Monday malaise

What a wonderful weekend. I went to the big smoke to see my old uni pals, catch some exhibitions and eat and drink nice things.

My friend Sarah looked after me so well that it was like staying at a B&B. This woman really knows how to cook and I also stuffed myself silly at some other London eateries; you can check out my Instagram feed if you’re curious.

Now it’s Monday again and back to the hum drum of work and evenings that seem to disappear into thin air. Seriously, where does the time go? This morning hit me particularly hard – quite literally, as our boiler was on the blink and I had to endure an ice cold shower. I’ve been super tired and cranky all day and couldn’t be bothered to cook much tonight.

At the weekend, I was reading Sarah’s copy of Tender by Nigel Slater (we talked about how we’d like to spend a day in his kitchen) and was very taken with his vegetable recipes. I’ve had some aubergines languishing in the cupboard for a while now and this stew would have been just the tonic after a day at the office but Nigel says that the dish needs time for the flavours to mellow. It just wasn’t meant to be.

No, tonight called for a quick dinner to use up leftovers so I invented this little recipe which can easily be modified depending on what you’ve got in the kitchen. You could use cauliflower in place of the broccoli, and obviously ordinary oranges work just as well as the blood variety – they just look less pretty. And if don’t eat nuts, you could use lentils (try using the tinned ones if you’re in a rush) or beans. I used fennel seeds as I thought they’d go nice with the orange but you could try chilli flakes or cumin instead.

Anyway, give this dish a go. It’s really rather tasty.

Monday
That red thing in the middle is a roasted chilli pepper.

 

Roasted aubergine, broccoli and citrus salad

 

Serves one – or two people if serving as a side dish

 

Ingredients

One aubergine

One or two courgettes

One blood orange

A handful of tenderstem broccoli

2-3 tablespoons of flaked almonds

3 teaspoons of Fennel seeds

One clove of garlic

Two tablespoons of olive oil (I actually used sesame oil but I’m not sure if it’s traditionally used for roasting)

The juice and zest of half a lemon

Mint or coriander (optional)

 

Method

Heat the oven to about 200C. Slice the aubergine and place in an ovenproof dish. Remove the skin from a clove of garlic, squash it with a knife and rub over the aubergine slices. You can also cook the clove with the aubergine depending on how fond you are of garlic or keen to ward off vampires/potential suitors. Drizzle over the sesame oil and sprinkle on some fennel seeds and place the dish on the top shelf of the oven.

Start preparing your carbs if you’re having them. I went for bulgur wheat as making it is dead easy (the same goes for couscous) but this salad would go well with rice, quinoa, baked sweet potato or some good bread.

After the aubergine has been cooking for about 15 minutes, remove the dish, add the broccoli florets, plus a drizzle more oil, and return the dish to the oven. Cook for another 15 minutes or so.

In the meantime, grate your courgette and lemon zest, add the lemon juice and set aside, and slice the blood orange.

In a dry pan, quickly toast the flaked almonds (you could also use pistachios) being careful not to let them burn and add to a bowl. Using the same pan (this will reduce the amount of washing up), heat a small amount of olive oil and gently heat the courgette mixture for a minute. Now place this on a plate or in a bowl, add the bulgur wheat (mix in a small amount of olive oil and lemon juice to pep it up a bit), aubergine, broccoli and blood orange and top with the almonds.  I added some tahini for extra creaminess (and protein – my mother would be proud) and you could also chop up some coriander or mint if you want extra colour and flavour.

Bangkok Cafe

I’ve been overdoing it a bit recently and feeling really tired and rundown as a result. Last night, after two days of near sloth-like behaviour, I knew it was time to leave the house. When my friend Naphtalia said she’d cross the river to Canton for our weekly catch up (no mean feat for dwellers of north Cardiff), I took her up on her offer.

Bangkok Cafe is a popular, family-run restaurant which serves authentic Thai food at reasonable prices and is always full. I like its diner-style booths, wall-to-wall mirrors and friendly staff plus the fact that it’s a ten-minute walk from where I live.

