All the leaves are brown…

Is it just me who feels a bit undone as the seasons change? We’re halfway through September and although the temperature’s dropped, we have much colder weather to come, and I’m dreading it. I’ve been feeling a bit low recently, and on some days I’m gloomier than Eeyore. Hormones and hiraeth are a heady combination.

It’s been over a year since I moved to Swansea, but I’m still in a long-distance relationship with Cardiff. I miss my daily walks through leafy Bute Park, the familiar faces, the smell of Brains Brewery and the gentle hustle and bustle that you can only get in a city the size of Cardiff. Where we live now, all the leaves are brown and the skies are grey.

People tell me that I’m lucky to be by the sea, but contrary to popular belief, not everyone lives in Mumbles, and unless you drive (and I don’t yet), the beaches aren’t quite on your doorstep. Thankfully, I’ve found some comfort in the words of Dylan Thomas, who as we all know, described Swansea as: “An ugly, lovely town … crawling, sprawling … by the side of a long and splendid curving shore. This sea-town was my world.”

It’s not my world yet, Dylan, but I’m working on it. I’m not slagging off Swansea, but it hasn’t found its way to my heart just yet.

At least I can cheer myself up with autumn’s abundance of fruit and vegetables. The kitchen is full of apples, squash, pumpkin, pears and plums, and partly inspired by The Great British Bake Off, I’ve been baking again. The prime-time favourite has survived the move to Channel 4 and watching it is still the televisual equivalent of a warm bath and a bedtime story – well, kind of. I’m rooting for Rahul, who is surely Britain’s nicest man, and looking forward to the much-anticipated vegan week.

I’m no star baker but I do like to experiment with my cakes. This approach can sometimes end in tears, but I’ve created a recipe that works a treat. While we’re on the cusp of courgette season, pears have been at the greengrocers for a few weeks, and the two work surprisingly well together. In this cake, the sweetness of the pears and the mild mellowness of the courgettes are lifted with a pinch of cardamom for a gentle kick of spice. I’ve used rice flour, which makes this a gluten-free bake, but any flour will work.

Perfect with a mug of tea and five minutes’ peace.

 

IMG_2137
Pear, courgette and cardamom loaf

Courgette and pear loaf

Makes 1 medium-sized loaf

 

Ingredients

200g rice flour

2 tsp baking powder

100g porridge oats

2 large ripe pears (300g), cored and cubed

2 small courgettes (200g), grated

100ml vegetable, olive, sunflower or coconut oil (plus a little bit extra for greasing the loaf tin)

200ml plant milk

100g brown sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

1-2 tsp apple cider vinegar (optional)

Cardamom (seeds from 5-6 pods)

Preheat the oven to 200C. In a large bowl, sieve over the flour and baking powder and mix together. Add the other ingredients and stir thoroughly. Grease a 9×5-inch loaf pan, add the cake mixture and place on the middle shelf of the oven. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until golden brown and a skewer inserted into the middle of the cakes comes out clean. Allow to cool, then serve in slices, perhaps with some coconut yogurt or vegan ice cream.

 

Advertisements

How to fail

Last week, I raged against the onslaught of autumn, but as the seasons change, my resolve has weakened. I’ve submitted to September and its chilly mornings and nights and my legs are once again clad in 60-denier tights.

I’ve always loved this time of year, but as I get older, I find it pretty bleak – after all, everything’s dying. And don’t hate me, Swansea, but you’re pretty grey at the best of times so it’s no wonder that I find the colder months so difficult. As the temperature drops, so does my mood.

And anyway, autumn, once the underdog of the seasons, is a bit basic bitch nowadays thanks to pumpkin spiced lattes and Instagram.

I’m definitely with Sathnam on this one.

I was once enamoured with mists and mellow fruitfulness, but I’m failing at fall this year.  I’ve been blackberry picking (a first for me as a born and bred city girl), but my attempt to turn them into a crumble left a lot to be desired. It turns out that even if you’ve written a cookery book, you can still mess up a basic pudding. To be fair, I was playing around with coconut flour (which is the wildest I get these days) which was bound to end in tears, but I was still pretty annoyed with myself.

That’s the thing: when our social media feeds are so well-curated, anything less than perfect just won’t do. But, perhaps failing once in a while is a good thing. That’s what I’ve learned from listening to How to Fail, Elizabeth Day’s hugely enjoyable – and thought-provoking podcast. If you haven’t listened, you should.

As much as I really wanted to share a recipe for blackberry crumble, it still needs some work, so here’s a tried and tested cake which I promise will work.

