Raw Cauliflower Tabbouleh

Raw Cauliflower Tabbouleh

Last year while visiting Cornwall with my mother we had the fortune of staying at Lanyon, a perfect countryside hideaway comprising three cottages surrounded by fields and farmland (and also home to my good friend, Marie Leggo). The farmland is owned by the Leggos but leased to local farmers, and one of those farmers had chosen to fill his ample acreage with rows and rows of cauliflower. It just so happened that when Mom and I arrived at Lanyon last year, it was just after the cauliflower harvest, and Marie took us out to the fields to glean any cauliflower that was left behind.

Cauliflower gleaning

The cauliflower gleaning was hugely exciting to Mom and I – not only are we both fascinated by “gleaning” (we bonded over the film The Gleaners and I, but we are also both cauliflower fanatics). And when we saw the bounty of cauliflower that remained in the field, we were over the moon in cauliflower bliss, but also shocked by how much perfectly good cauliflower gets left behind. We took as much as we could, resorting to some clever means to do so, but still, there was way more cauliflower than we could ever carry or consume.

Cauliflower gleaning

As we walked back to the house, arms laden, we bantered about all of the possibilities and started scheming more creative uses for cauliflower. One of the things I’ve been toying with a lot lately is using cauliflower as a grain substitute. If you put cauliflower in a food processor and chop it super finely, cauliflower takes on the size and shape of grains and looks much like rice, couscous or bulgar wheat. And you can use it in similar ways, for example, cauliflower fried “rice” or cauliflower “couscous”. On that particular day at Lanyon I attempted a cauliflower “rice” pudding which was probably pushing the whole concept a little too far. However, stick with the savoury options and cauliflower grains, be they raw or cooked, are a pretty safe bet.

Cauliflower gleaning

My favourite cauilflower-as-grain option is this cauliflower tabbouleh which is inherently raw, vegan and gluten-free. I like to serve this with falafel and hummus, or wrapped up in little gem lettuce leaves. You can adapt it as you see fit – add some roast or grilled veggies, sprinkle with pomegranate seeds, mix in some chickpeas or add a drizzle of tahini sauce. And while it’s most satisfying when made with reject cauliflower you’ve gleaned yourself from a farm, it’s just as good with store-bought cauliflower which is one of the most readily available, nutritious and frugal vegetables out there.

Raw Cauliflower Tabbouleh

Raw Cauliflower Tabbouleh

Serves 4


  • 1/2 cauliflower, stalk removed
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 spring onions, finely sliced
  • 1 big handful of parsley and mint, finely chopped
  • 1/2 red pepper, finely diced
  • 1/2 cucumber, finely diced
  • 1 tomato, finely diced
  • pinch of salt and pepper


  1. Put the cauliflower florets into a food processor and blitz it until it reaches a couscous-like texture.
  2. Combine cauliflower with the rest of the ingredients.
  3. Season well, adding more lemon, salt and pepper to taste.

EXTRA VEG ALERT: I am sending this recipe to Helen at Fuss Free Flavours for the Extra Veg challenge that she hosts with Michelle from Utterly Scrummy.

This recipe also appears on Great British Chefs.

Spring Equinox Revelations

Nettle Smoothies

Nettle Smoothies – a mouth tingling sensation!

Last Thursday was Spring Equinox – yes, the days are finally getting longer! To celebrate, Emily joined me at the OC for a long weekend of Ostara-inspired adventures. It was a good opportunity for some downtime from the real world in exchange for some uptime with friends, dogs, nature and nourishment. Creativity, cooking, foraging, rambling, mood padding and even a little bit of goat herding came into play (and some goat cheese, for that matter). Eggs were dyed, intentions were made, rice was cubed, cocktails were mixed, food was consumed and a long list of learning moments were jotted down. Here were some of the highlights…

Lemon Barley Water

Lemon barley water. Oh my god. This is going to be on my table all of the time from now on.

I usually leave my grain-based beverages to beer and whisky but lemon barley water proves that grains have their place in non-alcoholic beverages, too. We seemed to constantly have a pitcher of this on the go (the “Cadillac” of lemon barley waters, Emily called it, as I was using bergamot lemons and Sicilian honey). Consequentially, I know have a lot of leftover cooked barley to use. Any suggestions?

