Cookbook Reviews

Cookbook Review: Vegan Finger Foods

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We all learnt some valuable lessons about cocktails the night I decided to review Vegan Finger Foods by Celine Steen and Tamasin Noyes. Firstly, we discovered that just because my mother calls a bottle of booze ‘violet liquor’, it doesn’t actually mean there is violet liquor in said bottle. Always Google the label, lest you end up creating the WKD martini (on the bright side, I reckon there’s a market for these – I mean, not in any bar I’d like to visit, but whatever).

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We also discovered that we can make an endless supply of olive juice by topping up the jar with tap water after each drink. Nisha and I like our martinis really fucking dirty, so this discovery was a life changer. A truly dirty martini has to be saltier than a merman’s spunk and spiked with enough vodka to take the lips off Cher and we achieved that from the comfort of my kitchen without having to make awkward sex jokes with inept bartenders or buying twelve jars of olives just for the juice. On the other hand, “endless supply of olive juice” meant there was nothing to stop of from drinking the best part of a large bottle of Absolut. Oh, the regret.

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The cocktails were accompanied by what I shall modestly refer to as serious kitchen wizardry. I was offered the chance to give Vegan Finger Foods a spin, and decided to whip up some snacks to be washed down with our strong ass drinks. I say ‘whip up’ as though it was an easy breezy five minutes stirring pans and sipping martinis like a Stepford wife instead of a sweaty military operation in which I slugged vodka like my life depended on it.

As soon as I turned the first page, I was in love with this book. It was the vegan RuPaul to my Michelle Visage, the Piper to my Crazy Eyes. I was one tapenade recipe away from changing my Facebook relationship status to “It’s Complicated.” It’s the kind of book that people flick through and then put on their ‘seriously what the fuck is this witchcraft’ face.  I decided to make a spread of Party Olives, Marinated Mushrooms, Chipotle Almonds, Baked Buffalo Tofu Bites and Pantry Raid Ranch Dip.

The subsequent snacks were a hit and it wasn’t just because we were shit-faced on Absolut and olive brine. I always know my urban family are knocked sideways by a meal when no one will talk to me whilst we eat and I’m telling you, you could’ve heard a bollock drop in the silence that loomed over that dinner.

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Party Olives are a jumble of kalamatas, queen greens and almonds, baked in a boozy mix of red wine, berbere, garlic and shallots. Unfortunately, I did botch this one as I was a bit fast and loose with the assumption that I would easily source berbere in London. I cobbled together my own version and ended up with mulled olives which smelt like Christmas in July. Aside from that one error in judgement, the rest of the recipes came together without a hitch. The Buffalo Bites were to die for: breaded tofu marinated in a spicy buffalo sauce, baked and served hot, dipped in creamy Pantry Raid Ranch and a maple-sriracha sauce. I’ve taken the buffalo bites to a barbecue too, and I have a feeling they will become a staple in my regular recipe revolution.  The mushrooms – raw, marinated in olive oil, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, minced shallots, agave and a blend of dried and fresh herbs – softened in the acids almost like a ceviche. Not a lone button mushroom remained by the end of the night.

Aside from my cock up with the berbere (which I later found in Whole Foods), the ingredients err on the side of simple – tofu, fresh vegetables, the odd dairy-free substitute like almond milk or soy yoghurt, dried herbs. It’s a book of casual eating for carefree home cooks and I couldn’t recommend it enough to vegans and non-vegans alike.

Cookbook Reviews, Reviews

Cookbook Review: Honestly Healthy for Life is Honestly Bollocks.

Here’s the T: I wouldn’t have agreed to review Honestly Healthy for Life if I’d realised it was a cookbook pushing a fad diet. The tagline – healthy alternatives for everyday eating – sounded innocuous enough, and when I skimmed through a PDF preview of the book, I skipped the verbose 57 page intro straight to the spread of recipes. Honestly Healthy appeared to be serving up wholesome vegetarian meals and snacks with a strong foundation in fresh ingredients that looked simple, delicious and healthy.