 

fullsizeoutput_1f67

 

Chocolate and tahini cake with frosting

 

Ingredients

For the cake

150g brown sugar

350g plain flour

50g cocoa powder

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

2 tsp baking powder

400ml unsweetened soya milk

75ml rapeseed oil, plus extra for greasing

120ml aquafaba

3 tbsp tahini

 

For the frosting

200g dark chocolate

2-3 tbsp cocoa powder

60ml aquafaba

150g icing sugar

50ml plant milk

 

Heat the oven to 160C. Grease 2 x 20cm sandwich tins, then grease the bases with a little oil.

Sieve the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda into a large mixing bowl. Add sugar, cocoa powder, aquafaba and milk and stir. Add the oil and stir and then the tahini and stir again. Divide between the tins and bake for 25 mins or until fully risen and a skewer inserted into the middle of the cakes comes out clean.

Cool in the tins for 5 mins, then turn the cakes onto a rack to cool completely. While you wait, start preparing the frosting. Melt the chocolate with a little of the milk, either over a bowl of water or in the microwave, then let it cool for a few mins. Sift the cocoa and the icing sugar into a large bowl and add the melted chocolate and the rest of the milk and stir. Whisk the aquafaba, fold into the mixture and keep mixing to make a thick frosting. Use this to sandwich and top the cake.

This will keep in an airtight container for 2-3 days.

 

 

Pinch, punch, first of the month

It might be the first of September, but like most of us sun-spoiled Brits, I’m hoping for an Indian summer. I adore the autumn, which for me, is the season of new starts, but I’m feeling rather ill-prepared for it this year.

I don’t feel ready to get back into the swing of things because I never got off in the first place. My freelancing has been more feast than fast recently, which is no bad thing, but it does mean that I didn’t get to enjoy as many long and lazy summer days as I’d have liked.

Perhaps I need follow the example of our Gallic neighbours. If you’ve ever been to Paris during August, you’ll know that everything shuts down. The French love their holidays, but in September, after a well-deserved break, it’s ‘à la rentrée’, and life returns to normal.

School starts next week and so does the beginning of a busy month for me, and many others. The nights are already drawing in and I’m not relishing the return of colder, darker days. I really don’t want to say sayonara to the summer so in typical rebellious fashion, I plan to stay bare-legged, go out without a coat and eat summer berries for as long as I possibly can.

Speaking of which, summer strawberries are still on the shelves, but only just, so in homage to the sunny season, here’s a sweet bake to brighten up those grey skies. You can find tahini in most larger supermarkets and world food shops, but peanut butter works well, too. When strawberries disappear, you can try it with autumn apples or blackberries.

epWBKhbIS0GH7NAOR3BjeQ

Strawberry and tahini loaf

Ingredients

1 punnet (about 400g) strawberries, hulled

200g plain or rice flour

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

2 tsp baking powder

100g caster sugar

250ml plant milk

75ml rapeseed oil, plus extra for greasing

3 tbsp tahini

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp vanilla extract

Heat the oven to 200C. Take half the strawberries and chop into small pieces. Add to a pan with a little water and a tablespoon of caster sugar and warm over a low heat for 5 minutes. Leave to cool.

Sieve the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda into a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar and stir thoroughly. Add the milk and stir through and then the oil, and stir again. Now add the tahini, cinnamon and vanilla extract and stir again. Finally, add the strawberries, making sure to include the juice and stir through the mixture.

Pour into a greased loaf tin and place on the top shelf of the oven. Bake for 25 mins or until fully risen and a skewer inserted into the middle of the cakes comes out clean.

When the cake has cooled, slice the remainder of the strawberries and layer over the top of the cake. This will keep for a day or two in an airtight container.

VuzBxRIsTYKkL5IJAMOv6g

 

Spicy stew with Gosh! sweet potato and black bean sausages

If this bank holiday weather’s anything to go by, summer’s packed up and gone away for another year. After a blisteringly hot June and July, our last long weekend’s a bit of a damp squib. It’s nothing we Brits aren’t used to though, and as autumn’s my favourite season, I’m looking forward to cosying up in warm jumpers and coats, kicking up some leaves and making comforting soups and stews.

It’s not cold yet but there’s a noticeable chill in the air and I’ve been wearing a cardigan or jacket for the first time in a while. The changing of the seasons always creeps up on us and it can leave us a bit out of sorts. If like me, if you’re feeling a bit stuck when it comes to cooking, try this speedy stew.

As a Gosh! ambassador, I’ve tried a few of their products over the last few months but the sweet potato and black bean sausages with a hint of chilli and lime are some of my favourites. They’re great in a classic hotdog, with sweet potato mash and vegetables, or in this easy one-pot stew. I’ve been making the most of late summer courgettes, but use whatever vegetables you like.