We spent so long putting the world to rights that I didn’t really pay much attention to what I was ordering. Big mistake.

In need of warmth and restoration, I chose the dom kar kapport as my starter. This is described on the menu as a delicate, mild soup with coconut cream, mushrooms and baby corn.  This is just lovely with just enough kick from the lemongrass and galangal, which is a member of the ginger family in case you didn’t know (I didn’t), but boy is it filling. I’d say this could definitely be eaten as a main meal and I’m known for my big appetite. I’m a dangerous combination of cavalier and greedy so obviously ate it all leaving barely any room for anything else.

coconut soup
This photo doesn’t do justice to this sumptuous soup

It’s not often that a meal arrives and I can’t face the prospect of eating it but yes, that actually happened. The gang massaman tofu is a southern style curry with a rich peanut sauce, tofu, potatoes and some peanuts thrown in for good measure. This is served with white rice and green vegetables with a coconut dressing. All very delicious but by this point I had a headache and a burnt tongue from gobbling down my soup too quickly. You can understand my predicament. I managed to eat about a quarter of the meal before admitting defeat and asking for a doggie bag.

tofu curry
The gang massaman tofu in all its glory

Less is definitely more when ordering at Bangkok Cafe – or just don’t be an idiot by ordering two really rich dishes. Having said that, the veggie and vegan options at Bangkok Café aren’t particularly friendly for the hips (just sayin’) so it would be nice to have some healthier dishes on the menu. I left feeling uncomfortably full and rather fat and went straight back to bed.

I feel great today though and those leftovers made a mighty fine lunch teamed with some vegetables. They do say that (chicken) soup is good for the soul – that, and a good friend so maybe, just maybe, Bangkok Café has a role to play in my recovery. And thanks for letting me vent, Naps. I’ll return the favour next time.

The food of love

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day and it pretty much passed me by. Maybe it was my sore head following a night celebrating Wales’ rugby victory, the beautiful weather or the fact that it fell on a Sunday, meaning that I didn’t sit around waiting for the letterbox to clatter (I jest). I’ve never been particularly bothered about this Hallmark holiday (does anyone really celebrate it anymore?) but as I was cooking for a couple of friends, I decided to give my meal a bit of a Valentine’s Day theme. You guessed right: I used a heart-shaped casserole dish.

The sun has made a very welcome appearance these past few days but by golly, it’s still cold out there so I decided the best course of action was to make some good old-fashioned comfort food. I love casserole. It’s warm, it’s comforting and it goes perfectly with a glass of red. Plus there is almost always the inclusion of some form of stodgy carbs, which in my book is a very good thing indeed.

I discovered this recipe for chestnut and artichoke casserole in early January when I was looking for ways to use up my Christmas leftovers, but I never got round to making it. Katy Beskow (aka Little Miss Meat-Free) is a vegan cook whose recipes are tasty but fuss-free.

I’ve adapted Katy’s recipe slightly as I added kohlrabi (yes, I’ve been to Laura’s again) and a sweet potato and pecan topping. I’m not going to lie to you: this casserole is amazing and tastes just as good cold as it does hot which makes it perfect for leftovers – if you have any. It’s rich and hearty and is also quite sweet thanks to the chestnuts, sweet potato and pecans. This is a really versatile dish and you could use parsnips if you can’t get your hands on kohlrabi or even apples.

Also, trust me when I say that the Marmite works. In fact, you could even add a bit more to the casserole. The original recipe uses jarred artichokes but as I had a fresh one knocking around, I steamed it and used that instead.