Rave Coffee and Burlap 


Early on in Emily’s visit, we took a little trip to Rave Coffee to stock up on beans. It ended up being a nice little visit with the staff who are always fun to talk to. This time they treated us to some Jasmin tea and hooked us up with some super Ethiopian Yirgacheffe beans (perfect for iced coffee). I also acquired two burlap sacks for food photography and decoration purposes. Both the burlap and the beans featured throughout the weekend in more ways that I had anticipated. For example….

Coffee Ice Cream

Coffee Ice Cream

Made with Ethiopian Yirgacheffe beans from Rave Coffee, uber rich cream and egg yolks from The Organic Farm Shop, and the coffee ice cream recipe from David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop.

Nettle all of the things


Nettle smoothies, nettle spanakopita, nettle pizza, nettle farinata… our hands were tingling by the end of the weekend but we really enjoyed experimenting with nettles as a substitute for spinach. We’re not convinced by nettle tea, though. It tasted like pond water.


Nettle Farinata

Farinata, aka socca, aka chickpea flour pancakes. I’ve been trying to get these right for the last couple of weeks and I think I finally nailed it. And bonus: just like pizza, farinata is also tasty topped with nettles and mushrooms!

Vietnamese Spring Rolls

Vietnamese Summer Rolls

Emily’s first Vietnamese summer roll! Raw vegetables, herbs and toasted salted peanuts rolled in rice paper and dipped in a sweet lime dipping sauce. All kinds of good things happening here.

Vietnamese Summer Rolls

Almond Milk and Almond Pulp Crackers

Rosemary Almond Pulp Crackers

Emily is a huge fan of almond milk so I showed her how to make your own using soaked almonds and a blender. This resurrected the eternal question of what to do with the leftover almond pulp. I decided to try turning them into almond pulp crackers and the results were pretty excellent! The perfect delivery device for equinox cheese!


Vegan Coffee Martini

The evolution of the Orchard Cottage bar (tentatively named “OC Backward”) continues with coffee martinis, both vegan and non-vegan versions (more inspiration from Rave Coffee and DIY almond milk). Emily made her seasonal “Pimmily” and I played around with Dark & Stormies (conclusion: the future of Dark & Stormies is ginger syrup).

Dutch Babies

Spring Equinox lesson: Don't Drink & Dutch Baby

I’ve become kind of obsessed with these Dutch Babies (they are like sweet, dessert versions of Yorkshire puddings). Part of my obsession is my inconsistency in being able to make them. Sometimes they rise to the occasion, other times they flop. This equinox I did some experimenting. My conclusion: the only times my Dutch Babies have failed is when I’ve made them after dinner, and after many glasses of wine. The lesson: “Don’t Drink & Dutch Baby”.

Beer in Frome

Spring Equinox

And speaking of drinking, it’s worth pointing out a few new beer finds that Emily and I discovered on a semi-impromptu road trip to Frome in Somerset. Our destination was The Griffin Pub, home to Milk Street Brewery‘s range of beers. We were drawn to their Elderfizz, but having tasted all of their beers (poured with immense generosity by their wonderful bartender Ellen), I decided the Elderfizz was my least favourite of the bunch. The “Zig Zag” dark chocolate stout was incredible, but I think “The Usual” topped my list.

And speaking of “The Usual”, it’s back to life as usual here at the OC. But not the same kind of “usual” as it was before. Equinox has left me pretty excited about all of the ideas, plans and seeds we sowed over the weekend. If all goes well there will be tomatoes in my future, amongst other things. I’m motivated, and with Beltane just over the horizon, I’m intent on cultivating as much awesomeness as possible so that there will be TONS of reasons to celebrate when this next rung in the wheel of the year comes around.

Smarter Fitter Supperclub – with camping!

I am hosting the first of hopefully many Smarter Fitter Supperclubs at my home in the Cotswolds countryside this 12 April – and everyone’s invited! Read on for details…


The Basics

  • Date: Saturday, 12 April
  • Time: 7pm
  • Cost: £40 for a cocktail and 3-courses (£100 for camping option, see below)
  • Cuisine: Vegan (more on this below)
  • Drinks: BYOB
  • Location: My cottage near Cirencester (details will be emailed to you after you book)
  • Booking: Please book via PayPal below

The Food


The Smarter Fitter Supperclub will feature a 3-course vegan menu that features loads of seasonal produce and the kind of colourful, creative dishes that I’ve honed over my last 22 years of cooking and eating meat-free, with the last several years being heavily focused on developing all-natural vegan recipes that are satisfying and tasty for vegetarians and omnivores alike (check out my Instagram feed for a glimpse at some of my creations).

