Gosh!

Hands up if you’re vegan. 🙋🏼‍♀️🙋🏾‍♂️The latest figures show that there are an estimated 3.5 million vegans in the UK (that’s around seven percent of the population), which is an increase of a massive 546% since 2016. Even if you’re if you’re not vegan, I’ll bet that you know someone who is.

Eating fewer animal products is a very popular choice and more people are choosing to ditch the meat a few times a week. Did you know that more than a quarter of all evening meals in the UK are vegan or vegetarian? Once upon a time, convenience food was a bit of a no-go area for plant-eaters, but now we’re spoiled for choice.

There are tempting treats galore for your shopping trolley, but my favourite range has to be Gosh! for its creative approach to flavours. When given the choice between sweet pumpkin and chilli bites, beetroot burgers or butternut, tomato and basil sausages (and that’s just three of their products), what’s a girl to do?

Well, I’m in luck. I’m really pleased to be working as an ambassador for Gosh! which means that I get to try lots of their gorgeous goodies and use them to create easy recipes for you to enjoy.

I’ll be sharing plenty of delicious dishes this summer, but first up is this easy salad which goes just perfectly with Gosh! Moroccan spiced koftas. These veggie ‘meatballs’ are made with chickpeas, red pepper and apricot so they’re full of flavour – and protein, too. When served with this light but zesty salad, it’s the perfect meal for a summer evening. And because all Gosh! products are naturally free-from, this is fully vegan, gluten-free and nut-free, so that everyone can have a taste!

Moroccan spiced koftas with roasted broccoli, quinoa and orange
Moroccan spiced koftas with roasted broccoli, quinoa and orange

 

Moroccan spiced koftas with roasted broccoli, quinoa and orange

(Serves 2-3)

 

Ingredients

1 packet Gosh! Moroccan spiced koftas

1 head broccoli, broken into florets

200g quinoa, rinsed and drained

3-4 handfuls spinach

2 red or green peppers, cut into medium-sized chunks

A punnet of cherry tomatoes, halved

Half a cucumber, diced

1 orange, divided into segments and chopped

A large handful of flat leaf parsley

The juice of 2 lemons

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

5-6 tbsp tahini (optional)

2 tsp sumac (optional)

Salt and pepper

 

Preheat the oven to 200C. Bring a pan of salted water to the boil, then add the quinoa and cook over a medium heat for 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large oven dish, spread out the broccoli florets and peppers and pour over half the lemon juice and the sumac, if using. Season with salt and pepper and place in the oven for 10-15 minutes. Remove from the oven, add the koftas and cook for another 10 minutes.

When the quinoa is cooked, drain and set aside. In a large bowl, massage the spinach leaves with half of the remainder of the lemon juice, a little oil and some salt. Add lemon juice and olive oil to the quinoa and stir, then add the cucumber, tomatoes, orange and parsley. Add this mixture to the spinach leaves with the roasted broccoli and peppers. Divide between plates and serve with the koftas. Drizzle over some tahini, if you like.

 

 

 

 

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Park House Restaurant

I’d never normally put vegan and fine dining in the same sentence  – or so I thought. Then I tried the tasting menu at Park House Restaurant in Cardiff, and let me tell you, it changed everything.

These days, it’s so much easier to eat out as a vegan – I mean, we can even go to Nando’s – and we enjoy delicious meals at restaurants up and down the country, but it’s hardly haute cuisine. And that’s fine by me because that’s not the kind of food I want to eat every day.

For a special occasion though, and especially if your meat-eating friends want a slap-up meal, options can be a bit thin on the ground if you’re not a carnivore. Fortunately for us friends of the animals, fancy restaurants are starting realise that vegans like food, too.

I really like food and I really liked the dishes at Park House Restaurant, and as with all good restaurants, there’s an emphasis on using quality seasonal ingredients that are locally sourced. Any chef worth his or her salt can create something exquisite with vegetables and chef patron Andrew Frost is la crème de la crème of the Welsh culinary world so we’re in safe hands. My friend Cara had the regular menu and was just as impressed, and we enjoyed every morsel of our eight (yes, eight!) courses.

6.Heritage carrots with ras el hanout, grilled vegan halloumi and local sea herbs
This photo really doesn’t do justice to this plate of perfection.

