Saturday, 30 March 2013

Polenta party vegan supper club with Terry Hope Romero

Polenta board
Portrait of the cook, tweeting. 
 I met Terry Hope Romero in Amsterdam at the Dutch Cookbook Awards. She's probably one of the most well known vegan cookbook authors, with Vegan eats World, Veganomicon and the Vegan cupcakes take over the world series under her belt, the latter with co-author Isa Chandra Moscovitz.
Terry let me know she was visiting London 'Lets hang!', to do a talk at the Vitality show, which caters to a Gwyneth Paltrow style clientele, all kale smoothies and pastel yoga gear as day-wear. The Vitality show is as much about not eating as eating healthily, for there has always been a fuzzy line between food disorder and speciality diets.
Lets do a supper club? I suggested, but I was concerned as it was rather late notice. No need to worry, tickets sold out within a day. There are many neglected vegans out there, although it was interesting to see that on the night, half our guests weren't vegan but vegan-curious meat-eaters.
Cooking was both fun and informative with Terry. Firstly, our transatlantic differences caused many a giggle. She says tomayto I say tomahto, she says baysil I say basil, she says pecahn, I say peecanne, she says eggplant I say aubergine. I use grams and a digital scale, she employs cups, really uses them all the time, for tasting, for measuring, for ladling. Left to scavenge around my kitchen while I was off shopping, I returned to find Terry using my laundry soap powder scoop.
Determined to give her a truly English cooking experience, I put on my usual background noise of Radio 4. The Archers in particular sounded surreal to a girl from Queens, New York.
Hers n hers iPads, Terry and I cook with iPads in the kitchen
I learnt new techniques from Terry: how to soak cashews, then grind them in water to make a thick rich animal-free cream. The Vitamix came in useful for that. Nutritional yeast flakes, mixed with walnuts or pecans are delicious as a vegan Parmesan. They do actually taste cheesy.
Almost by accident, our menu turned out to be gluten-free barring the farro in the soup. Our main course was polenta: Terry had recently had a polenta based meal in Italy and I remembered a fantastic 'polenta party' post on TheKitchn. It's all the rage darling!
Chase elderflower vodka with blackberry cordial cocktails
Socca lentil crepe triangles with roasted carrot butter and babaghanoush
Cannelini and farro soup from Vegan eats World, with an avocado and tomato garnish.
Pecan 'parmesan' topping
Polenta boards topped with artichokes, caramelised onions and cepe mushrooms in sherry and cashew cream, plus aragula/rocket salad
Marinated blood oranges slices in bay leaf liqueur with flourless chocolate cake (from Vegan eats World) and Coyo coconut yoghurt. 

I sent guests home with samples of Coyo coconut yoghurt which I highly recommend, being rich, creamy, dairy free, gluten free, but not taste-free.
Marinated blood oranges, flourless chocolate cake, CoYo yoghurt

The supper club went really well, with guests such as fat gay vegan and everybody enjoyed it. Terry is particularly impressed with British vegan 'cheeses' which taste real to her compared to the synthetic American ones.
Her last day in London I took her to Pogo cafe in Clarence Rd in Hackney. Clarence Rd is an experience in itself, a whole different kind of London from where Terry was staying in Sloane Square. Pogo is a fascinating place, a co-op anarchist animal rights restaurant. I have many happy memories of cheffing there, even though I was accused of being somewhat 'hierarchical'  in the kitchen. I wasn't doing things on a consensus basis.
Scenes from Pogos

Polenta recipe:

1 kilo of polenta (I chose fine as opposed to coarse)
(For quick cook use 1.5 litres  of water for 500g)
4.5 litres of water
2 tablespoons of salt
75ml of olive oil or 50g of butter

Choose between the following toppings which you can buy or make homemade:

Napolitana sauce
Fried onions with garlic
Artichokes in oil
Mushrooms in cream
Grilled aubergines
Lots of butter and shaved parmesan
Braised endives, leeks, cardoons
Grilled fennel slices

Get a large good quality saucepan (you don't want a thin bottom, the polenta might burn or stick) and add the water either boiled or heat until boiling. Add the salt. Add the polenta. Keep stirring. Polenta is rather similar to grits, that Southern United States speciality. Good grits, as we learnt from My Cousin Vinny, take a while to cook. Same with polenta.With the slow cook, it can take 90 minutes. The quick cook takes about 2 minutes. What is the difference? The slow cook is a little more 'corny', a little grittier and possibly better for a dinner party in that it stay soft for longer. You want a nice thick soupy polenta which you can spread onto a wooden board. Not too thick but not so thin it runs off the board. I used bread boards but you can buy a dedicated polenta board which I must admit I'm slightly lusting after now.
Add the warm toppings in stripes across the top of your bread boards, line them down the centre of the table and give everyone a spoon to serve themselves. Fun and interactive!

Grilled Polenta Recipe:
Got leftovers? Then pour the polenta into a loaf tin, cut it into slices and grill it. Serve with diced jalapeno, tomatos, onion, and coriander salsa with plenty of lime juice and have it for breakfast the next day.
Clarence Rd, another tragic teen death from a gang, postcode wars,  a London that tourists rarely see. Right: Terry Hope Romero instagramming at Pogos cafe.


  1. I will have to have a go at the polenta! It looks amazing! I'm feeling some sort of polenta pizza might work.

  2. I must read your blog from now on, as well as your emails, because I wish I'd known about this supper! I 'went' vegan for Lent, out of curiosity to see if I could actually manage it. having always been rather sceptical and a bit scornful of vegans (you hit the nail on the head with your 'fuzzy line between eating disorders and speciality diets..')

    I was amazed by how quickly I got used to the considerable restriction of my normal eating habits, and really enjoyed experimenting with new dishes (sweet potato, chard & peanut stew became a great favourite) and things I'd never have thought of using otherwise - hazelnut and almond milk, both completely delicious - but the most exciting discovery was CoYo! I'm so pleased that it's started appearing in Waitrose now - it deserves to be much more widely known.

    My horizons have been broadened!

  3. Yes vegan cuisine is terribly creative. Today I used coyo rather than cream in a cake!

  4. This looks like it was sublime. There is a vegan cupcake place in Brixton Market now, Ms. Cupcake. I like her stuff, and I'm no vegan, but have been vegetarian in the past and am now going through another 'bout' of it.

  5. 'borrowing' the polenta idea for a vegan next week

  6. This looks fab, will try at the weekend!


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