IMG_7294

 

Chestnut and artichoke casserole

Serves 3–4

Ingredients

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 large onion, chopped roughly

2 carrots, chopped roughly into rounds

2 celery stick, chopped finely

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

200g cooked chestnuts, halved roughly

1 globe artichoke heart, steamed or 2 tablespoons of jarred artichokes, drained of oil and torn

Half a kohlrabi

2 teaspoons of fresh rosemary, chopped

2 teaspoons of fresh thyme, chopped

2 cans of chopped tomatoes

1 tsp Marmite

2 handfuls of kale, stalks removed

2 medium sweet potatoes

1 teaspoon of dried cinnamon

A liberal sprinkling of nutmeg

A 2-3 cm piece of fresh ginger, grated or finely chopped

1 tablespoon of maple syrup

A pinch of sea salt and pepper

2 tablespoons of coconut oil, melted

 

Method

If you’re using a fresh artichoke, remove the stalk and steam for about 25 minutes and once cool slice the flesh from the middle (the heart). Set aside.

 

In a pan, heat the olive oil and onion over a medium heat and cook for 2 minutes. Add the carrot, celery and garlic and cook for a further 2 minutes until the vegetables are starting to soften.

Add the chestnuts, artichokes, rosemary and thyme then pour in the chopped tomatoes. Spoon in the Marmite and stir thoroughly. Place a lid on the pan, reduce the heat to low-medium and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

 

During this time, peel and slice the sweet potato and boil for 15-20 minutes. Add the maple syrup, cinnamon, coconut oil, nutmeg and nutmeg and set aside.

 

Heat the oven to 200C. Add the kale to the casserole mixture, stir through and cook for further 10 minutes until the kale has wilted. Season with sea salt and pepper to taste. If your pan isn’t oven proof, transfer the mixture to a casserole or oven dish and top with a layer of mashed potato. Grate over the nutmeg, add the chopped pecans and another liberal sprinkling of cinnamon.

 

Place a lid on the casserole (or if using a dish wrap loosely in foil) and cook for 10-15 minutes until the pecans are slightly toasted.

 

Serve with green vegetables.

IMG_7289

Pancake palaver

Confession time: I’ve never made pancakes unsupervised. You see, my hand-to-eye co-ordination is at best, substandard (I should apologise to those who were unfortunate enough to ‘play’ tennis with me during PE lessons), so I’ve always been wary of flipping the little buggers.

Now that I’m 31, I’m trying to be a bit braver and tonight I’ve been faced with the double whammy of all challenges: vegan pancakes. As my old pal Al told me earlier, ‘I don’t know how you’d make a vegan pancake’ – well, neither did I. Trawling the internet, you’ll find an array of recipes from the virtuous to the not so wholesome. I high five The Vegan Beauty Queen when she says that there’s not much out there that’s ‘healthy but doesn’t taste like a foot’ because I think she may be right.

I looked at a few recipes and whilst Deliciously Ella’s lemon and cardamom pancakes sounded amazing, I don’t have many of the ingredients in the house as I haven’t entered the terrain of buckwheat and brown rice flour just yet and possibly never will. Let’s just say it’s highly unlikely that I’ll be going gluten free anytime soon. Having said that, I do live with a couple of fitness junkies so thankfully I had access to the plant milk, flax seed and wholemeal flour needed as I sure as hell wasn’t going out again in this weather.

I decided to go with a recipe from the ever reliable Jamie Oliver. His recipe is actually for vegan blueberry pancakes but I decided to swap the fruit for a homemade apple and kohlrabi puree because a. I had leftovers and b. I like to be different – maybe it’s the Aquarian in me. The idea was to serve said pancakes with toasted almonds and cinnamon.

The reason there is no photo of the pancakes is because they were a DISASTER. I’m not quite sure what went wrong (Jamie’s recipe was for four people so I halved it for (not so) little me thinking I’d have enough for leftovers. I used lots of coconut to coat the pan but the batter wouldn’t come unstuck, both literally and metaphorically. I made two pathetic little patties, which weren’t actually that awful, and remorsefully scoffed these down (I hate food waste) with the puree and the toasted almonds.

At least the puree was tasty (just chop kohlrabi and apple, add to a pan with water, some sugar and a teaspoon of allspice and cook, blending if you prefer a smoother consistency) but I now have a load of washing up to do and nothing to show for it. C’est la vie, eh? My landlady will at least be forever happy that her kitchen ceiling remains unscathed by pancake batter.