The menu changes weekly (which makes sense with all the lovely seasonal veg that’s around) but here’s what I ate when I visited last week:

  1. Leek and wild garlic veloutte

This was the perfect start to the meal and came with bread and some amazing garlic and lemon ‘butter’.

  1. Heritage tomato (cannelloni – capers)

The cutest little cannelloni with juicy tomatoes and tart capers.

  1. Cardiff salad (mixed vegetables and black garlic).

This came from just down the road in Bute Park and was simple and delicious.

  1. Pertuis asparagus (morels and vin jaune jus)

The asparagus hailed all the way from the town of Pertuis in Provence and was served with morels, a type of funghi, and a jus that tasted just like heaven.

  1. Fricassee of beans and peas with garlic

A goddess of green goodness. Very, very moreish.

  1. Heritage carrots with ras el hanout, grilled vegan halloumi and local sea herbs

The star of the show – and yes, vegan halloumi is pretty swell, especially with all these flavours.

  1. Rhubarb with Brecon gin sorbet

Two of my favourite things combined in a dessert. Sharply sweet and refreshing.

  1. Apple tart tatin

Just lovely, especially when served with vegan vanilla ice cream.

At £75, it’s not cheap – and it costs the same as the regular menu which obviously contains meat – so I can understand why some vegans won’t want to fork out that much money. But when you take into account the cost of running a restaurant (paying staff wages, rent, ingredients etc.), and the skill involved, it seems a fair price to pay. You can also try the five-course tasting menu for £55.

So yes, it’s a treat (and full disclosure: I didn’t have to pay for this) but like the food, the service is exquisite, so you’re paying for an experience. It’s a grand old building, too (Grade 1 listed), so it’s the perfect place to be wined and dined. If you’re celebrating or simply want to spoil yourself with some vegan fine dining, book a table – you won’t be disappointed.

Park House Restaurant is at 20 Park Place, Cardiff CF10 3DQ.

https://www.parkhouserestaurant.co.uk 

It’s all Greek to me

It could be said that I’m looking a little bit sunkissed at the moment. For me, a paler than pale English rose (I’m only half Welsh, after all), this is unprecedented. And it wasn’t last week’s holiday in Athens that did it. No, I slathered on the factor 50 for most of our five days in the 28C heat. Now I’m back home, it’s still sunny, but I’ve not been as slap happy with the sun cream, hence the brown(ish) arms.

It’s been a while since I took a soujourn in the sun (October 2016 to be precise) and I’ve been craving that tide of heat that washes over you as soon as you step off a plane in a hot country. If I need to check my privilege, I will gladly do it right here and now. But it’s been a rollercoaster year, and heck, I wanted a holiday. Truth be told, I insisted on one.

I live for holidays but I’ve never caught the travelling bug, probably because I don’t own a backpack and the idea of choosing to go camping baffles me. Give me culture, cafes and cathedrals over hiking in Nepal or an all-inclusive beach holiday any day. I love a good city break and Athens was just the ticket. Like most European cities, it has a chequered history, winding streets to explore, a very relaxed attitude towards driving and hot, hot sun.

There’s also a hell of a lot of poverty and you’ll find armed police on nearly every street corner. Greece isn’t as relaxed as it used to be since its economy went to the dogs and it’s heartbreaking to see, especially because the ancient Greeks were the founders of civilisation. We visited the Acropolis,  an ancient citadel high above the city, to see the remains of several ancient buildings, and it’s a truly fascinating place. At the National Archaeological Museum, I was blown away by the sculptures, especially as some of them dated back to over 4,000 years ago. In Britain at that time, we made do with mud huts.

The food in Athens is pretty good, too, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much this vegan and veggie pair could choose from. My darling man isn’t half as excited about eating as I am but dutifully navigated us to some of the top picks from Happy Cow, a sensible decision as I can barely tell my left from my right, let alone read a map.

We found vegan gelato aplenty at Full Spoon, and Greek salad and huge slices of jackfruit pizza at Vegan Nation, a cute little café and juice bar. We loved some places so much that we headed back for second helpings. Avocado might be a little touristy but it does some wonderful things with vegetables and is home to one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had, the vibrant vegan. We went to Mama Tierra three times because it’s that good and serves up hearty Greek classics with a vegan twist. I tried a vegan kebab, soutzukakia (‘meatballs’ made with aubergine) and my favourite, moussaka with a creamy coconut sauce.

