Tis the season to be sniffly

Magical it may be, but the lead-up to Christmas and its non-stop carousel of shopping lists and office dos means that it’s also the season to get the sniffles. It’s no wonder, really, that if you add large amounts of fizz and frivolity you end up feeling a bit feverish. We’ve all been under the weather at our house this week so I’ve made lots of this soup. It’s light on the tummy and packed with nourishing root veg – and even if it doesn’t make you better, it’ll certainly lift your spirits.

If you can, slip into your PJs and eat this under a blanket while watching a sickly sweet Christmas film on Channel 5 or Netflix. I hear that The Christmas Prince is so bad it’s good – perfect comfort viewing.

I’ve got two parties this week (one for grown-ups, then a slightly more sober affair: a kids’ birthday bash) so I’m loading up on the vitamins. Until then, you’ll find me on the sofa.

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Soup for the soul. That’s vegan cheese, if you’re wondering.

A soup for sickness

Ingredients

Half a swede, peeled and diced

3 large potatoes, peeled and diced

1 large parsnip, peeled and diced

2 large carrots, peeled and diced

2-3 stalks celery, ends removed and diced

200g red lentils

1 tsp chopped fresh ginger

Half a red chili, thinly sliced

1.5 litres vegetable stock

1 tbsp olive oil

Salt and pepper

 

Heat the oil over a low heat in a large pan, then add the potatoes, parsnips, swede and carrots and fry for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the celery, ginger, chili and lentils and fry for another 2 minutes, then add the stock, season with salt and pepper and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat, cover with a lid and simmer for 20-25 minutes, or until the vegetables are all cooked, stirring occasionally.

Serve with crusty bread.

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Bar 44

If you think tapas are all about chorizo and calamari, you’ve been looking at the wrong menus. Spanish cuisine is traditionally heavy on the meat and cheese but it’s perfectly possible to find tasty tapas that’s vegan, too. After all, the Mediterranean boasts a bounty of fresh produce: think fat olives, sun-ripened tomatoes and pretty peppers.

In Cardiff, we’re lucky to have some pretty fine tapas bars in the city centre and all within a few yards of each other. In the tapas triangle, as I like to call it, there’s Bar 44, its little sister, Asador 44, and Curado. I like them all a lot but Bar 44 is my favourite and I’ve long been a fan of their meat-free morsels. When they invited me to try their new vegan menu, I very happily accepted.

It was an otherwise mediocre Monday evening and I was feeling a little tired and rundown. Never mind though; it was warm and cosy inside and I was looking forward to some good food and wine and a well overdue catch up with my friend, Lleucu, who arrived, ever the glam gal, in a ravishing red coat.

Coats off, we looked at the menu and chatted to our friendly waitress. We were a bit gutted to hear that the padron peppers had run out (it’s almost not a trip here without them) but luckily there were plenty of other goodies on the menu to tempt us.

First up: some juicy Gordal olives and mixed pickles, which we nibbled on as we chatted and drank some delicious vegan wine. Next, the pan con tomate, and they do it so well here that it gives the real deal a run for its money – it’s sweet, sharp and salty all at the same time.

The calabaza is as colourful as its name and this spiced roast squash with chickpeas, pomegranate and coriander certainly packs a punch. The remolacha, a heady combination of beetroot, hazelnuts and figs, looks and tastes beautiful.

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The alcachofa and remolacha

We also enjoyed the alcachofa, crispy artichokes with caramelised peppers and the piperrada, silky smooth slivers of braised peppers which were both smoky and sweet, served with crispbreads.

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The calabaza, pipperada and zanahoria

It should go without saying that everything here is delicious, but the star of the show – the piece de resistance, if you will – is definitely the zanahoria. These cute little heritage carrots are roasted and served on a bed of gloriousl green salsa verde made from watercress, garlic and almonds. Muy apetitoso.

Finally, we managed to fit in a little sweet treat that’s not on the menu yet: a decadent chocolate brownie with cherries soaked in sherry (sherries?) and cherry sorbet. Wowzas.