This isn’t a health food supperclub, it’s a real food supperclub. Yes there will be salads, but not like you’re used to! Expect lots of colour and yummy dressings and rich sauces and no doubt an avocado or two. Given my propensity for juices and smoothies, you can bet there will be some fresh juice going around. And you are welcome to bring your own wine, beer and spirits.

This supperclub isn’t just for vegans; it’s for anyone who likes good, wholesome, all-natural food. It’s also for people who are adventurous and want to experience some new ingredients and a new way of eating! You may even walk away with some inspiration for how to incorporate more vegetables, raw food, pulses and gluten-free grains into your own cooking in a creative way that’s equally satisfying, nourishing and delicious (I will happily share my recipes after the supperclub).

I can cater for all special diets – the menu will be primarily gluten-free as is. So if you have any dietary restrictions, just let me know.

The Venue

Farm life

The supperclub will be held at my cottage in the countryside, a hidden oasis in the middle of wildflower meadows with an orchard in the backyard and an awesome dog named Rocky. You can get a preview of the grounds and interior in my Airbnb listing. Like all good cottages, mine is cozy and so supperclub seating is limited. Book now to secure your place by clicking on the Paypal link below.

Camping Option

Particularly handy for those who like their wine!

Those of you who would like to stay the night and have breakfast in the morning are welcome to bring a tent and pitch in the backyard. I am really good at breakfasts and encourage you to take advantage of this offer!


If you have any questions at all before you book, please contact me by email or on Twitter. I hope to see you soon!- Monica

Make a booking:
(If you’re booking for more than one, you will be able to change order quantities after clicking the Buy Now button.)

No Knead Bread

Courgette and Carrot Salad

From the orchard

Breaking down camp

Beetroot Gazpacho Soup

Mom made this awesome sign!

Pudding time

Minty Pea and Pepper Frittata

Minty Pea & Pepper Frittata

There was a long period in my life when I lived on omelets and frittatas. It was the mid-2000′s and I had just moved back to Austin and was cooking for myself most nights. It was around this time that I also decided that I needed to seriously change the way I ate. Prior to this I had been a “cheese and bread” vegetarian, and it showed. So when I started looking for healthy delicious easy alternatives to my usual quesadillas and veggie burgers, the frittata became my go-to.

Minty Pea & Pepper Frittata

Frittatas are really perfect if you’re cooking solo, and you can easily scale it up if you’ve got friends around. You can cram them full of delicious vegetables and the options are boundless.

I’m not as excessively reliant on frittatas as I once was, but I still go back to them from time to time and this pea and pepper frittata is one I stumbled upon the other day. Peas are a frittata’s best friend because it’s the kind of food you almost always have in the freezer which makes the frittata process as simple as whisking a few eggs and sprinkling on some peas. If you have a little extra time, add some chopped mint and sauteed bell peppers, and the end result is something full of colour, fresh flavour and lots of protein.


I don’t always add the feta; sometimes I go for parmesan, or a sprinkle of pine nuts. Like I said: versatile.

Minty Pea & Pepper Frittata

Minty Pea and Pepper Frittata

Serves 2


  • 3 eggs
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 cup peas
  • 1 cup of red, yellow and orange bell peppers, diced
  • a small handful of mint, chopped
  • 1/2 cup cubed feta
  • salt and pepper


  1. Turn on your oven’s grill.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs.
  3. Meanwhile, heat an oven-safe pan on medium heat. Add the bell peppers and cook for a few minutes, until they start to soften but are still crisp.
  4. Add the peas – if frozen, cook them for a bit in the pan until they thaw. Stir in the mint.
  5. Add the eggs and swirl them around the pan so you get an even layer of eggs over the vegetables. Add the feta, either as whole cubes or crumbled. Cook until the eggs start bubbling on top.
  6. Take your pan off the hob and put it under the grill for a minute or two, until the top is puffy and golden.

This post also appeared on Great British Chefs.

Cooking with Cast Iron

ProCook Cast Iron

I don’t often write product reviews but I recently acquired some cast iron cookware from ProCook that I’ve really enjoyed cooking with lately so thought I’d sing some cast iron praises in this blog post. One point of interest (perhaps): I don’t eat meat so my cast iron uses are possibly a bit different from the norm. Nevertheless, meat need not apply to cast iron cooking: the method rocks for all kinds of ingredients.