I’ve long been a fan of moussaka because I ate it so much of it as a kid – my mum was an adventurous cook so go figure. You can find the recipe in my book, The Occasional Vegan, but because I’m basking in that post-holiday glow, I’ll share it with you here.

This goes down just as well on a balmy summer’s evening (so make the most of it while you can) or on a wet and windy night. With a rich lentil base and creamy béchamel sauce, you’d never guess that it’s vegan. The beautiful photograph is by the very talented Manon Houston.

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Meatless moussaka. Photo by Manon Houston

Meatless moussaka

1 hour, 15 minutes

Serves 4

Ingredients

For the lentil base

200g green lentils, rinsed and drained

1 large aubergine, sliced into thin rounds

1 green pepper, thinly sliced

1 red pepper, thinly sliced

2 x 400g cans tomatoes, chopped or plum

1 large onion, peeled and diced

2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped finely

4-5 tsp tomato puree

3 tbsp olive oil

1 cinnamon stick (or 1 tsp of cinnamon powder)

4 tsp parsley, chopped finely

2-3 tsp mint, chopped finely (or 2tsp dried)

 

For the béchamel sauce

500ml soya, nut or oat milk

2 bay leaves

1 onion, peeled and roughly sliced

4 tbsp plain flour

3 tbsp olive oil

1 ½ tsp vegetable stock powder

¼ tsp nutmeg, grated

Salt and black pepper

In a large pan, heat 1 tbsp oil over a low to medium heat, then add the onions and garlic and fry for five minutes. Now add the lentils, peppers, tomatoes, tomato puree, parsley and cinnamon, plus 300ml water. Season generously with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat, cover the pan with a lid and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

While the lentil sauce is cooking, make your béchamel sauce. Place all the ingredients, except for the oil and flour into a saucepan and mix together. Bring to the boil, then remove from the heat and set aside and allow to cool. Remove the onion and bay leaves using a slotted spoon. In a separate saucepan, mix together the flour and oil with a dash of milk until you have a smooth paste. Gradually, pour in the milk mixture, whisking or stirring constantly. Place the pan on a high heat and bring to the boil, whisking or stirring all the time, until the mixture thickens to a smooth sauce. Make it as thick as you like by adding extra flour – or you want a thinner sauce, add more milk. Season with salt and pepper and remove from the heat. Remove the cinnamon stick and discard.

Preheat the oven to 200C. In a large bowl, mix the aubergine slices with 2 tbsp of oil, making sure to coat each slice.  Season with salt and pepper. Heat a large pan over a medium heat and fry the aubergine on both sides for 2-3 minutes, or until golden brown.

Take an ovenproof dish and layer the lentil sauce at the base, then layer over the aubergine slices and the chopped mint. Now pour over the béchamel sauce and spread evenly.

Place on the top shelf of the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes.

Time out

It’s almost the end of April, described by T. S. Eliot as the cruellest month, and perhaps he had a point. In The Waste Land, Eliot’s talking mainly about lost love, but he’s also describing the weather. April’s a big tease. She’s cold and frosty one minute and beaming sunnily down on us the next. She coaxes us out of our coats with the warmest spring day in 60 years, and then puts a dampener on things, literally. Talk about blowing hot and cold. I know it happens every spring and I should be used to it by now but I’m always slightly disappointed by April.

Still, despite the forecast of yet another cold snap, there are lighter and brighter days ahead. This makes me happy and I feel so much freer when darkness doesn’t set in at 4pm on the dot. And after taking a little break from cooking after writing The Occasional Vegan, I’m back in the kitchen testing out recipes. Last weekend, I baked my first lemon drizzle cake, and  never one to stick to the rules, I threw in a bit of thyme to temper all that zesty citrus. A few years ago, during my short stint as a baking blogger, I made a very nice lemon and thyme cake using a Nigel Slater recipe. This time (thyme?), it needed to be vegan so I did some experimenting and ended up with a pretty sweet treat.

It turns out that thyme is relatively high in iron, something I learned when I took part in a radio programme about food trends. In the same discussion, another gardening ‘expert’ (I won’t name him but he’s a presenter on S4C) told me that mushrooms aren’t vegan because they’re half animal.  Right you are, mate. At least the other guy spoke some sense: there are 6.1mg of iron in 5g of thyme, which when you consider that the recommended daily allowance for adult women is 14.8g (it’s 8.7mg for men and women over 50, fact fans), is a pretty sizeable portion.

