Food Hacks: easy ways to make an average food awesome

Here are four of my favourite “food hacks”, easy ways to make an average food awesome …

Pimped Beans

Baked beans … meh …

Arizona strawberries, bullets, whistleberries, the musical fruit – a simple instant food that never quite shed school dinner associations until I decided to posh them up with fried onions and stuff.

  1. Fine chop a medium onion and fry in a saucepan with half a tablespoon of oil until golden
  2. Grind some black pepper and drop a pinch of mixed herbs and a sprinkling of paprika over the top of the onions and stir them in
  3. For extra awesomeness, add a couple of teaspoons of bouillon powder if you have some
  4. Add the beans from a tin and heat through, stirring all the while
  5. If you want them HOT, this is the moment when a couple of drops of Tabasco wouldn’t go amiss
  6. Ladle onto hot toast and enjoy

Hacked Hummus

As a vegan, I eat a lot hummus. Supermarkets sell their fancy red pepper, caramelised onion, carrot and coriander and morrocan-style variations, but any one of these stirred into bog-standard hummus will blow your tastebuds:

  1. A heaped teaspoon of lime pickle – with lumps of lime in it
  2. Mango chutney
  3. Two drops of Tabasco
  4. A tablespoon of salsa dip
  5. A teaspoon of curry powder


WP_001190A biscwich is that particular kind of a biscuit where you do have two biscuits and something to spread between them. Here are a few of my favourites:

  1. Hobnobs and marmalade – oaty orangey
  2. Ginger nuts and peanut butter – go nuts: add a few raisins, too
  3. The Oreo club biscwich – two Oreos with peanut butter between them
  4. Ryvita and hacked hummus

Garlicky Pea Rice

Don’t just boil your fairtrade basmati: add two cloves of chopped garlic and a fist full of frozen peas while it is bubbling on the hob.

Go and hack your food and let me know if you come up with any more awesome combos …

Recipe: Soffritto Quinoa Bake

How did I ever come this far in life without knowing about the sacred amalgamation of onions, celery and carrots? It has changed my culinary world forever. The colourful combination, known as “soffritto” in some parts and “mirepoix” in others, drives the flavour of this baked quinoa sensation that offers all the comfort of chicken soup or fish pie without requiring the inclusion of any animal flesh or secretions.


I have adapted it from a friend’s recipe that was adapted from another recipe that was probably adapted from a non-vegan version at some point in its genesis. This will feed four, but even when I make it for the two of us, there are never any leftovers.

  • 2 cups of vegetable stock/bouillon
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 8 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp cornflour dissolved in 1 cup water
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 4 celery sticks, finely chopped
  • 2 carrots, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp mixed herbs (Italian)
  • 1 cup plain vegan yoghurt (Alpro) – if this is not available it is possible to sour soya milk with a little lemon juice or vinegar
  • 1 tbsp squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  1. Bring the vegetable stock to the boil and add the quinoa, turn down and simmer on a low heat for about 20 minutes.
  2. Preheat the oven to 180° C (350° F) and wipe a thin coating of olive oil onto the sides of a rectangular baking dish.
  3. Heat the olive oil at a moderate temperature and gently sauté the carrots, celery, onion and garlic, adding them in that order at 2 minute intervals and then giving them another 15 minutes.
  4. Take the quinoa off the heat and thoroughly stir in the dissolved cornflour, yoghurt, mixed herbs, lemon juice, black pepper and the sautéd vegetables.
  5. Empty the mixture into the baking dish and bake in the oven for about 45 minutes. You are looking for the top to brown nicely, so check it after about 45 minutes and finish it off under the grill, if needed, to make sure it is evenly crisp without being burned.
  6. Serve hot or cooled, cut into slices.

Vegan Mushroom Stroganoff

A wonderful vegetarian alternative to the popular “Beef Stroganoff”, this version goes one better and gets rid of the dairy element to make it suitable for vegans, too.

I finally hit on using coconut milk as a substitute for cream which means I can once again enjoy a dairy-free version of this classic dish. This is a simple and quick dish that should feed about four people and takes less than 30 minutes to prepare.

Image via Wikipedia


1 tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Large Onion, roughly chopped
400g Mushrooms, sliced
2 tablespoons Flour
2 tablespoons Paprika
1 cup Vegetable Stock
2 tablespoons White Wine Vinegar
4 tablespoons Red Wine
1 tablespoon Vegan Worcester Sauce/Mushroom Ketchup
3/4 cup Coconut Milk

1. Fry the onions in a large saucepan or wok on a moderate heat until they are limp but not browning.
2. Add the mushrooms and stir for a couple of minutes.
3. Sprinkle the flour and paprika into the mixture and turn several times until they are coating the mushrooms and onions evenly.
4. Add the vinegar, wine and Worcester sauce and stir again to thoroughly coat the ingredients.
5. Keeping on a moderate heat, add the vegetable stock and simmer for about 10 minutes.
6. Pour in the coconut milk and stir, reducing to a low heat and cook gently for a further two minutes.

Serve immediately on a bed of basmati rice or with noodles.

Recipe: Mushroom and Chick Pea Pâté

Vegan Pate on Toast With Tabbouleh

Here’s a nice light summer lunch or a starter.  Rather like a lot of my recipes, in my opinion, it’s the sage that makes this one a winner.