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The perfect end to a meal

The service was brilliant as always and the staff really looked after us. Bar 44 be one of my favourite Cardiff restaurants for some time yet I think.

Bar 44 Cardiff is at 15-23 Westgate Street, Cardiff, CF10 1DD

https://www.bar44.co.uk/cardiff 

 

 

The calm before the storm

It’s a tired cliché, I know, but I’ll repeat what everyone else is saying: where did 2017 go? The last couple of months have really whizzed by. I guess (humble brag alert) that’s what happens when you write a book. I’ve been cosseted in a warm blanket of food, writing, photoshoots and (God forbid) my mangled thoughts but now the manuscript is with my publisher and it’s time to re-emerge.

So here is December and all its expectant joy. It’s dark and bleak outside and we’re set to have the coldest winter in years, but the bright lights of Christmas are here until the last box of mince pies lies, half-eaten – usually the day after Boxing Day when everyone’s too full to eat any more.

It’s a funny time of year, isn’t it? Most of us are very lucky that we can eat, drink and be merry for a few days but boy, is the build-up a bit of a palaver. Just this morning, I popped to the supermarket to get some bread and it was heaving with shoppers who were panic buying Christmas puddings and sprouts like they were going out of fashion.

I like to take a more relaxed approach to the festive season, and I won’t be buying presents or tucking into festive fare for a while yet. In fact, after cooking (and eating) my way through an entire cookbook, I want more of the same ­– food that’s simple, wholesome and full of flavour. It also needs warmth and a pinch of punchiness to brighten up these long and dark evenings so this week, I’ll turn to this pearl barley risotto which features in the book.

Pearl barley is full of fibre and has a nuttier texture and taste than risotto rice, plus it’s much cheaper. The mushrooms are reassuringly soft and velvety and the lemon and thyme add a nice bit of zing. This won’t take you long to cook and the occasional stirring can be rather meditative, especially after a taxing day at work – or even worse, Christmas shopping.

You’ll notice that this risotto looks exceptionally nice, which is thanks to Manon Houston who took all the photos for the book. Manon’s a fantastic food photographer and stylist and she’s super lovely, too. You can check out her website here.

Mushroom risotto 2
Pearl barley risotto with mushrooms and thyme

Pearl barley risotto with mushrooms and thyme

Serves 4

30 minutes

 

Ingredients

200g pearl barley

100g mushrooms, sliced

100ml white wine

500ml vegetable stock

2 shallots, peeled and diced

2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

1 small carrot, peeled and diced

1 celery stalk, ends removed and diced

5-6 sprigs of thyme

The juice of 1 lemon

1 tbsp olive oil

50g pine nuts

Black pepper

 

Heat the oil in a large pan, then add the shallots, carrot and celery and sauté for 3 minutes. Add the garlic and thyme and cook for a further 2 minutes. Add the pearl barley to the pan with the white wine. Mix well, coating each grain in oil – add a little extra if necessary. Add the mushrooms and cook the mixture for another 2-3 minutes. Add a ladleful of the hot stock to the pearl barley and stir well. Bring to a simmer as the liquid is absorbed by the rice.  Continue adding more stock, a ladleful at a time, letting the pearl barley absorb it gradually; do this for about 15-20 minutes, until the pearl barley is soft.

Add the lemon juice, black pepper and pine nuts and serve with green vegetables or on its own. Squeeze over some more lemon juice and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, if you like.

 

Stranger Things

If, like many a millennial, you spent the weekend devouring season two of Stranger Things, you’ll have seen a lot of pumpkins in the last few days. Even if you don’t watch the cult series (and you really should because even a scaredy cat like me is a fan), you’ve probably passed a windowsill or two with a jagged-toothed jack o’lantern on display.  Whether you heart Halloween or hate it, it’s the time of year to parade those golden globes – and when it’s over, you can turn them into something tasty.

I haven’t had much of a chance to enjoy autumn’s abundance this year because I’ve been too busy recipe testing. Gone are the gorgeous gourds I normally eat during these months as I make room in the kitchen (and my tummy) for lasagne, beetroot bourgignon, cauliflower ‘cheese’, and lots of other lovely things. If you think that sounds delicious, you can pre-order my book here.