Honestly Healthy is actually the name of the latest anti-cancer-live-forever-quack-don’t-crack miracle diet in which you mostly eat foods that “turn alkaline in the stomach” and in return you become like Bruce Willis in Unbreakable. The Honestly Healthy diet claims to cure everything from heartburn, psoriasis and cystitis to stammering, allergies and miscarriages – oh, and you can ditch the antidepressants because everything will come up roses once you quit eating steak, miso and honey.

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I gave my copy of Honestly Healthy for Life to my resident beardo Smokin Brofu, who gesticulated a lot as he worked his way through all the Bad Science. He explained that you can no more turn acid into alkaline than you can turn a pig into a duck. A quick Google pulled up more anti-bullshit articles and it quickly became apparent that Honestly Healthy is Honestly Bollocks.

The thing is, I’m sure following this diet to the letter would result in weight loss, reduced blood pressure, clearer skin and all that jazz: that’s the nature of preparing all your own meals, reducing your intake of fatty snacks, fizzy drinks, caffeine, booze, dairy, red meat, corn syrup and living a bland but virtuous lifestyle. This is healthy eating 101 with a new name slapped on its rump, a new arbitrary list of bad foods to avoid and the same old irresponsible promises.

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It’s frustrating because it is otherwise a brilliant book: yeah the ‘Girls Night In’ chapter made my eye twitch (must we? MUST WE?) and I think I verbally sighed at the ‘Flat Tummy’ chapter (yo, French Women Don’t Get Fat called and wants its pro-ana bullshit back), but the photography is gorgeous and the recipes are actually surprisingly great.

I whipped up the sundried tomato pesto, watermelon gazpacho and the ‘Perfect Salad Dressing’ – three very basic recipes, with easily sourced corner shop ingredients. Truthfully, each one was delicious, healthy and fresh, easy to prepare and store in bulk. We stirred the pesto over pasta, spread it on bruschetta and in sandwiches and we also used a smear as a pizza base. The watermelon soup was the perfect chilled accompaniment to a hot summer evening. The recipes are solid, the food photography is solid. The foundation is as shaky as a shitting dog.

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I’m torn: on the one hand, this is a brilliant collection of vegetarian and vegan recipes. On the other hand, they are draped over a framework of straight up bollocks. I’ve held onto this book for a long time, debating whether or not it’s fair to write a negative review for a book that’s almost fantastic, but ultimately my inability to keep my mouth shut won. Pick it up for the food inspiration, but don’t spend too long picking over the intro.

If anyone has any reputable links to scientific papers that support the Honestly Healthy alkaline diet, hit me up in the comments because I’m genuinely curious.

Instagram

In Defence of Instagram Food Porn.

P1030870Tofu po boy from Lost Love Lounge in New Orleans (2013).

I will drunkenly defend the following to death:

1. The lyrical nuances of 90s smash Butterfly by cultural icons Crazy Town.
2. Grilled pub nachos.
3. Crushed velvet.
4. Men in crushed velvet.
5. The Dome, a Tuffnell Park nightclub with a dubious door policy, from 2000 to 2004.
6. The musical episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (but never Xander, who gives me the heebeejeebies with his socially inept sexual predatory and his cold dead eyes).
7. The shittiest piss-stained pubs in Camden and drinking Srongbow in their dismal concrete gardens.
8. The HIM cover of Chris Isaac’s Wicked Game, which has been my jam since Greatest Love Songs Vol. 666 circa 1998.
9. The life and work of the UK’s greatest punk outfit, The Stranglers.

And, the wild card at number ten: food photos on social media.

(… yeah, and the rest. I could honestly go on for years which I suspect means I have questionable taste).

P1030512Brunch at Boot and Shoe, Oakland (2013).