I had to be a bit sly with this one as my little darlings can be fussy at times (I love them, really), and as I predicted, they enjoyed the cake until they discovered the ‘green bits’.  Needless to say, they didn’t eat any more of it once I’d been caught out. If you’re not a fan of putting herbs in sweet things (and I guess that plenty of people aren’t), you can leave out the thyme and make a lovely lemony cake all the same.

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Lemon and thyme loaf

Lemon and thyme loaf

Ingredients

For the loaf

275g self-raising flour

200g caster sugar

1 tsp baking powder

50ml olive, rapeseed or vegetable oil, plus extra for greasing the tin

100ml plant milk

150ml cold water

The juice of 2 lemons

4–5 sprigs (or 2 tsps) of thyme, leaves only

 

For the icing

150g icing sugar

The juice of 1 lemon

Heat the oven to 200C/180C fan/gas mark 6. Sieve the flour and baking powder into a mixing bowl and then mix together with the sugar, lemon juice and thyme. Add the oil, milk and cold water, then mix until smooth.

Grease a 9×5-inch loaf and pour the mixture into the tin. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then remove the cake and transfer it to a wire rack to cool.

For the icing, sieve the icing sugar into a bowl. Mix in the lemon juice to make an icing thick enough to pour over the loaf. This will keep in an airtight container for a couple of days.

 

 

Taking stock

It’s a funny old month, April. The days are longer and it’s warmer than it was even a couple of weeks ago (yesterday, I went out without a coat) but spring still feels a little wait away. Today, as I sit at my kitchen table writing this, I’m waiting for it to rain. It’s been forecast all morning but despite the dishwater grey skies, it still hasn’t come. All is quiet in the flat and on the street outside and I haven’t really spoken to anyone all day. Far from feeling lonely, I’m relishing it.

I’m not quite ready for my spring renewal, not just yet. In the last year there’s been so much change in my life (going freelance, moving to another city and writing a book) and now I’m ready to sit tight and take some time to rest and reflect. I’m still working, of course, but life is a bit slower while I try to assemble all the thoughts in my head into some sort of orderly fashion.

What’s next? Surely it’s what anyone asks after writing a book. It’s almost a month since The Occasional Vegan was published and I’m enjoying all the lovely things that people are telling me, but I’m also itching to start something new. I have some exciting projects lined up (including a new vegan menu at Milk & Sugar in Cardiff) and there’ll definitely be more food writing in the near future.

I had such a lovely time at the launch event for the book last week. So many of my nearest and dearest came along to support me (and to buy a signed copy of the book – thank you!) and despite my quavering voice, I managed to say a few words about why I wrote the book and what it means to me. Even though I do lots of TV and radio stuff, I feel anxious every single time so I’m glad that it went down well. In the middle of my rambling, I quoted from a review of the book, by my friend (and fellow vegan), Sareta.

“This book proves that veganism really is for everyone which is refreshing in a world of books by polished west London daddy’s girls. Sarah’s food is real food for real people.”

Now, I have nothing against anyone who’s had life handed to them on a plate (and if that helps them make a living, lucky them) but that’s clearly not me. I’m passionate about making eating well accessible and affordable to everyone and that will continue to be my ethos.

This week, I’m back in the kitchen and cooking simple meals using seasonal ingredients. I’m no purist, but the locally grown stuff tastes like heaven (and it’s often cheaper, too) and the appearance of new season tomatoes and strawberries at my local supermarket or greengrocer really does get me excited. Sometimes I do a little solitary fist pump – people must think I’m odd.

Wild garlic is all over my Instagram feed at the moment and it just so happens to be growing in the woods near to where I live. It’s free and plentiful at this time of year (although don’t pick from private land without permission and only take as much as you intend to use) and is so easy to whizz up into a quick pesto. It has a much mellower flavour than garlic, so you can afford to use a bit more of it than you would with the ordinary kind, but you’ll still get a sweetly fragrant sauce for your pasta. My other half’s not a fan of overly strong flavours (something I’ll never understand) so it got the thumbs up from him, too.