Case in point: no knead bread. The large casserole is perfect for bread baking, particularly the no knead loaf which has been my most requested bake for years. The heavy pot with its oven-safe lid helps contain the bread’s moisture resulting in the best ever bread crust possible in a home oven. 

No Knead Bread

My big cast iron revelation of the year is realising I can use my cast iron pot as a slow cooker, basically by putting it into a really low oven (big benefit to cast iron: it’s oven safe). I used this method to make apple butter last autumn and the results were phenomenal.

I used the same approach to make slow cooker red beans for red beans and rice – the slow cooker made the beans all the more rich and creamy. This is the kind of winter comfort food that cast iron was made for!

Dinner: Red Beans and Rice

In addition to the large casserole, I have a shallow casserole that I don’t use quite as much, but I’m glad I have it because because it’s super handy for cooking big dishes to feed a crowd. I used it the other weekend with friends to make Uyen Luu’s Caramelised Sardines in Coconut Water (we ended up using mackerel, which fit into the casserole like a charm – you can read all about it on Kavey’s blog):

Caramelised Coconut Mackerel from Uyen Luu's book

I confess, part of the appeal of these ProCook cast iron casseroles is their appearance. I like that they stuck to a fairly conventional design, adding a dash of colour – I’m a sucker for red cookware. ProCook’s cast iron is also fairly economical compared to other brands – their 26cm Oval Casserole costs £49 – a similar Le Creuset costs over £120.

You can find the full range of sizes and colours of ProCook’s cast iron cookware on their website.

Making Marmalade


This week I’ve taken on a new preserving interest: marmalade! What brought this on was not the imminent end of Seville Orange season, but rather the discovery of a new fruit: the Bergamot orange!

The Organic Farm Shop in Cirencester has been stocking Bergamots the last few weeks. I’d never seen or heard of them before, but on a recent visit to the shop, while waiting in the check-out line with my shopping, I heard the woman in front of me talking excitedly about the contents of her brown paper bag: “I’ve heard of people using them in gin and tonics, but I think they’ll make an excellent hot tea!”

Naturally, the mention of “gin and tonic” got my attention, so I asked her what she was talking about and she kindly revealed the contents of her bag – a bundle of little “Bergamots”, something I’d never seen before. So I decided to get a few and find out what the fuss was all about. Indeed they do make great tea, and are wonderful juiced in smoothies (I surprisingly haven’t tried the gin and tonics yet).

Bergamot mania at breakfast this morning: Earl Grey tea and fresh #juice featuring Bergamot & ginger.

Knowing that my access to Bergamots (and organic ones at that!) would be short lived, I wanted to do something to preserve the bounty. My friend Kavey picked some up last weekend and preserved them in syrup following her same recipe for candied clementines. I decided to use the opportunity to finally have a go at making marmalade, one of my favourite preserves and something I find far more versatile than jams (case in point: buckwheat crepes with marmalade and toasted flaked almonds – superb!).

I read up on marmalade and was immediately intimidated by the numerous steps involved. Peeling, blanching, soaking, slicing, boiling, de-seeding and wrapping things in muslin. Different people seem to have different methods, and as I read, my brain became a fog, so much so that I could no longer differentiate between pith, pulp and peel.

Fortunately I found a couple of recipes that helped simplify it all for me.

Making marmalade

First was David Lebovitz’s Bergamot Marmalade recipe which I followed almost exactly. I was about 100g short of sugar which meant it took longer to set but the result was still freakin’ delicious and achieved my hopes of encapsulating that Bergamot goodness in a long-lasting form. Since making this, I’m finding as many excuses as possible to use it. Turns out marmalade is an excellent addition to Chinese stir-fry. (See what I mean about marmalade’s versatility?)


I was so excited by the success of my Bergamot marmalade that I decided to do it all over again with grapefruit and lemons. I had a hunch that grapefruit would require some special treatment, being so thick-skinned and pithy, so I went back to my marmalade recipe research and found Pam Corbin’s whole fruit method for making marmalade in The River Cottage Preserves Handbook (the recipe uses Seville oranges but you can adapt it for other fruits). The recipe involves boiling the whole fruit to soften the skin, then halving and de-seeding the fruit before slicing it into strips. Again, for this marmalade newbie, I appreciated finding a recipe that was crystal clear about every step (and didn’t require me tying anything in muslin).