In the meantime, pick up a pumpkin (or squash) and try these easy recipes. First up is a bright and sunny salad of roasted swede, pumpkin, broccoli, courgettes, tomatoes and, my favourite, romanesco cauliflower. Then there’s orange and cinnamon roasted pumpkin and sweet potato wedges,  the perfect partner for chilli or a hearty stew. Enjoy.

Autumn salad
All your RDA in one bowl

Autumn salad

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 small pumpkin or squash, peeled and sliced into wedges (remove the pith but keep cook the seeds, if you like)

1 swede, peeled and sliced into wedges

1 head romanesco cauliflower, cut into florets

1 head broccoli, cut into florets

1 punnet cherry or plum tomatoes

Herbs of your choice (fresh or dried)

2-3 tbsp olive oil

½ lemon

Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 200C (gas mark 6). Place the pumpkin and swede in a large ovenproof dish and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle over some herbs (thyme works well here) and season with salt and pepper. Place on the top shelf of the oven and roast for 10-15 minutes. Now, take another dish and add the cauliflower florets, courgettes and broccoli, drizzle with oil, squeeze over some lemon juice, and season. Place on the middle shelf of the oven and bake for 15 minutes – in the last five minutes, add the tomatoes. When cooked, divide the vegetables onto plates, drizzle with a bit more oil and eat.

Pumpkin and sweet potato wedges
Golden globes

Pumpkin and sweet potato wedges with orange and cinnamon

Serves 3-4

1 small pumpkin or squash, peeled and sliced into wedges (remove the pith but keep cook the seeds, if you like)

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced into wedges

1 orange

2 tsp cinnamon

2-3 tbsp olive oil

Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 200C (gas mark 6). Place the pumpkin and sweet potato wedges in a large ovenproof dish and drizzle with olive oil, then squeeze over the orange juice and sprinkle over the cinnamon. Season, then place on the top shelf of the oven and roast for 30-35 minutes.

 

 

Seeing red

I’m an impatient bugger. It’s mid-September and there’s still no sign of those ravishingly red leaves. Get a move on, autumn; these grey skies are making me grumpy. Admittedly, I’m not too excited about the approaching drop in temperature (I’ve been told that the heating doesn’t come on until October – we’ll see about that…) but I do hope those colours come out soon. If not, an Indian summer would suit me just fine but this in-between stage is rather getting on my nerves.

Luckily, I don’t have that much time to be distracted by the weather. Work is picking up and I have the not so small task of writing a cookery book – when I’m not testing recipes, that is. It’s a good thing I’ve joined a gym because at the moment, I feel like I’m eating for two (sometimes three or four), minus the pregnancy bit. When I’m not making cauliflower cheese, crumble, and tofish and chips (heavenly on the lips and the hips) I’m rusting up some healthy but hearty meals – just for a bit of balance, you know?

This sweet little salad is light but warming and the orange and tomato (British toms are still around so grab ‘em while you can) are a match made in heaven. I’ve used white kale, which I found at Swansea Market, but any sort of green leaves will do. When it gets colder (or if you’re really hungry) you can bulk it up with autumnal squash or pumpkin – or sweet potato. It would also be nice with rice.

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Indian summer salad

Serves 2

 

Ingredients

Head of cauliflower, broken into florets

1 leek or two spring onions, finely sliced

1 punnet cherry or plum tomatoes, whole

2 tbsp olive oil

3 big handfuls of kale or spinach, roughly chopped

1 tsp ground cumin

1 orange, peeled and in segments

Juice from 1 lemon

2 tsp capers

2 tbsp ground almonds

Flatleaf parsley or coriander to garnish (optional)

 

Method

Heat the oil in a large pan over a medium heat. Add the leeks, cauliflower, cumin and lemon juice and cook for five minutes, stirring frequently. Stir through the kale and tomatoes and cook for two minutes then add the orange segments and the capers, plus a little of brine from the jar, if you like. Season with salt and pepper and cook for another two minutes.

Serve with the almonds scattered over, plus the parsley or coriander if using.