Jamie’s recipe is here if you’d like to try it; you can’t do a worse job than me.

Chinese New Year

Happy Chinese New Year! Well, it’s nice to have something to celebrate on a Monday, isn’t it?

2016 is all about the monkey, which is thought to be one of the unluckiest years in the Chinese calendar. It’s possible that this only applies to new parents as people born in the year of the monkey are characterised as lively and mischievous so anyone expecting the pitter patter of little feet could well have their work cut out. Sometimes it’s good to be single.

People across the world might be welcoming in the New Year with a party, but as Storm Imogen is blowing a gale outside, I’m hunkering down with a blanket and a bowl of steaming vegetables.

I’m pretty tired tonight and in need of a vitamin boost after a day of meetings, black coffee and biscuits – unfortunately most brands of ginger nuts and bourbon creams are vegan friendly; otherwise I’d be skinnier. This simple stir fry is super quick to assemble and cook, and really healthy too. I did mine with spiralised carrots and cucumber but obviously any rice or noodles go equally well – but remember, that the meal will take a little longer to make if you’re using these.

IMG_7193

 

Serves one

Half an aubergine (I used one from a mini pack of four which I bought reduced in M&S)

Half a green pepper, sliced into strips

Two spring onions, thinly sliced

A handful of tenderstem broccoli (although the regular sort is fine)

50g (or a large handful if you can’t be bothered weighing) of cashew nuts

A quarter of a cucumber, diced

Two carrots/half a cucumber (or rice or noodles if you’re using them)

One green or red chilli, thinly sliced

A 2-3 cm piece of fresh ginger, grated

The juice of half a lime

Four tablespoons of soy sauce

A teaspoon of sesame seeds

Two tablespoons of sesame oil

A clove of garlic, thinly sliced or grated

A few coriander leaves, roughly chopped (optional)

 

First of all, prepare your aubergine: slice into thin strips and place in a bowl containing a mixture of the soy sauce, lime juice, ginger and half the chilli. Coat each aubergine strip in the sauce so that it is absorbed and sprinkle over the sesame seeds. Stir the aubergine and sauce mixture. You can start cooking the aubergine as soon as you like but the longer you leave it, the more the flavours will develop so I’d recommend going away to do something for half an hour or so.

When you’re ready to cook, heat a wok on a high temperature and when hot add the oil. Add the aubergine to the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes then add the spring onions, broccoli, garlic and the rest of the chilli. If the sesame seeds stick to the wok, add a bit of water. After a couple of minutes, add the green pepper and the cucumber.

Finally, chuck in the cashew nuts and quickly spiralise the carrots and cucumber (or use a vegetable peeler to make thin strips) and add to the wok. Cook everything for another couple of minutes then serve in a dish with the coriander if you’re using it. You might want to add a touch more soy sauce, lime juice and sesame seeds (or chilli sauce/oil if you have it) but otherwise you’re good to go. Chopsticks are, of course, optional.

Cooking with kholrabi

I love Laura. No, this isn’t a confessional post; I’m just a big fan of Laura’s, the popular greengrocer’s in Canton. I go there every week to stock up on green goodies and the other day picked up a kohlrabi. It’s only a few months ago that I discovered this root vegetable and tonight is the first time I’ve cooked with it, although it’s actually pretty delicious eaten raw.

IMG_7160
This is a kohlrabi

This weekend has been very hard on my liver (hen dos will do that to a girl) and tonight I fancied something wholesome. This warm winter salad is comfortingly carby but not too stodgy, and combines crunch with sharp and sweet flavours. It’s also very pretty to look at – oh hello there, Instagram…

It’s a very easy meal to make and I managed to assemble it whilst chatting on Skype to my friend Avis who lives in Norway.