(I know I’m being a whiney pants about the muslin thing and I’m sure if I saw someone do it I’d feel silly for ever being so intimidated. But at the same time, this marmalade making is unfamiliar territory to me, and the more a recipe requires me to do additional Google research to follow it, the less likely I am to actually make the recipe!)

While the grapefruit marmalade was boiling away, I gave it a taste and thought it was a little TOO bitter. Some sort of divine intervention from the marmalade gods took over (or was it subconscious remembrance of the Hawkshead relish company) and I decided to add some ginger. Marmalade transformed!


Some other marmalades I’d like to try:


Raw Raspberry Cheesecake

Raw Raspberry Cheesecake

Chicago has a few raw food restaurants dotting the city and suburbs and one of the most highly-rated and longest-standing is Borrowed Earth Cafe, which happens to be just a short walk from my parent’s house in Downers Grove. Raw food may not be the most obvious choice for lunch on a sub-zero, snow-laden Chicago winter afternoon, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity for a raw food fix while I was visiting last January. And I had the best company: my mom and my friend, Jim, both veggies and who I knew would appreciate an elaborate lunch of raw recreations of some of our favourite foods such as lasagne, pierogi, gyros and tortilla soup. Each dish was a work of art in itself and given all of the sprouting, dehydrating, chopping, blending and juicing that went into out meal, we were looking at hours and days of work behind each and every dish.

Borrowed Earth Cafe Lunch

At some point during our meal, I commented that if anyone was going to go 100% raw, and really do it like they mean it (as Borrowed Earth owners Kathy and Danny do), then they might as well open a cafe because there’s no sense in putting that much time into a dish that’s only going to serve one or two people. So kudos to Kathy and Danny for bringing raw food to the masses, especially those super elaborate dishes that require tools that most of us mere mortals don’t have (dehydrator, sprouter, Vitamix, copious amounts of time and patience, etc).

Raw Food Lunch at Borrowed Earch Cafe

Fortunately, as Kathy and Danny teach on their raw food workshops, not all raw delights require fancy tools and excessive amounts of time. Raw desserts are particularly “easy”. During that aforementioned lunch, we finished with a raw raspberry “cheesecake” that put conventional dairy-based cheesecakes to shame. Raw or not, this was an amazing desert, and I’m very grateful to Kathy for sharing the recipe with me today. You will need a blender and a food processor, and a cheesecake pan, but all of the ingredients are readily available and the result make it totally the worth the effort. This is a wow-and-amaze-your-guests sort of dessert, so be prepared to share and don’t expect any leftovers (but if you do have leftovers, it keeps nicely in the fridge for about a week, and it freezes well, too).

Raw Raspberry Cheesecake

Raw Raspberry Cheesecake


  • 1 1/2 cups walnuts
  • 1/2 cup Medjool Dates, pitted
  • 1/3 cup dried coconut flakes


  • 3 cups cashews that have been soaked in water at least 3 hours.
  • 3/4 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 3/4 cup agave nectar, coconut nectar or honey
  • 3/4 cup of coconut oil
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1/2 cup fresh raspberries


  • 2 cups of fresh or frozen raspberries
  • 3/4 cup Medjool Dates, pitted


  • 8″ or 9″ springform cheesecake pan
  • food processor
  • blender


  1. First make the crust: Place the walnuts in your food processor and, using the S-blade, grind or pulse until the nuts are ground down to a medium texture. Add Medjool Dates and the coconut flakes and process again until a dough-like texture forms. Place the “dough” into your cheesecake pan and and spread out on the bottom of the pan. Press firmly and use a small offset spatula to get an even surface.
  2. Make the filling: Put all of the above filling ingredients into your high speed blender and blend until smooth and creamy. If you are not using a Vitamix or Blentec or other high speed blender, you might want to divide the filling in half and do half at a time so your blender can handle the consistency.
  3. Pour the filling into your cheesecake pan. (If you have some extra raspberries you can stir those into the cheesecake and place the cheesecake in the freezer for several hours until firm or overnight.)
  4. Make the topping: when the cheesecake is frozen, remove from the freezer and springform pan and place on cake plate.
  5. Put topping ingredients into your food processor and process until well blended. “Frost” the top of your cheesecake with the filling. You can top extra raspberries or coconut flakes on top if you like.