250g Mushrooms (normal white or brown supermarket mushrooms)
2 Small or 1 Large Onion
4-5 Sun Dried Tomatoes
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1/2 Cup Vegetable Stock (1 cube dissolved in 1/2 cup of hot water)
Ground Black Pepper
1 tsp Yeast Extract (Marmite will do although something “cheesier” like Vitafit is preferred)
1 Tin Chick Peas, well drained.
1 Tbsp Dried Sage
1 Tbsp Dried Basil
2-3 Cloves Garlic


1 Put all the oil in a wok or large frying pan and turn on to a moderate-high heat.
2. Chop up the onions roughly and the garlic finely and throw into the pan to start frying.
3. Add the herbs (sage and basil), ground pepper and tomatoes to the mix and stir occasionally until the onions are softened – a little browning on the edges is fine, too.
4. In the meantime chop the mushrooms up roughly and stir them in.
5. Keep stirring on moderate heat until mushrooms begin to brown (about 5 minutes or so).
6. Turn heat to low and stir in the veg stock and yeast extract and allow to simmer and reduce a little (about 5-8 minutes)
7. Pour in the drained Chick peas and stir them in. You are relying on the chick peas to “dry” out the mix a bit. Turn the heat off and allow to cool for 5 minutes.
8. Spoon the mixture into a blender and pulse until smooth.
9. If the mixture after blending is too sloppy, you can return it to the pan on a gentle heat to get rid of some of the moisture but keep stirring it. Stir in teaspoon or two of cornflour to firm it up if needed. It will also firm up when it is cooled so some sloppiness is fine.
10. Transfer to a sealable container and allow to cool with the lid off at room temperature for 30 minutes or so before sealing and transferring to the fridge.

Serve, spread on slices of hot toast with a fresh green salad on the side.

Did I Mention How Much I Love Ratatouille?

This is a staple in our house. It makes excellent use of the sort of vegetables we get in our organic bag from Farmaround. My mother used to serve this as a side dish but it makes a great vegan main course, too. I am so fond of it that it would definitely be one of the foods I would opt for on an hypothetical “desert island”.

Here’s my take on the traditional french vegetable stew. This recipe makes enough for four substantial portions.

Ratatouille - cut the vegetables up chunky.


Olive Oil – 1 tablespoon

Onions – three small or two large

Courgette – one medium

Bell Peppers – two, red or green or one of each

Aubergine – one medium to large

Tomatoes – 3-4 fresh medium sized

Garlic – one clove

Worcestershire Sauce – 1 Tablespoon (vegan alternatives are available, I switched to using mushroom ketchup here.)

Dried Herbs: Sage, Oregano, Basil – one teaspoon of each

Pepper – freshly ground to taste

Vegetable stock – one cup from a stock cube


Use a wide bottomed saucepan with a lid or preferably a cast iron pot or casserole.

1. Put the pan or pot on the hob on a moderate heat and add the olive oil to start heating it.

2. Begin to chop up the vegetables, adding them in the following order and stirring after each addition: Onions (cut in half and then vertically into half rings), Courgette (in semi circles), Peppers (in strips), Aubergine (in quartered or halved circles), Tomatoes (cut into segments), and finally the Garlic (finely chopped).

If there is any left over for another day, this is my favourite way to eat it - cold, on a chunk of toast.

3. Stir in the Worcestershire Sauce/mushroom ketchup and the dried herbs thoroughly and add ground pepper to taste – just a few twists of the grinder will do. The vegetables should have started to soften.

4. Make up one cup of vegetable stock from a single cube and pour it over the vegetables.

5. Place the lid on the pot or pan and reduce the heat to a very low gentle simmer for about half an hour. Stir once or twice during the cooking period.

6. Serve with baked potatoes or chunks of crusty bread and butter.

Ratatouille improves considerably by being left to stand overnight when it can then be re-heated or eaten cold, which is absolutely delicious.

If you like this, there are more of my recipes here.

Cake in a Mug … Vegan Stylee

In five minutes you could be tucking into a delicious warm, freshly baked, fluffy sponge. Here are a couple of takes on the ridiculously simple “Cake in a Mug” that don’t use eggs or dairy. Besides the ingredients, you will need a mug (preferably with straight sides) and a microwave.

Chocolate Cake

Put the following into a mug:

  • 4 tablespoons of flour (self raising or plain)
  • 2 tablespoons of sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of cocoa

Mix them thoroughly in the mug and add:

  • 3 tablespoons of soya milk
  • 3 tablespoons of cooking oil
zero to scrumptious in 5 minutes

Mix them thoroughly into a smooth paste using a fork.

Cook in the microwave for 3 minutes on full power (900W). The cake should rise rapidly in the cup and then slump down again before it is done.

Turn out onto a plate while still warm and enjoy!

Banana Sponge

Mix these together in a mug:

  • 4 tablespoons of flour
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar

Chop half a banana into the mix and mash it in well with the other ingredients with a fork.

Then add:

  • 3 tablespoons of soya milk
  • 3 tablespoons of cooking oil
  • A drop of vanilla essence (if you have it)

Mix well into a paste and microwave for 3 minutes as above.


Once you have got a feel for the ingredients and proportions, why not try making up your own variations?

Think of the recipe as having 14 parts: 4 parts flour, 2 parts sugar, 2 parts ingredient of your choice, 3 parts oil, and 3 parts another liquid (water, fruit juice, soya milk). It is hard to go wrong with this simple formula.