mani's interpretation of the dishes I requested, with his own creativity coming into play, packed with flavour, all credit to Mani he can certainly cook, he is a valuable member of the F&B team.

I arranged with Jit to meet Mani on the last morning, whose professionalism and dedication shone through, as we discussed how the diet section operates and the many diets and allergies he caters for.  Mani was looking after 160 passengers across two sittings and three restaurants, with two assistants who helped prepare the 'Mise En Place' or preparation of all the food.   However during service, Mani was solely responsible for his diet section, so you have to remain cool, calm and collected and he has all these attributes.   Jit commented that from a Head Waiter point of view, it was a pleasure to work with Mani, who was a team player and between them, they certainly were the A team. 

Note:  After my two Ventura cruises Christmas 2017, I thought I would update my experiences, as a vegan passenger, one of eighteen vegans split across both cruises.  I dined in The Glasshouse for the first time, read all about it here which was an excellent experience, purely down to lovely chef Hatta Rahim.   The first nights dining is something P&O need to review, with no vegan option on the menu, two vegans I met who had never cruised with P&O before and had an unhelpful Head Waiter, walked out as they presumed they would not be fed.

I also had several incidents in the MDR, being given non vegan food and even worse food I am allergic to, so there are loopholes in the system for dietary requirements, that need addressing.  My head waiter Vimal was writing down my orders correctly, but cold starters were being served with egg mayo or products I was unsure of so I refused to eat the dishes. 

Your vegan experience can be make or break depending on your Head Waiter and on my last three cruises, I was fortunate being looked after by Jit and Vimal, but other vegans I spoke to were not so lucky.

I noticed that there is now a vegan sandwich and vegan cake in the buffet afternoon tea, clearly labelled VG, so presume that extends to the MDR.   I found that if I spoke to one of the senior chefs in the buffet (the ones with a tall chefs hat on), they can advise which dishes are vegan.   The chef I spoke to Jason said that he would be happy to make sure there was something for me each day, so do not hesitate to ask them.

Veganism has moved on so quickly in the UK over the last year or two, that P&O have some catching up to do, so for me when I get on board it's a backward step, with nowhere near the selection of vegan options as at home.   Although they have vegetarian menus, with vegan options, they are not particularly inspiring, wish I could be their vegan adviser and suggest some dishes, that would appeal to the masses, not just vegans.  The current dishes are a little dated and need bringing into the twenty first century, but I hope to board one day and find vegan options clearly marked on the MDR menus, how good would that be.