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Pasta with wild garlic pesto

Pasta with wild garlic pesto

Serves 2

For the pesto

5-6 large leaves of wild garlic, chopped finely, stalks removed

2 big handfuls of rocket, spinach or watercress

80g walnuts

4 tbsp olive oil

The juice of one lemon

Salt and pepper

 

150-200g pasta of your choice

 

Boil a pan of salted water and cook your pasta for about 10 minutes (or according to the instructions on the packet) until al dente.

Meanwhile, put all the ingredients for the pesto in a blender and pulse on high for a minute or so. You should end up with a fairly smooth paste, although a grainier texture (if your blender is quite basic, like mine) is fine, too.

When the pasta’s cooked, keep a tablespoon or two of the water and then drain. Return to the pan, stir through the pesto and the pasta water and heat for a minute, then serve.

The Occasional Vegan

I’ve written a book! It’s not every day you can say that, is it? After months of recipe testing and writing, The Occasional Vegan is here and I’m finally feeling confident enough to blow my own trumpet, just a little bit. A hell of a lot of work went into it (what’s the vegan equivalent of blood, sweat and tears?) so yes, I’m feeling pretty happy at the moment.

Since it was published last week, I’ve been busy doing media interviews and trying to fit in all my freelance work at the same time. It’s an exciting time, although I’m a pick and mix bagful of excited and nervous about the launch event next month. If you want to come along, you can get your free ticket here.

Over the next week or so, I’ll be hopping onto other people’s blogs and, so far, I’ve been on Eat Happy and For the Love of Hygge, where I talk about taking a balanced approach to eating. That’s one of the reasons I wrote this book: to prove that being vegan can be about having your cake and eating it. It’s not all rabbit food (or ‘clean eating’, whatever that actually means) and you certainly indulge in the occasional treat, because ditching the meat and dairy doesn’t mean that you have to miss out.

I want to inspire people to cook vegan dishes, whatever their budget or lifestyle, so the book is divided into four sections, which you dip and out of, depending on the occasion.

  1. The working week: quick and easy breakfasts, lunches and dinners
  2. Something for the weekend: lazy brunches, lunches and meals for friends and family
  3. High days and holidays: dishes for special occasions
  4. Comfort food and childhood favourites: think cawl, lasagne and chocolate brownies

As you’ll see when you read the book, there is so much variety in the vegan way of eating. Go forth and cook!

If you want to see me channelling my inner Nigella (I wish), you can watch a video of me making KFC (that’s Kentucky fried cauliflower), which is one of my favourite recipes from the book. It was filmed by Manon Houston, who also took all the photographs for the book. If you need a food photographer and stylist, check her out; she’s super talented and is great fun to work with.

For a taster of The Occasional Vegan, here’s an exclusive recipe from the book. This tofu dish is all sorts of delicious and the sticky lemon glaze is a dream come true. Why bother with a takeaway when you can make this instead?

 

Lemon tofu and fried rice

StickyLemonTofu
Lemon tofu and fried rice

As a child, Chinese food was a big treat and every once in a while, Mum would come home with a couple of oven meals from Marks and Spencer. It was only when I got older that I tried the takeaway kind, but for me, it was way too greasy.

I loved umami flavours from a young age, so sweet and sour sauce was a firm favourite but what I remember the most is lemon chicken. This is a vegan version of that with fried rice. When life gives you lemons, make this.

50-55 minutes, plus time for preparing the tofu

Serves 2

Ingredients

 

For the lemon tofu

1 x 400g block firm tofu

1 yellow pepper, cut into thin strips

The juice of 4 lemons

1 tbsp flour

1 tbsp soy sauce

4 tsps sugar

1 tbsp sesame oil

 

For the fried rice

125g brown rice

100g peas, fresh or frozen

1 tbsp sesame oil

 

Take the tofu and use kitchen roll or a clean tea towel to blot and absorb all its water. Take a heavy wooden chopping board or a hardback book and place it on top of the wrapped tofu. This will press down on it and absorb excess moisture. Leave for 30 minutes then slice into medium-sized strips.

Preheat the oven to 200C and in an oven-proof dish, mix the soy sauce, flour and juice from two of the lemons. Coat both sides of the tofu strips with the mixture and leave to marinate for 15 minutes then bake for 25-30 minutes, turning every so often.