But seriously, for my sins, I love Instagrammers who just post endless pictures of food. I love Facebook albums that have more pictures of meals than sights, and I love Twitter accounts that specialise in plates over people. From intricate and expensive dinners to fastfood in car parks, homecooked feasts to snacks on the go: I love them. I love them more than I lOvEd TyPiNg LiKe ThIs In ThE NiNeTiEs On MsN. I love them more than I love April from Parks and Rec, but less than I love Kat Stratford from 10 Things I Hate About You.

People dislike foodie photos on social for the same reason they hate people who spend entire gigs with their iPhones held aloft: if you’re busy documenting it, you can’t be enjoying it, so if you’re not enjoying it, why are you bragging about doing it by documenting it in the first place? Either that, or because they simply find them tedious. Well, here are some things I find tedious on Instagram:

1. Cars in absolutely any context apart from driver selfies on road trips.
2. Children unless they are being impressive, ridiculous or stylish.
3. Before/after weightloss propaganda.
4. Competition regrams for things that I don’t want.
5. Stills of the Netflix homepage and a duvet to denote cosiness.
6. Literally anything tagged #liveclean unless it’s one of my beloved fats trolling.
7. Inspirational quotes.
8. Ironic Danny Dyer quotes in an inspirational-quote context.
9. Screencaps of text conversations.
10. Screencaps of the results of a reality TV show I have been avoiding spoilers for since January.

London01 - CopyGoodbye lunch at the Oxo Tower Brasserie, London (2012).

But foodie pics, foodie pics I can really get behind. I love taking them, I love seeing them. I like piles of raw ingredients, the calmness before the storm of plate composition, mid-feast action shots, empty dishes scattered with crumbs. Smell, taste and texture are so evocative, so very present, in photos.

Rhuby Spritz from The Oxo Tower BrasserieCocktails at the Oxo Tower Brasserie, London (2012).

This Instagram of a pink cocktail, for example, reminds me of our goodbye dinner with Bhavna at the Oxo Tower Brasserie, because she’d always wanted to go and it felt like our last chance to take her even though, of course, it wasn’t. The picture reminds me of childhood too, because the drink tasted like rhubarb and custards, those old fashioned sweets from red-topped spaghetti jars that we used to buy from the corner store next door to my father’s favourite Italian deli.

When I look at this cocktail, I remember walking through Southbank afterwards, a buzz from the pricey liquor in our blood, past the book stalls beneath Waterloo Bridge. I remember saying goodbye at the tube station, the way Nisha and I cried on the escalator as we watched Bhavna walk away because she was leaving for Dubai that afternoon.

Of course, these specific memories are very personal and Instagram is all about sharing, but there’s no denying the evocative nature of food: you can practically smell the fried batter and tang of vinegar on chippy Instagrams. Images of meals, drinks and snacks tell stories of a different mood or time, of celebrations and hangovers and busyness, of experiments and achievements, of love and loss, of different cities in different countries in different parts of the world.

IMG_1345Tofu bacos at Ba Chi Canteen, New Orleans (2014).

What I’m getting around to saying is that I love all these photos.  and if I hadn’t taken it, perhaps I wouldn’t remember as much detail as I do about the meal, the sounds, textures and weather. I hate reading snide little pops aimed at social media foodies, or that tired sigh of ennui – ‘do you have to take a photo of every plate? Why can’t you just enjoy a meal without taking a photo of it? Are you taking another photo of food?’

You know the type of comment I mean: they reach peak passive aggression at Christmas and I assume it’s because they only eat bland, beige foods like ready salted crisps dipped in Smash, and there isn’t a filter on earth that’ll make that shit look appealing.

P1030576Raspberry and fig macarons from Bouchon, California (2013).

