Freekeh Friday

I can’t sleep. I suppose I’d better join the club, as it can’t be easy for any of us during this hot, hot heatwave, but in my case, I don’t think the heat is to blame.

I’ve always been a light sleeper and the slightest sound or movement can jerk me awake, and sometimes I struggle to nod off again. I can’t take naps, I’ve never been able to fall asleep on trains, planes or buses (perhaps I’m too highly strung) and it often takes me a long time to fall asleep even though my other half is out like a light as soon as his head hits the pillow. As he snores, I lie awake, worrying about things that I haven’t done or thinking about food – yes, I even dream about it, too.

I wouldn’t mind the late nights, but the early morning sunshine streams through our blinds and wakes me up, so no lie-ins for me. Inspired by Dani Dyer, whose Love Island puppy love with Jack the stationer is warming the nation’s hearts, I’ve turned to an eye mask. While Dani looks cute in hers, I look like I’m nursing a heavy hangover, but hey, it works.

So that problem’s solved, but no, there’s noise, too. I can’t sleep unless there’s complete silence (diva, me?) which means no radio, TV or music in bed – and the sound of traffic, wind or rain, or snoring puts me on edge, too. Unsurprisingly, ear plugs have been a godsend for some time now, but they don’t block out everything.

For the past couple of years, I’ve heard a low, vibrating sound, a bit like a car engine. It’s usually at night, but sometimes during the day, and I hear it more often than not. It drives me mad. My boyfriend My boyfriend can’t hear it and thinks that I have tinnitus but I swear to God: it’s there. Has anyone else experienced this?

What’s a woman to do? Should I resign myself to the fact that I’ll forever be sleepless in Swansea? Sadly, I’m not nearly as winsome as Meg Ryan pre-surgery (yes, I know it was Tom Hanks’ character who lived in Seattle because God, I love that film), especially with my lack of beauty sleep, but I’ll survive and anyway, I’ve always loved coffee.

Moving onto food (because why else are you reading this?), I’m very much into my salads at the moment, mainly due to said heatwave. On Monday, I had a lovely afternoon making, eating and taking photos of salads with food photographer extraordinaire, Manon Houston. I’m in love with summer strawberries and they’re delicious paired with avocado and mint, and I made the most of seasonal asparagus by teaming it with giant couscous and pistachios. It was a very good day.

While I was in Beanfreaks in Cardiff, I picked up some freekeh, something I’ve been meaning to cook with for a while. This ‘ancient grain’ (whatever that means) seems almost too good to be true: it’s full of fibre, protein and high in magnesium, potassium, calcium and iron. A 200g packet is just over two quid and it tastes good, too. I made a salad with it using asparagus (again), sweet nectarines and salty green olives. This is light enough for sultry summer evenings but won’t leave you hungry either. Enjoy with a crisp glass of white wine or an ice cold beer.

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Freekeh salad with asparagus, nectarine and green olives

Freekeh salad with asparagus, nectarine and green olives

 Serves 2

Ingredients

For the salad

100g freekeh

Pinch of sea salt

1 tbsp olive oil

8 asparagus spears, sliced lengthways

2 nectarines, thinly sliced

Half a 340g jar pitted green olives

3-4 handfuls spinach leaves

2 handfuls unsalted almonds (optional)

 

For the dressing

The juice of 1 and ½ lemons

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp dried mint (or oregano)

½ tsp chilli flakes

½ tsp sea salt

Place the freekeh and 500ml of water in a saucepan, add the oil and salt, if using, and bring to the boil. Cook for 15-20 minutes until tender, then drain and return to the pan. Pour over the dressing and stir. Meanwhile, bring a pan of salted water to the boil and cook the asparagus for 5 minutes or until tender. Divide the freekeh onto two plates and add the spinach, asparagus, nectarine and green olives and scatter over the almonds.

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Inner stew

Although summer’s in full swing, the days are slowly getting shorter, and as many people jet off on their summer holidays, I feel that I need the opposite of a break.

It’s a traditionally quiet time for freelancers, which is not all bad when the weather’s this beautiful, but I’m getting itchy feet. I’ve been lulling the lull with Love Island, but I don’t think it’s helping. This bunch of homogenised honeys might be nice to look at but it all gets a bit repetitive after a while. There are only so many times I can tut as I see Alex turn redder and redder (he’s a doctor for God’s sake; where’s his sun cream?) or watch as Adam snakes his way over to every new woman who arrives at the villa.

A much better way to feng shui my funk is to do something about it, so next week I’m going to make a plan and stick to it. Part of that plan involves me trying very hard not to beat myself up for not ‘achieving’ much this month. I know that I will though, because my inner voice can be a bitch sometimes. Ah, impostor syndrome, the frenemy of women everywhere. A friend who’s also freelance shares my pain and suggested that I start a ‘joy journal’, where I write down my wins, no matter how small, so that I can see where I’m doing well and where I need to improve. I think she’s on to something there.

Anyway, my one constant is cooking and I’ve been road testing some new recipes with summer vegetables. I love making (and eating) stew and although it’s normally a dish associated with chilly nights, a few little tweaks can transform it into a summer staple. This stew is sustaining but it’s also light and zesty. Fresh peas are just in season but if you can’t be bothered to shell them, use frozen instead.

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Summer stew with courgettes, asparagus and peas

Summer stew

Serves 4

Ingredients

2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

2 shallots, peeled and diced

500ml hot stock

100ml oat milk

1-2 tsp white miso paste

400g Jersey royals or new potatoes, quartered

100g asparagus, chopped

150g courgettes, diced

100g peas (podded weight), fresh or frozen

1 x 400g can cannellini beans

The juice of 2 lemons

2 bay leaves

1 tbsp olive oil

A handful of fresh mint, chopped

A handful of fresh parsley, chopped

Salt and pepper

 

In a large heatproof casserole or pan, heat the oil at a low temperature. Add the shallots and garlic and fry for 3-4 minutes, until translucent. Add half the stock, the miso, the bay leaves and the potatoes and bring to the boil. Cover with a lid and cook for 10 minutes. Add the asparagus, courgette and the rest of the stock and cook for 5 minutes, then add the cannellini beans and lemon juice and season. Reduce the heat and simmer for 2-3 minutes, then add the peas and oat milk and cook for another 3 minutes. Just before serving remove the bay leaves and stir through the chopped mint and parsley.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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.