BONUS: Check it out, the “crust” recipe can also be used to make cookies. Just use the same recipe and roll quickly between the palms of your hands to make 1/2 golf ball-sized balls (or, go crazy, the size of the WHOLE golf ball). You can leave them round or press them flat and chill and serve.

You should get 8 slices out of the cheescake and it will keep for about a week in the refrigerator, or you can put it back in the freezer for longer life.

Asian Inspiration

Caramelised Coconut Mackerel from Uyen Luu's book

I’ve just had a super terrific reunion weekend with three of my great friends, Kavey, Pete and Marie. We’ve been anticipating this meet-up for months (FYI: Pinterest is awesome for brainstorming foodie get togethers) and, as usual, hatched some ambitious plans for our menu. I can always count on Kavey to come armed with fun new cookbooks to try, and this weekend it was Uyen Luu’s My Vietnamese Kitchen, which became the focus of our cooking adventures and also inspired us to go with an Asian theme throughout the weekend. As a result, I’m feeling that dopamine high of having learned so many new things! Steamed fish, Shaoxing wine, fried rice, Vietnamese omelettes, Chinese salad dressings, tempura vegetables, new ways with tofu, not to mention some delicious drinks to go with them, and a few solid GAMES to keep us busy between courses (I. Love. Carcassonne.).


I thought I’d share a few of the recipes that I particularly enjoyed.

We loved Uyen Luu’s Omelette Bánh Mi with quick pickled carrots; the perfect thing for Saturday Lunch. We also loved her Caramelised Coconut Sardines (which we adapted with mackerel, pictured above).

Saturday Lunch: Bahn Mi and Beer

Warm tofu with spicy garlic sauce, perhaps one of the easiest and most delicious preparations for tofu that I’ve ever come across.

Warm Tofu with Spicy Garlic Sauce

Miso Sesame Dressing, a sauce so nice we made it twice! First to go with panko fried vegetables on Friday night, and we liked it so much that we did it again on Saturday for veggie tempura.

Crispy Salad with Grated Carrots and a Ponzu Soy Dressing from Harumi Kurihara’s Everyday Harumi (another stellar book find).

Harumi Kurihara's Crisp Salad with Grated Carrots and Ponzu Soy Dressing

Steamed Sea Bream with Ginger and Spring Onion, adapted from Fuchsia Dunlop’s sea bass recipe on matchingfoodandwine.com (we couldn’t get a hold of whole sea bass so used sea bream fillets which worked a charm). This was very simple to make and totally outstanding. Plus, it added a new ingredient to my cooking repertoire: Shaoxing wine!

Steamed sea bream with ginger and spring onion

Spicy Peanut Noodles, another Fuchsia recipe and a perfect side dish for the fish. I’ll definitely be making the peanut sauce again to use on all manners of tasty things (veggie “noodles” come to mind).

Dutch Baby Pancake with Green Tea Ice Cream.

Clafoutis with Whisky-Soaked Dates (adapted from Kate Hill‘s recipe), served with Uyen Luu’s Vietnamese Frozen Yogurt.

Made @katedecamont's clafoutis last night, with whiskey-soaked dates. Leftovers going down well for breakfast with @lovelulu's frozen yogurt.


Do check out Uyen Luu’s book, My Vietnamese Kitchen, and while you’re at it, check out my friends’ awesome websites too: Kavey EatsPete Drinks and Lanyon Cottages.

There’s also a few more awesome pictures from our weekend (Banangrams, Pina Coladas, Yahtzee!) on Flickr.

Tiramisu Jelly

Tiramisu Jello

I’ve recently been a little obsessed with gelatinising things, that is, with making edible liquids (juice, coffee, et cetera) gelatinous or jelly-like. But first, a cultural lesson to help bridge the US / UK divide that separates me and many of my readers:

In the USA, the category of edible gelatinised substances typically falls under the name “jello” (see JELL-O, lo the power of branding), whereas the word “jelly” is reserved for clear, fruity preserves meant for spreading on toast. In the UK, “jelly” also describes such toast-friendly substances, but it can also mean a set liquid, what we Americans call “jello”. This caused me great confusion when I first moved to the UK, searching hopelessly for UK “jello” recipes. But when I discovered this incredible double meaning of the world “jelly”, my whole world opened up to me.