And you know what? Anyone who’s ever felt anxious about taking a perfectly legit photo will know that having your photo mocked before the shutter’s even closed feels quite disheartening. Perhaps what I want to do is take a fucking photo of my burrito, then eat my fucking burrito and then post the picture on the internet like a glorious foil-wrapped guacamole trophy. If everyone else can post bland pictures of things they’re proud of – cars, dissertations, offspring, mediocre crafts – why can’t we simply document our achievements too? (Achievements including but not limited to: well honed ordering skills, on point toppings, luxury bitch cocktails, getting out of bed in time for brunch or even a meal that could legitimately be called breakfast – of course, I’m preaching to the choir here, but that is a genuine slither of my CV).

e025cc96196111e3a3eb22000a1fbdaa_7Breakfast at Boot and Shoe, Oakland (2013).

The wonderful thing about camera phones, Instagram and the like is that we’re compiling photo diaries, documenting the everyday minutiae that will eventually seem distant, old-fashioned, comedically of the time. Macarons will be totally naff, a twee equivalent to pastel pink prawn cocktail served in a martini glass with limp lambs lettuce.

Some people like to take endless selfies, some document every power haircut or shopping spree or sunset. Others specialise in snaps of various drinks paired with paperbacks. It’s all good, pals. Continue to create your virtual scrapbook of whatever the fuck you like. Personally, I like my Instagrammers to keep a ratio of 70:30 (that’s food to pets, with occasional wild cards like bookshelves, acrylic jewellery and parties that look cool).

So go forth, eat everything and d o c u m e n t   i t   a l l.

Follow me @smokintofu. Adios.

Body Positivity, Fatshion, Reviews

Review: ‘Glazed and Confused’ Doughnut Necklace from Black Heart Creatives

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Last month, Black Heart Creatives offered me a piece from their latest delectable collection, Live Fast Die Yum. It’s a smörgåsbord of junk food actualised in chunky acrylic: frosted doughnuts, cheeseburgers, hot dogs slathered in mustard. Bold and delicious, as soon as the collection dropped I was pining for a piece of that kitsch plastic. Anyway, wearing my Glazed and Confused doughnut around New Orleans – a city known for its love affair with eating – I got thinking about the kind of statement one makes when celebrating junk food as a thick chick.

Jawbreaker is one of my all-time favourite movies. I could watch Rose McGowan strutting around high school in a cherry red corset and killer pinup heels all fucking day. There’s one moment that resonates with me in particular (in particular she says, as if the rest of the film – in which three high schoolers accidentally murder their pal and seduce the only witness with the promise of popularity – isn’t also a relatable romp from start to finish.)

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When geek-to-chic Vylette (Judy Greer) is still learning the ropes re: ruling the school in pearlescent lip gloss and an inexplicably pink wardrobe, she pulls out a brown paper lunch bag in the cafeteria. Oh, the horror. Courtney (McGowan) is quick to set her straight:

“We eat, and we eat well. We just don’t eat in public – well, at school at least. We don’t want people judging us by what we eat. It gives them ammo, and the only ones with ammo are us. I mean, food’s cool and all – it tastes good and you need it to live – but the mere act of eating invokes thoughts of digestion, flatulation, defecation, even, shall we say, complexion defection. I wouldn’t be caught dead eating a greasy pizza […] because on some terrifying level they’re associating that greasy pizza with your shiny face: a zit, a blackhead, a cluster of pores. It’s just another vexing stress that we don’t need.”

Food, shared meals and dinners out come with a certain level of social anxiety for juicy bitches, and Courtney knows exactly why. Fat people are judged for perceived behaviours based entirely on their appearance every time they leave the house, and eating in public is a common source of social anxiety for thick and thin people alike. Sceptics are welcome to take a peek at the comments section on any mainstream article featuring a plus-size person. Below the line, you’ll find myriad basics speculating on how unhealthy, slothful, gluttonous and disgusting the subject must be to look the way they do.

lipstickmermaid@lipstickmermaid’s banging burger nails.

The thing is, what we eat doesn’t actually matter because this bullshit is paradoxical anyway: order a cheeseburger and it comes with the obligatory ‘try a fucking salad’ eyebrows. Order a fucking salad, get a free side of ‘how’s the diet going, chubs?’ smiles, or even worse: the ‘good for you’ pickle on top of the shit sandwich that is other people’s opinions on what you’re about to eat.