No wine tonight but I reckon this would be perfect as part of a relaxed Sunday roast with friends over a bottle of red. Had I been able to get blood oranges at Laura’s today (maybe they were there and I was too hungover to notice) I would have added these as I think they’d go really well. You could also use celeriac if you can’t get your hands on kohlrabi. And you can always add quinoa or rice to bulk it up.

 

Serves one (or two as a side dish)

Half a kohlrabi thinly sliced

Half a fennel bulb thinly sliced

Half a head of cauliflower cut into florets

Half a head of radicchio roughly sliced

A handful of kale leaves roughly sliced

Half an apple (I used Cox but any variety will do) thinly sliced

Three dessert spoons of flaked almonds

Two dessert spoons of pomegranate seeds (optional)

Four teaspoons of coconut oil

A teaspoon of dried cinnamon

A teaspoon of cumin seeds (although you could use the powder version)

Half a lemon

 

Preheat the oven to 200C (I’ve got a fan oven so you might want to raise the temperature if you’re using a gas or electric one) and soften one teaspoon of coconut oil in an oven dish. Place the cauliflower and fennel in the dish and add half the spices and another teaspoon of coconut oil. After 10-15 minutes, place the kohlrabi and apple in a separate dish with the remainder of the coconut oil and spices and cook for 20-25 minutes.

Meanwhile, slice and de-seed your pomegranate (or if you’re using a packet you can chill, wash up, drink wine etc.) and prepare your kale and radicchio. When the root vegetables are cooked, turn off the oven and heat two deep pans on the hob. In one, add a little bit of coconut oil and stir fry the kale and radicchio for about 3-4 minutes. In the other, toast the almonds for 2-3 minutes, being careful not to let them burn.

Place the leaves in a bowl, top with the root vegetables (which should still be warm from the oven) and finally sprinkle on the almonds and pomegranate seeds and finish with a squeeze of lemon juice. I added a pinch of pink Himalayan salt but only because I bought it today and was excited to use it.

IMG_7176

So there you go: a suitably simple Sunday supper. I like alliteration so sue me.

Quick courgetti

Rather unexpectedly, I’ve had a relatively pain-free January. The first day of February, however, was not the finest. Nothing bad happened; it was just a bit rubbish. And to soothe my violently bad temper (dearest colleagues, please forgive me) I snacked. A lot. So when I got home at nearly 8pm, I wasn’t hugely hungry but I wanted something comforting but also healthy. So I made courgetti.

Now courgetti, we all know, is a great divider. The spiralisers amongst us may think it’s the best thing since (gluten free) sliced bread, but the foodies frown at it. I neither love nor hate it but then I’ve often been accused of sitting on the fence. I’m no carb avoider but sometimes it’s nice to have something a bit lighter.

My little sofa supper took all of five minutes to make from bits and bobs in the fridge. Plus, it’s not that virtuous as I paired it with a glass of red – hey, I’ve had a crappy day and anyway, it’s my birthday tomorrow.

Here’s my recipe to try. I like how the slight bitterness of the fennel complements the sweetness of the sundried tomatoes but you could use leeks instead or anything that’s lurking in the salad drawer.

IMG_7063

(Serves one)

Ingredients

One medium courgette

Half a small head of broccoli (cut into florets)

Half a fennel bulb

A handful of pine nuts

Four or five sundried tomatoes

Two teaspoons of capers

A sprig of rosemary although you can use any dried herbs

A pinch of chilli flakes

Half a lemon

A glug of olive oil plus extra for serving

 

Method

Heat a deep based pan on and add the oil. Cook the broccoli for a few minutes on a medium heat, turning occasionally.

Add the pine nuts to the pan as well as the chilli flakes and rosemary or whichever herbs you prefer. If you have a spiraliser, use this to make the courgetti, although you can also use a vegetable peeler. Add this to the pan and shave strips from the base of the fennel bulb using a peeler.

Roughly chop the sundried tomatoes and add these and the capers to the pan and cook for two minutes.

Chuck it all in a bowl and season with more olive oil, black pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice. Serve with a large glass of red (optional).