Meanwhile, rinse and drain the rice and add to a pan of cold water. Bring to the boil and cook for 20 minutes then drain. In a large pan or wok, heat the sesame oil and add the rice and peas and fry for ten minutes.

Remove the tofu from the oven. Mix together the remainder of the lemon juice, the sugar and the sesame oil and heat in a large pan. Add the sliced pepper and fry for a minute or two before adding the tofu. Cook for another 5-6 minutes until the tofu is glazed in the sauce, then serve with the fried rice.

The Swigg

Well, haven’t we had a strange start to March? Sub-zero temperatures and snow-covered cars aren’t quite what one expects as spring approaches but there we go. As much as I pretend to hate the white stuff, I was more than a little disappointed that it didn’t stick around in Swansea. Apparently, it never snows here. The rest of the country, however, was a different story, and Cardiff was covered in the stuff. Instagram was full of friends and their frosty frolics, giving me a serious case of FOMO and a proper hiraeth for my home city.

But anyway, Swansea’s getting more familiar by the day and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the food scene, and especially what’s on offer for us vegans. One of my favourite places is The Swigg, a cwtchy but cool café bar that’s right on the marina and serves up small plates inspired by the flavours of Wales and faraway places. It won ‘Welsh Eatery of the Year 2017’ in the Welsh Independent Retail Awards and all the ingredients are sourced as locally as possible.

While there’s plenty of meat and fish on the menu, there are also some delicious dishes for veggies and vegans: think Glamorgan sausages, quinoa sushi and houmous with roasted garlic and lemon.

There’s also a monthly vegan night where you can feast on six small plates for the bargain price of £25 per person and last week I was invited to pop over and try the menu. It may have been cold outside but it was all cosy and twinkly inside and I soon warmed up with a glass of red. The other half arrived a little late, snow swept and a little flustered. He’d walked all the way the way into town in the snow despite a heavy cold; what a wise man he is.

Anyway, let’s talk about the food. First up was the tomato and courgette ‘pizza’, a bite-sized feast of fresh flavours. This was followed by the Port Eynon sea salt baked celeriac with Gower cabbage and a smattering of pomegranate seeds. It was the night before St David’s Day so there was bit of a Welsh theme to the menu and this was sweetly salty and sumptuous, rather unlike our patron saint I’d imagine. Did you know that he was a vegetarian, though?

Next up was the three bean chilli which was on the just the right side of spicy and served with wild rice, a drizzle of vegan yogurt and a wedge of lime. After all those big flavours, it was time for a palate cleanser and the carrot, parsley and lemon salad did the job, but was still pleasantly fragrant.

Time for the star of the show. The miso tofu, mushroom and laverbread was next level umami and the small portion meant that this luxurious little number wasn’t too overpowering for the taste buds. We ended the meal with a the most perfect of puddings: a quince, apple and nut crumble.

It was a great way to try tasty but unpretentious food in a warm and friendly atmosphere and we’ll definitely be back. Apologies for my less than impressive photographs, but you I think you’ll agree that these are some good looking plates of food.

 

 

 

The Swigg holds its next vegan-themed night on Thursday 29 March.Visit the website for more details.

The Swigg

Swansea Marina, SA1 3RD

http://www.theswigg.net

Heartburn

The days might be getting longer but it’s still coat and gloves weather – for me, anyway. In our house, I’m the only one who feels the cold, whereas he often goes out without a jacket. So yes, we’ve argued about the central heating.

Apparently, the heating is still switched on when the flat reaches its ‘optimum temperature’ and the radiators stop being warm and go cold, as do I. Where’s the bloody sense in that?

The course of true love never did run smooth, but I know I’m lucky to have him – and my oversized house cardigan, which is one of the better investments I’ve made in recent years. He’s a good egg, really: he calms my kitchen crises, patiently waits while I Instagram our meals and brings me coffee in bed every morning, so I can’t complain.

And there’s always stew. It’s warm and comforting and the longer you leave it to cook, the richer it gets – like any great love affair. Speaking of which, Dolly Alderton’s superlatively brilliant Everything I Know About Love is the new book on the block and proper comfort food for your brain and I devoured it in just a few days. Her ode to female friendship is especially heartwarming.

Back to food. Here are two simple stews to warm your cockles. One’s rich and handsome; the other sweet but suave.