Wearing a juicy cheeseburger or bar of chocolate around your neck is a delicious salute to the school of not giving a fuck, and I cannot stress how much better the world is with fewer fucks for these fat microaggressions in it. Plus it’s cute and fun and a bit silly, which is also a massive bonus when it comes to jewellery and to life. I also dig the little details in the collection: the star on the end of the hotdog, the BHC print on the chocolate wrapper.

Charlotte of Black Heart Creatives has offered a 25% discount to pals of Smokin Tofu. Tip your hat to the ‘fu with the code tofu25. I’m a massive fan of BHC – they made my Smokin Tofu earrings! – so please go nuts. You’re supporting a totally independent business with a brilliant creative and body positive brain in Charlotte at the helm.

Blog News, Body Positivity

Fuck Yeah Babes Eating In Public: A Blog About Eating Because Eating is Important

Let’s just get one thing really fucking clear: the Facebook group that posts candid snaps of women eating on the tube is fucking bullshit. At the time of writing, Women Who Eat on Tubes has over 14,000 fans. Over 14000. When I first heard about this insipid corner of the internet, the group had around 5000 followers. Since then – less than a month – their numbers have almost trebled. This blows my fragile, booze-addled mind: their numbers have trebled. Why are 14000 people into this shit?

There are worse groups on the internet than a collective that posts covert snaps of women eating in public. No one is going to lose their job, their business, or their family over a covert image of themselves eating a pasty on the Victoria line. I know that, that’s a fucking given.

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Charlotte of Black Heart Creatives chowing down on a big ol’ burger.

Despite that, Women Who Eat on Tubes rests somewhere between vaginal speculums and Primark knicker-induced thrush on the scale of irritants that get right up my fucking cunt. The only difference is that speculums are essential for cancer screenings and thrush is one of those pesky natural visitors, like black mould or coldsores, that we just have to grin and bear whilst we apply special cream until they go the fuck away. I’ve asked my local pharmacist, and she confirms that there’s no special cream for online fuckwittery.

Taking unconsensual photos of strangers in public with the explicit intention of sharing them online to be mocked, shamed – or yeah man, even celebrated – is not something that adults should do. Those last few words – “not something that adults should do” – belong to teachers bollocking year elevens for blowing up condoms like balloons or having water fights in the science lab. It’s not a phrase that we should be using amongst ourselves, amongst legitimate grown ups that can legally buy vodka or vote in general elections or write for the FT, to describe behaviour that’s inappropriate

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Bethany of Arched Eyebrow getting stuck into some serious banger action.

For a lark, I created a tumblr to spread pictures of babes noshing the fuck out. It’s called Fuck Yeah Babes Eating in Public. It’s my way of sticking two riotous fingers up to this pack vacuous twats. Check it out, submit badass pictures and eat the fuck up. Cheers.

 

Blog News

Lately, I’ve Been Mostly…

WELL, it’s been a while. I’m still uhmming and ahhing over what to do with Smokin Tofu. I guess you can expect more travel posts and more body positivity, less restaurant reviews but more food porn. That’s the craic at the moment. I’ve not been resting on my laurels though. This month I’ve:

– interviewed ‘A Girl Called’ Jack Monroe for For Books’ Sake.

– written a thing for Vol Up 2 about fat and the Final Girl in horror movies.

– contributed to the For Books’ Sake feature in Geeked’s Intersectionality Issue.

– prepared for my forthcoming trip to New Orleans (so excited – it’s for my pal Nisha’s wedding!).

– started a Tumblr called Fuck Yeah Babes Eating in Public, which is unsurprisingly dedicated to celebrating women eating in public (because apparently we shouldn’t).

– worn a pretty banging doughnut necklace (review coming soon) from Black Heart Creatives.