Autumn almanac

September’s crept up on me this year. Perhaps it’s because I’ve recently moved to a new city (an ugly, lovely town, said Dylan Thomas, and I’m not going to disagree) but I’m not really digging autumn just yet. I’m sure that’ll change soon enough – after all, this is my favourite time of year. I’ll never understand why people try to ‘reinvent’ themselves in joyless January when September with its back-to-school freshness and kaleidoscope of colours is a much easier time to do it – armed with a shiny new pencil case, of course.

Now that the long summer days are over, I’m looking forward to getting my teeth into some new projects and I have something very exciting up my sleeve. If you follow me on Instagram, you may have noticed that I’ve been posting more food photos than usual (if that’s even possible) and that’s because I’m testing recipes for my book. Yes, I’m writing my first cookery book! I still can’t quite believe that it’s happening (it definitely is as I’ve signed the contract) and I can’t wait to share some of my favourite recipes with you when the book’s published in March.

I’ve neglected the blog a bit because of the book stuff so I’m going to make it up to you with a recipe for this magnificent muhammarra.  According to the internet, this Middle Eastern dip is overtaking houmous in the popularity stakes. I’ll take this with a generous pinch of salt (it may be a thing in London but I haven’t seen it in Cardiff, let alone Swansea) but one thing’s for sure: it’s absolutely delicious – and pretty easy to make as well.

This stuff is pretty versatile, too. You can spoon it onto pasta, bread (obviously), baked potatoes and salads, and it’s a great addition to brunch – it goes really well with tomatoes and avocado, and I hear that it’s excellent with eggs.

Brunch is ooooon. #nofilter

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The traditional recipe for muhammara uses Aleppo pepper but chilli flakes (or even powder) is just fine – and if you can’t find pomegranate molasses, you can substitute it with maple syrup and balsamic vinegar. Lots of people remove the skins from the peppers but I don’t think you really need to.

One final tip: if you’re trying to save money (and who isn’t?) buy your walnuts from a pound shop or discount store – the same goes for other nuts, seeds, quinoa, sundried tomatoes and more – as they’re significantly cheaper than at the supermarket.

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Muhammarra

Serves 2-3

 

Ingredients

3 red peppers, cut into half and seeds removed

60g walnuts

1 tbsp pomegranate molasses (or 1 tsp maple syrup and 2 tsps balsamic vinegar)

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

½ tsp chilli flakes

1 tsp ground cumin

½ tsp salt

The juice of 1 lemon

1 clove garlic, peeled

1 tsp tomato puree

 

Method

Preheat the oven to 200C and roast the peppers for 35-40 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to cool. While the peppers are cooking, take a dry pan and gently roast the walnuts for a few minutes, being careful not to let them burn. Once they’re cool, blitz in a food processor until they have a coarse consistency and then add the peppers and all the other ingredients and whizz until you have a smooth paste.

Serve with an extra drizzle of olive oil and pomegranate molasses, if you like.

 

 

Chard times

I’m a sucker for a stir-fry and it’s often my go-to when I’m tired, busy or just feeling lazy. Sometimes, though, I get a bit bored of my usual broccoli, ginger and soy sauce combo. Variety is the spice of life, non? This stir-fry is zippy and zesty and features the most vibrant of all the vegetables: rainbow chard. These lively leaves are available all year round but are at their best between July and November. They’re a good source of fibre, iron, calcium and vitamins A, C, K. Best of all, chard is easy to cook and is delicious with lemon and garlic.

On Sunday evening, I was flagging after a family day out (the Dr Who Experience sure is confusing when you’ve never really watched the TV show) and couldn’t be bothered to do a full-on roast dinner. I guess this is a quicker, less heavy version of that Sunday staple – and it goes very well with a glass of red. It’s lovely and lemony and the thyme adds a subtle woodiness.

I’m a recent convert to jarred chickpeas (Nigella’s right when she says that they’re superior) and you can buy them in most supermarkets and world food shops. If you can’t find them, you can just use the canned variety.