Pearl barley, butterbean and cauliflower stew

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Pearl barley, butterbean and cauliflower stew

The miso paste really adds depth to this but if you don’t have it, use 2-3 tablespoons of soy sauce instead. I used frozen spinach as it was languishing in the freezer, but fresh will work just as well.

Serves 3-4

Ingredients

1 small cauliflower, broken into florets

1 onion, peeled and diced

1 clove of garlic, peeled and finely chopped

1 tsp caraway seeds

2 bay leaves

1-2 tbsp rapeseed oil

2 tsp miso paste

1 x 400g can of tomatoes, chopped or plum

1 x 400g can of butterbeans, drained

2 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped

150g pearl barley

150g frozen spinach – or about 8 ‘bunches’

Salt and pepper

 

Heat the oil over a medium heat in a large pan or heat-proof casserole dish, then fry the onion and garlic for 2-3 minutes. Add the carrot and cauliflower and fry for another 3 minutes, then tip in the tomatoes (fill the empty can with water and add that too) and the pearl barley, caraway seeds, bay leaves and miso paste. Season with salt and pepper.

Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat, add a lid to the pan and cook for 15 minutes. Add the spinach and butterbeans and cook for another 10-15 (again, with the lid on).

Remove the bay leaves and serve with bread or green vegetables.

 

Chickpea stew with beetroot, fennel and orange

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Chickpea stew with beetroot, fennel and orange

A fierce fusion of flavours. Mellow beetroot (use the vacuum-packed kind if you can’t get hold of fresh) turns this a pretty shade of purple and balances the sharp but sweet fennel and orange. If you can’t find fennel, try celery instead.

Serves 3-4

Ingredients

3-4 medium sweet potatoes (r around 200g), peeled and diced

4-5 fresh beetroot, peeled and diced

1 fennel bulb, stalks and fronds removed, and diced

1 x 400g can of tomatoes, chopped or plum

1 x 400g can of chickpeas, drained

1 orange, juice only

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp smoked paprika

Salt and pepper

1 tbsp rapeseed oil

 

Heat the oil over a medium heat in a large pan or heat-proof casserole dish, add the sweet potato and fry for 5 minutes, then add the beetroot, the tomatoes (fill the empty can with water and pour this into the pan), and the spices and season.

Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and place a lid on the pan. After 10 minutes, add the fennel and cook for another 10 minutes. After this, add the chickpeas and the orange juice and cook for 5-10 minutes. Serve with green vegetables or on its own.

Goodbye to all that

And so it’s over – well almost, anyway. Today’s the last day of what many of think of as the most joyless month of the year, and it’s no wonder, because new beginnings are always difficult. Personally, I haven’t found January to be too depressing, but like anyone I have my ups and downs and I’ve really struggled with the dark, dark nights and the particularly grey days.

The winter months are always hard, especially after the fun and fizz of Christmas but as every day inches closer to longer days and brighter skies, I feel hopeful. I know we’re feeling the cold snap at the moment but the sun is rising just that little bit earlier which means that soon I’ll have no excuse not to jump out of bed – in theory, anyway. Daylight is so important and even thirty minutes a day can make a real difference to your physical and mental wellbeing. My daily walks really help my mood and the light always makes me feel brighter – funny that.

Tomorrow’s the first of February (and the day before my birthday) and two years since I started this blog. I never imagined back then that I’d end up writing a cookery book but here I am. Happy February to you all. It might be short and dark but it’s a step closer to spring and that for me is cause for celebration – plus there are some lovely things to eat right now.

Bittersweet blood oranges aren’t around for long and they’re so prettily perfectly Instagrammable so snap them up while you can. They’re nice as a light dessert, cooked with rhubarb (which is also coming into season), added to salads or even sliced and served in a G&T. Tenderstem broccoli has also made an appearance and is lovely lightly steamed and drizzled with lemon juice and olive oil. Make the most of these winter wonders with a salad that bursts with colour and crunch.