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We fly to New Orleans in two weeks! I’m so fucking excited to introduce my boyfriend to one of my favourite cities in the world. I’m looking forward to listening to jazz, eating bacos at Ba Chi Canteen, visiting the sculpture garden and going on another ghost walk of the French Quarter. There really is nowhere else on earth like New Orleans. I’m also psyched because a big chunk of my book is set in the city, so I’m going to be wondering round with a notebook in hand and camera stuck to my face for our ten day stay, gathering as much rich detail as I can.

Cookbook Reviews

Cookbook Review: World Food Café Vegetarian Bible.

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Last summer, the kind folk of Frances Lincoln sent Smokin’ Tofu a copy of World Food Café: Quick and Easy Recipes from a Vegetarian Journey to review. You may recall that review it I did, and I absolutely chuffing loved it. What a lucky bunny I am, because I’ve also had the opportunity to take the follow up cookbook, World Food Café Vegetarian Bible, out for a spin.

P1030386I’m currently sitting in my living room drinking black instant coffee. Outside, the sky is the colour of cooked rice and there’s a chill in the air that completely spoils the illusion that spring is about to give way to summer. My boyfriend is sitting on a mattress on our living room floor, freshly showered, with a bowl of leftover Thai takeaway from our anniversary treat last night. The smell of garlic and coconut, lime juice and chilli, mingled with the boyish scent of body spray and shampoo, permeates the air. He is happily munching, lost in his bowl.

There are three types of cookery books, in my experience: books of basic staples P1030110like the perfect arrabbiata sauce or how to bake a simple loaf of bread; books of ambitious recipes that, with a little practice, can become part of any confident cook’s repertoire. And then there’s the super involved, ten-page-per-recipe books that use a never ending supply of obscure ingredients. They are complicated, beautiful and kind of hard to understand, like gastropoetry. They are more like arty coffee table books than cookery books. World Food Café books are the best of all three – staples, show-stoppers and absolutely beautiful – in one.

The 200 recipes span 38 different countries, islands and regions, from North Africa to French Polynesia, Southeast Asia to Central and Southern America. Whilst recipes like Moroccan mint tea, Marrakesh tajine, falafel and homemade harissa paste form the basics for the North African chapter, the more adventurous cook can skip straight to the Ouarzazate Couscous or the Briq Á L’Oeuf.

2013-02-14 14.23.09Thai green curry was the first dish I cooked from World Food Café Vegetarian Bible. It wasn’t so much that I set out to cook something from the book, but that I wanted to use a Thai spice set Brendan gave me for Christmas and after some fruitless internet searching, it occurred to me to check my new culinary bible for a simple paste recipe. Sure enough, there was a recipe for vegetarian Thai green curry, from paste to accompaniments.

Living in a multicultural quarter of London, I have easy access to most of the ingredients featured in the book, like jaggery and tempeh, but authors Chris and Carolyn Caldicott are always mindful to suggest alternatives when a particularly regional ingredient is listed. On the most part, the recipes are comprised of simple core ingredients that are available from even the crappiest supermarkets, and any cook with a spice cupboard worth her salt should be able to navigate the longer ingredients lists with ease. We are living in a post-Ottolenghi world, after all.

I’ve found, over the few months I’ve had World Food Cafeé Vegetarian Bible knocking around my kitchen, I reach for it often, whether I’ve just got a load of shiny cheap aubergines from the market and am wondering if there’s a decent baba ganoush recipe (there is), or if I feel like cooking something completely new. It’s a brilliant Mother’s Day gift if you have a mom that likes to whip veggies into shape, otherwise it’s just a handy volume to have knocking around, should you spontaneously decide that today is the day you try refrying your own refried beans or try your hand at homemade flat bread.

You can order yourself a copy of World Food Cafe Vegetarian Bible for £16.00 spondoolies including free UK p&p (RRP: £20.00), by givng Littlehampton Book Services a bell on 01903 828503 or email mailorders@lbsltd.co.uk and quote the offer code APG58.