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More charred than chard, but hey ho…

 

Stir-fry with rainbow chard, chickpeas and baby new potatoes

Ingredients

200g rainbow chard, washed and roughly sliced

1 jar (540g) chickpeas

200g baby new potatoes, halved

1 courgette, cut into strips

2 cloves smoked garlic

1 lemon

1 tsp fresh thyme leaves – or dried thyme

Salt and pepper

1 tbsp olive oil

 

Method

In a large wok, heat the olive oil on a high heat then add the potatoes, the juice of half a lemon and some salt and pepper. Fry for five minutes, stirring frequently. Add a little water so that the potatoes don’t burn. Turn the heat down to medium, add the chickpeas –including the brine – courgette, garlic and thyme to the pan and squeeze over the juice of another half lemon. After a couple of minutes, add the chard and a little more water then cook for another ten minutes, or until the potatoes are soft. Serve in bowls, squeeze over some more lemon juice and season with salt and pepper, if you like.

 

You had me at halloumi

Boy, have I eaten well over the last few days. Steak, chicken, cheese, ham, chocolate doughnuts – I could go on. Before you ask, I haven’t fallen off the wagon; it’s all as fake as Donald Trump’s newsfeed. Yup, plant-based eating has moved on a lot in the two years that I’ve been vegan.

When I first ditched the meat, eggs and dairy two years ago I would never have dreamed of eating substitutes. I kind of fell into the trap of ‘clean eating’ (bleeurgh) and although it was just a phase, I still turned my nose up at processed foods, even if they were vegan. Eventually though, curiosity (and Instagram) got the better of me and in the last six months, I’ve relaxed a bit and eaten a lot of vegan ‘junk’ food. When I’m not scoffing fishless fingers and ‘chicken’ nuggets (thank you, Quorn), you’ll find me in the biscuit aisle – damn you, Oreos. Sure, my jeans are tighter, but it’s nice that I no longer feel like I’m missing out.

And so I move on to the subject of vegan halloumi – yes, you read that correctly. Demand for plant-based cheeses is higher than ever and Violife has a new range, which includes a Wensleydale-type cheese with cranberries or blueberries – and a much-hyped halloumi.

I dabble in a bit of dairy-free cheese now and then but it’s halloumi, in all its salty squeakiness, that I really crave. I’m not going to lie to you: this doesn’t taste like the real thing. It’s tasty and keeps its shape when fried or grilled but it’s more sticky than squeaky and needs a good bit of seasoning to really sing. I’d eat it again though.

Whether you’re trying the Violife version or just eating the regular stuff, halloumi goes really, really well with fruit. In this salad, I’ve paired it with watermelon but nectarine or blueberries would work just as well. I used D’aucy lentils (one of the best canned version around in my opinion) but own-brand green or brown ones will do. Obviously, you can cook them from scratch but using canned saves a bit of time.

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Halloumi, lentil and watermelon salad

Serves 2

Takes 15-20 minutes to make

 

Ingredients

1 packet halloumi (vegan or dairy), cut into long slices

1 can (400g) lentils, drained

2 small courgettes, cut into wedges

1 bag watercress

As much watermelon as you like

1 large handful pine nuts

1 large lemon

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1 handful flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped

Salt and pepper

 

Method

Place two large pans on a medium heat and add a tablespoon of olive oil to each one. In one pan, add the courgettes and a good squeeze of lemon juice and cook for five minutes until brown, then remove from the pan and set aside. In the other pan, fry the halloumi slices with a squeeze of lemon for around ten minutes, turning frequently – they’ll be ready when they’re brown on both sides. Meanwhile, add the drained lentils and watercress to the other pan with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and warm for five minutes. Return the cooked courgettes to the pan and heat for another minute. Remove the halloumi from the pan and lightly toast the pine nuts for a minute or so. Serve the lentils with the halloumi and watermelon and scatter over the pine nuts and parsley with a squeeze of lemon and some salt and pepper.

Let’s get ready to crumble

Hello autumn, my old friend. Summer’s on its way out and my favourite time of the year is fast approaching. This season of mists and mellow fruitfulness* is a delicious dalliance of chilly skies and warm and toasty glows – carpets of copper-coloured leaves, bonfires burning bright and sunny squashes.