(FYI: I will not get into “spermicidal jelly” in this post).

The jelly obsession has emerged over the last couple years as I’ve continuously failed to transplant my family Thanksgiving recipe for “Auntie Jo’s Cranberry Jello Mold” to the UK. The recipe relies heavily on “red” JELL-O, not readily available in this country. I tried making something up using gelatine, which I didn’t feel good about knowing that gelatine is not vegetarian. (In the process, which involves a can of crushed pineapple, I also learned that fresh pineapple will undo the effects of gelatine – blasted bromelain!).

Tiramisu Jelly

So what started as a quest for my family’s cranberry “jelly”, has evolved into a mission for vegetarian gelatinising agents, and also “jellied” creations that are free of crap (like JELL-O).

I have been experimenting and have so far had my greatest success with agar agar, a substance made from algae, discovered in 1658 by Minora Tanzaemon in Japan, and hence very popular in Japanese and Vietnamese cuisine. Agar agar is great because it sets very quickly and doesn’t need to be refrigerated to do so. Plus, it’s all natural and totally vegan. I think we have a winner!

My favourite agar agar creation so far is this Tiramisu Jelly, which I made three times (!!!) while in Chicago over the holidays. It was that good, and surprisingly easy. I used the agar agar to set coffee which had been poured over ladyfinger biscuits, then topped with a cream cheese frosting spiked with brandy (the “proper” way is with marscapone and Italian marsala wine, but this is much more frugal).

This was much easier than making traditional tiramisu (which I did last year over Christmas, a process which seemed to take days to complete, but man it was good). And I really enjoyed the mouthfeel of jellied biscuits – I suppose you Brits may call this a tiramisu trifle! The tiramisu jelly also slices up nicely for fun little party poppers, which we enjoyed on New Years Eve, topped with pop rocks!

Tiramisu Jello

Consequentially, I’m posting this today because I’m currently in Cambridge for a weekend of hunkering and geeking with friends (sort of a Thanksgeeking redux) and the question of “what are you going to gelatinise this weekend?” came up. I haven’t answered that question yet, but having mastered the tiramisu, the pesky pineapple – my nemesis – comes to mind. Stay tuned!

5.0 from 2 reviews

Tiramisu Jelly
Recipe type: Dessert

You can use whatever you want to set the jelly in, preferably a small square or rectangular pan. Even a bread pan would work. The bigger the pan, the shallower the jelly will be. I tend to err for a smaller pan and add as much liquid as needed to cover the biscuits, then set any leftover liquid in a cup for a little jelly bonus snack for the chef!
  • 2 cups strong coffee (I made this with instant espresso)
  • 2.5 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 Tbsp agar agar
  • ladyfingers (the number you need depends on the size of your pan, but one standard package should give you plenty and leave you with more to spare)
  • 500ml whipping cream (whipped to soft peaks)
  • 8oz cream cheese
  • 75ml brandy
  • 5 tbsp sugar
  • cocoa powder for dusting
  • popping candy (optional)

  1. Arrange the ladyfingers in a “small” square or rectangular pan.
  2. Combine the coffee, sugar and agar agar in a pan and simmer for a few minutes until the agar agar and sugar are dissolved.
  3. Pour the liquid over the ladyfingers, adding enough to cover the lady fingers – you may need to push the ladyfingers down into the liquid to get them to absorb and settle. I usually add enough liquid so that there’s a few millimetres of liquid above the biscuits, but you can add more liquid if you’d like a thicker jelly layer.
  4. While the jelly sets (which won’t take long – agar agar sets wonderfully quickly and it doesn’t need to be refrigerated).
  5. Meanwhile, mix the whipped cream with the cream cheese, brandy and sugar.
  6. When the jelly is set, smear the whipped cream over the top and top with a dusting of cocoa powder
  7. Serve the jelly in slices, sprinkled with popping candy if you’d like for a fun surprise effect.


7 Reasons Why I Juice Feast

Carrot Juice

Some of you may have noticed that I’ve been at it again with the Juice Feast (hashtag #JuiceFeast!), along with my friend Marie Leggo who I’m guiding through the process. In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s the gist:

We are drinking only fresh pressed juices for seven days in a row following the same programme I did last year.