All Gosh! products are vegan, gluten-free and nut-free, so this mighty meal is a crowd pleaser that everyone can enjoy.

Spicy stew with Gosh! sweet potato and black bean sausagesIMG_7296

Spicy stew with Gosh! sweet potato and black bean sausages

(Serves 4)

Ingredients

1 packet Gosh! sweet potato and black bean sausages, chopped

100g red lentils, rinsed and drained

2 shallots, peeled and diced

1 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil

½  head broccoli, broken into florets

1 large courgette, chopped into medium-sized cubes

1 punnet of cherry tomatoes (or 1 x 400g can tomatoes, chopped or plum)

500ml vegetable stock

2 tsp tomato puree

2 tsp harissa paste

1 tsp sweet paprika

A pinch of chilli flakes

The juice of one lime

Salt and pepper

 

Heat the oil in a large heatproof casserole dish or pan and fry the shallots for 2-3 minutes. Add the chopped sausages and lentils and a little of the stock and stir. Gradually pour in half of the remaining stock, stirring constantly, then add the courgette, season and cook for 10 minutes. Add the broccoli, tomatoes and the rest of the stock, the spices, harissa and the tomato puree and cover with a lid. Cook for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Before serving, add the lime juice and stir through.

 

Home sweet home

It’s the tail-end of August, and like Cher, I’d be rather pleased if I could turn back time. What’s often a quiet month has, for me, been unusually busy. I had intended to spend the month taking stock of my first year as a freelancer and sorting out my tax return, but it’s gone by in a blur of work and a family holiday. I guess it’s true that life happens when you’re busy making other plans, but I feel even more disorganised than ever. I don’t feel particularly rested after our trip away and I feel like I have a million and one things to do so that I can play catch up.

Holidays are good for the soul, I know, and I’m the biggest advocate for them, but I feel well and truly out of kilter and I’m struggling to get back into a routine. We were sunkissed under the blue skies of Paris, but back in the UK it looks like the heatwave is going, going, gone. As I write this, bundled up under a blanket on the sofa, the grey skies are telling me to stay put even though I need to leave the flat, if only for my own sanity.

On Mondays I rarely talk to a soul until my other half gets back from his day at the office. Working from home can be a lonely business and I sometimes wonder if I’ve forgotten how to socialise, so I’m sure that starting at a new co-working space will change that. September and its shiny new school term always kicks me back into shape.

I’m looking forward to getting back in the kitchen, too, as the past few weeks have been a binge of eating out, oven dinners and of course, holiday food, which in Paris (and Disneyland) is très mal when you’re catering for a vegan and a pair of fussy vegetarians. If I never see another bread roll, I’ll be pleased.

Food aside, we had a lovely time, even if it did prove that my A Level French is woefully rusty. And I can’t complain as I’ve just come back from a flying visit to London where I soaked up some culture (if you like photography, you must catch the Dorothea Lange and Vanessa Winship exhibition at The Barbican before it ends next weekend), saw some dear friends and spent a lot of money on eating and drinking.

The payback of all this is that I’m now broke and busy with work so home cooking will be very necessary for the next few weeks. Here’s a one-pot pasta recipe that I made earlier this summer with runner beans and peas, which are still (but only just) in season. Use whatever green vegetables you have to hand though – courgettes would work pretty well with this, too.

IMG_8268
Pea and runner bean pasta with pesto

Pea and runner bean pasta with pesto

Serves 3-4

 

Ingredients

100g peas, fresh or frozen

100g runner beans, diagonally sliced

200g fusilli or penne pasta

1 x 400g can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

The juice of 1 lemon

Salt and pepper

 

For the pesto

50g nuts of your choice

4-5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

The juice of 1 lemon

5-6 basil leaves, torn and stalks removed, plus extra for garnishing

5-6 mint leaves torn and stalks removed, plus extra for garnishing

2 garlic cloves, peeled and cut finely or grated

2 large handfuls spinach

A dash of plant milk

Salt and pepper

Place the pasta into a large pan and pour over 500ml boiling water, then add the lemon juice and season. Cover with a lid and bring to the boil. Remove the lid and cook on a high heat for 5 minutes, then add the runner beans and after 2 minutes, add the peas and cook for another 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and drain any away any residual water from the pasta and return to the pan.

Meanwhile, quickly make the pesto by placing all the ingredients in a food processor and pulsing on a high setting for a minute or two. Add the cannellini beans to the pan and stir through with the pesto. Scatter over the leftover mint and basil leaves and serve.

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 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.

fullsizeoutput_206c.jpeg
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.

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.

fullsizeoutput_206a.jpeg
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.

IMG_3550
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.