I’m getting a bit carried away, I know. It’s not here just yet, and in some ways, I’m quite glad as this autumn I need to get fit. In October, for the first time in four years, I’m running a half marathon and I’m not looking forward to it. I’m such a fair-weather runner (actually, I hate running come rain or shine) that I only put on my trainers when I have a race coming up. This means that I’m pretty out of shape and have just over six weeks to train. Help. It could be worse, I guess. On the radio this morning, John Humphreys told listeners that he runs with his eyes closed. At four o’clock in the morning.

When I’m not putting my legs and lungs to the test, I’ll be in the kitchen cooking or eating. Cold and dark nights call for comfort food and nothing quite beats a crumble. This one’s dead easy to make and is a nice way to enjoy summer fruits while they’re still in season. I used rhubarb, strawberries and blackcurrants, but raspberries, blueberries and peaches or nectarines would work a treat, too – or even a bag of the summer berries you can find in the freezer aisle of most supermarkets.

*Keats describes this season better than anyone in the sublime To Autumn.

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Summer fruits crumble

Ingredients

For the fruit filling

400g summer fruits

1 tsp ground ginger

50g light brown sugar

 

For the crumble topping

150g flour

50g porridge oats

100g vegan margarine, cold from the fridge

 

Method

Preheat the oven to 180C (gas mark 4). Stew the rhubarb with a little water and sugar for about ten minutes, then add the strawberries and blackcurrants and heat for a further five minutes.

To make the crumble topping, sieve the flour into a bowl, then stir through the oats and rub the margarine into the dry ingredients until your mixture resembles breadcrumbs.

Place the fruit mixture in a large ovenproof dish the scatter the crumble topping over and bake for 40 minutes. Serve with vegan ice cream, custard, cream or on its own.

 

 

Summer spice

Long time, no blog post. I’ve been busy working, moving house and going on holiday – not necessarily in that order.

Last week I went to Manchester for a few days and fell back in love with this ravishing red-bricked city. I don’t know what it is, but it’s a place that pulls me back time and time again. Maybe I’m a northerner at heart.

One of the best things about Manchester, for me, is the food, and vegans are spoiled for choice. I enjoyed my fair share of rainbow salads and also an amazing jackfruit curry, a breakfast roll with veggie sausage, beans, hash browns and peanut butter and the closest thing I’ve got to heaven (in burger form, anyway) at V-Rev Vegan Diner. This place is world famous and it’s not hard to see why.

The rumours are true: @vrevmcr is AMAZING Very full bellies after this filthy feast.

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After gorging myself silly, I’m now taking it easy on the treats and trying to train for a half marathon – I hate running and having a goal is the only way to make me exercise. The weather’s been a bit grey this week so I’m making the most of summer vegetables while they’re still in season. Cue this colourful curry which is tasty, healthy and filling and takes under half an hour to make. Use whatever veg you can get your hands – the list below is just what I had in the fridge. Oh, and go easy on the curry paste if you’re not a spice girl like me.

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Summer vegetable curry

Serves 3–4

Ingredients

1 head cauliflower broken into florets, plus its outer leaves

150g green beans, topped and tailed

100g runner beans, topped and tailed and sliced thinly

1 small courgette, diced

1 punnet cherry tomatoes or 4–5 tomatoes, quartered (or a tin of plum tomatoes)

8­–10 radishes

A thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger root, peeled and grated

1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed, grated or finely chopped

1 small onion, finely chopped

2–3 tbsp curry paste

300g spinach

100ml coconut or other plant milk

70g flaked almonds (optional)

1 tbsp olive or coconut oil

Method

Heat the oil in a large pan on a medium heat. Add the onions and let them cook for 2–3 minutes until soft. Add the cauliflower florets and green beans with the ginger, garlic and curry paste, and half the plant milk and stir. After a couple of minutes, add the runner beans, courgette and radishes and the cherry tomatoes to the pan, plus the rest of the plant milk. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring regularly, then add the spinach. Cook for another five minutes then serve with rice and some flaked almonds.