Someone on Facebook asked if I could elaborate on WHY we’re doing this, and I thought I would summarise my answer here. My earlier blog post (Juice Feast in Review) explains why I did this in the first place: largely, curiosity. But having done it I’ve amassed all kinds of reasons to do it again. Please note that this post is about why I juice feast, not why it works. But I’ll touch on that below.

7 Reasons Why I Juice Feast

  1. The Uber Reboot: I’ve just come back from a four week trip to Chicago and like many of us have been feeling a little sluggish and soft around the edges as a result of holiday gluttony. I feel eager (impatient?) to get back to how I was feeling pre-Christmas, and to push myself further to feel even better than before. I talked about one way of rebooting at my New Year Reboot class last week (heavy emphasis on soups and smoothies). Well, juicing is another way.  
  2. Mental benefits: Last time I did the Juice Feast, by Day 4 I was on fire. I can’t remember the last time I felt so clear-headed and energised. I got so much done. It was during that time that I wrote almost all of Smarter Fitter Smoothies. Here’s what I said in my earlier post: “So after Day 3 is when things really got crazy. I suddenly had all kinds of energy that lasted from the time I woke up until the time I went to bed. It was marvellous. I got so much done. I was focused. I put in lots of time on everything. I had to force myself to go to bed at night even though I wasn’t tired. I felt like I did things with purpose.”
  3. Physical benefits: Exercise is an important part of the Juice Feast and I’ve been mostly keeping up with the gym and my 10,000 step goal (Fitbit!). As with my brain brain, my body is feeling better, too. In fact, I’m feeling pretty sprightly, especially with my cycling and weightlifting, and again, purposeful.
  4. Reflection: This ties in with #3. I’ve recently felt like much of my thinking around exercise has been skewed. The warning sign is this: often when I go for a walk or a swim or the gym, I find myself looking forward to the end as soon as I’ve began. And my motivations are wonky: I’ve found myself thinking “I should go because I need to work off all that cake I ate over Christmas” rather than “I should go because I want to”. And when I think that way, I find the act boring, or worse, I push my body beyond its limits, thus subjecting myself to injury. So I’m using this time as an opportunity to think about all of my intentions and how I’ll see them through at the Juice Feast. This goes for my physical activity as well as other life stuff like building up my business and tweaking some of my thinking around food (a subject for another time!).
  5. My winter solstice mission: At winter solstice last year (mentioned in my Chicago Trip Highlights) I decided that this winter would be all about nourishment. For me, this Juice Feast is part of my way of mentally and physically nourishing the body, but also thinking about how to carry on that theme of nourishment for the rest of winter (see #4. Reflection).
  6. Catch up on life: The nice thing about juicing is it frees up a lot of time. Juicing is quick and easy compared to cooking, and I’m not spending time eating meals, either. Granted, I miss meal time, one of life’s great joys, especially with friends. But for a week, I can do without, and it’s nice to have a chance to catch up on things, and also feel a smidgen of time freedom to invest in that needed reflection I mentioned above.
  7. Get AMPED for feeling awesome. In the end, I’m doing the feast for sustained benefit. I know juicing isn’t a sustainable way to live and I wouldn’t want to. But by the end of the juice feast I should be in a great place physically and mentally to carry on doing the things that are best for me. This is all about feeling awesome all of the time – my eternal quest! The juicing should leave me in a good place to carry on with gusto. (See #1. The Uber Reboot.)

Of course, we all have different reasons for Juice Feasting. Marie summed up hers on Facebook:

For me its not just about the weight loss I’m doing it to feel great – as Jason Vales book says: ‘power-pack your body wth nutrients and enzymes to make you feel energised and invigorated’

And speaking of those enzymes, as I mentioned earlier, this post is all about why I Juice Feast, not why it works. In fact, there isn’t a whole lot of evidence out there that it “works” for any of the reasons claimed by most juicing “celebrities”. A lot of it reads like a lot of detox mumbo jumbo to me (and in fact much of it is). One argument makes some sense: Juicing gives the digestive system the ultimate spa break. How? The act of juicing makes the nutrients in the juice super easy to digest, so the body not only gets flooded with nutrients, but it also has energy for repair (energy that would otherwise be spent digesting solid food).

But beyond this, the evidence is anecdotal at best. And I suppose my own anecdote is enough evidence to convince me that the Juice Feast is worth doing.

Three days left and a world of possibilities lie ahead. Bring it on!