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Quinoa and brown rice salad with tendertem broccoli and blood orange

Quinoa and brown rice salad with tenderstem broccoli and blood orange

Serves 2

Ingredients

75g brown rice, rinsed and drained

75g quinoa, rinsed and drained

8-10 stems of tenderstem broccoli (about 125g)

1 and a half blood oranges

1 medium-sized avocado

2 large handfuls of spinach

A handful of fresh dill

25g whole almonds (optional)

1 tbsp rapeseed oil

Salt and pepper

 

For the dressing

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

The juice of half a lime

Salt and pepper

 

Bring a pan of salted water to the boil, then reduce the heat and cook the rice for 15 minutes, then add the quinoa to the same pan and cook for another 10 minutes. Drain and set aside. Meanwhile, heat a large heavy based pan over a medium heat and add the rapeseed oil. Fry the broccoli for 3-4 minutes, turning occasionally, then add the almonds and fry for another 2-3 minutes. Turn off the heat.

Take a large serving dish and add the spinach leaves. Make the dressing by mixing all the ingredients, then spoon half of it over the spinach and massage. Spoon over the rice and quinoa and pour over the rest of the dressing. Add the broccoli and the almonds then peel and segment one of the oranges and remove the skin and stone from the avocado and slices in thin slivers. Add these to the salad, then roughly chop the dill and add that to the bowl. Cut the other orange in half and squeeze over the salad, then season with salt and pepper and serve.

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Milgi

This January has been exceptionally grey and gloomy and on these dark, dark nights we seek comfort in food and a perhaps a cup of cheer, too. Luckily for me, I’ve eaten very well this month and when I was invited to try Milgi’s new menu, I pencilled the date in my diary (I don’t do digital) with great excitement.

Milgi is Cardiff’s cool as a cucumber café, restaurant and bar, and sisters Gabrielle and Rebecca have been feeding the city’s veggies and vegans for nearly 12 years. During this time, it’s been perennially popular and has notched up lots of awards for its food and commitment to sustainability. It was one of the runners-up in the Best Ethical Food Project in last year’s Observer Food Magazine Awards and nominated in the South Wales Echo Food and Drink Awards 2016-17.

It’s obviously a bit of a plant lovers’ paradise but the healthy but hearty dishes here will please even the most die-hard of carnivores, too. The kitchen cooks up pretty platefuls of food and everything is seasonal and organic. There’s a real flair for flavour and not a mushroom risotto in sight, although you can enjoy traditional favourites with a twist: think battered halloumi and chips and nut roast with vegan cauliflower cheese and all the trimmings.

I’ve been coming to Milgi for a long time because the food and drink is so good and because it fits the bill for every occasion. During the day, it’s bright and airy and I guarantee you that a Milgi breakfast will ease even the hardiest of hangovers.  After dark, everything is cosy and intimate so it’s great for a romantic meal or some cocktails with the gang.

We visited on a windy Thursday evening with tired heads and rumbling tummies but all that was forgotten as we were ushered to our table by our friendly waitress. After she’d talked us through the new menu and taken our drinks orders, we sat back and soaked up the atmosphere. There’s an open kitchen and crates of fruit and vegetables dotted around the place so it’s nice to know that what you see is what you get.  They make their own sauerkraut and kombucha on site, too.

Everything on the menu looks seriously good, especially the vegan seafood platter, which I’ll definitely be trying next time I visit, so it took us a while to decide what to have. Once we ordered though, our food arrived pretty quickly.

I had the green burger, which is indeed a vibrantly verdant hue thanks to its combination of butter beans, spinach, coriander, parsley and a special spice blend. This comes with a fresh and zingy salad and chunky sweet potato fries, and because they’d run out of wholemeal buns, I had the baked polenta which made a nice change and also happens to be the gluten free option. This is probably the healthiest ‘burger and chips’ I’ve ever had and I enjoyed every bite.

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The green burger

My other half is a big halloumi fan so naturally he plumped for the masala battered halloumi and triple-cooked chips with a pleasingly tart nigella seed chutney.

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Masala battered halloumi and chips

For pudding, we shared the cinnamon doughnuts with apple compote and vegan ice cream (not for the faint hearted!) and the ‘mostly raw’ cacoa and berry cheesecake with vanilla yogurt. Both were sweet without being sickly and the perfect end to the meal.

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Doughnuts

 

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Raw cheesecake

We washed everything down with a margarita and a glass of red wine (for me) and a couple of beers (for him) and left feeling warm and just nicely fuzzy. If you need some light during these cold winter months, get yourself down to Milgi.

You can find Milgi at 213 City Road, Cardiff CF24 3JD.

https://milgicardiff.com