Last Christmas

Happy Boxing Day. Hopefully you’re all enjoying these few days of feasting and relaxation with your loved ones. You might be reading this with a hangover from the excess festive food and drink – and the sad news that George Michael, a tremendous talent and all-round nice guy, has died, aged only 53. If 2016 has taught us anything, it’s that life really is bloody short. As Wham! told us again and again: choose life. Go places, see things, live, love, eat, drink, and be merry – and have that second biscuit.

If you overindulged yesterday (well, of course you did), you might fancy something a bit lighter today. It’s almost inevitable that your fridge is groaning with leftovers too; there’ll almost certainly be some sprouts lurking in the salad drawer. Now, I certainly think that life’s too short to continue with the falsehood that sprouts are the devil’s food. Yes, they’re pretty disgusting when they’re overcooked to mulch but so is anything. Treated with respect (and a bit of imagination), these little bulbs can be transformed into a fresh and vibrant dish. Sprouts come into their own with a bit of sweetness; roast them in maple syrup with cranberries and pecans, or try them in a citrus stir fry.

The main ingredient here is sprouts but you can swap the other ingredients around. Cauliflower would work just as well as the broccoli and you might want to chuck in some grapes or apple if you have any hanging around. And because it’s Boxing Day, you needn’t worry about quantities. Use as much (or as little) of what you want for this recipe – it all depends on how many of you are at the table. This is a quick, no-nonsense dish which you can get onto the table in no time at all and it can be bulked up with microwave rice or a tin of chickpeas.

If you still hate sprouts after trying this, just move on. Carpe diem and all that.

stir-fried-sprouts
Sprouts can be splendid with a little bit of imagination…

Stir-fried sprouts with orange and cashews

 (Serves 2)

 For the stir fry

2-3 handfuls sprouts with the ends removed and finely sliced

2 big handfuls of kale, spinach or other greens

A handful of radishes

A handful of broccoli florets

A handful of cashews

2 teaspoons sesame seeds

1 tablespoon sesame oil (olive oil will do)

 

For the dressing

1 orange, juice and zest

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 inch ginger, peeled and grated or finely sliced

1 chilli, deseeded and finely sliced

 

Method

Heat the oil in a large frying pan or wok. Add the broccoli and cook for 1-2 minutes, then add the other vegetables and the nuts and cook for another 5-6 minutes or so. In a bowl, mix the orange juice and zest with the soy sauce, the chilli and the ginger and in the last minute of cooking, pour over the stir fry and stir. You can also add some of the orange flesh, if you like. When cooked, sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve on its own or with brown rice or whatever you fancy.

Festive fodder

Bah humbug no more. As we all know, 2016 has been a dark year. In the spirit of Scrooge, I almost didn’t put up a tree this year. I moaned to my friends that I wasn’t feeling festive and they told to embrace the holiday spirit. So I gritted my teeth, stuck on some carols and got on with it.

I like Christmas, really. When else do you get time off work to lounge around, watch telly and drink fizz at 9am? Festive food is rather different as a vegan, though: goodbye to turkey, cheeseboards and pigs in blankets; hello to dark chocolate, figs and that old chestnut, the nut roast, which like the much maligned sprout, is a much misunderstood meal. It’s long been served up as a meat-free alternative to turkey and can often be dry and flavourless. My dear friend Avis is a veteran vegetarian but she has some pretty strong opinions about nut roasts; in a nutshell, she refuses to eat it.

I’ll admit that in the past, I’ve been dismissive of the old nut roast and for my first vegan Christmas last year, I plumped for Anna Jones’ delicious squash galette. This time round though, my mum wants nut roast and that’s what she’ll get. I’ve put together this recipe using chestnuts, lentils, cranberries and apricots. It’s a doddle to make and can be assembled on Christmas Eve if needs be.

Serve with roasted root veg, red cabbage, and my recipe for maple and cinnamon roasted sprouts with pecans and cranberries – see below.

Christmassy chestnut and cranberry roast

 Ingredients

100g chestnuts, chopped

50g dried cranberries

30g dried apricots

2 x 400g cans lentils

1 large carrot, grated

1 apple, grated

2 stalks celery, finely chopped

3 shallots or one large onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced or finely chopped

2 teaspoons fresh thyme

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons maple syrup

2 tablespoons olive oil

Method

Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease a 9×5-inch loaf pan, and then line it with a piece of parchment paper cut to fit the length of the pan. Rinse and drain the lentils in a colander then add them into a large bowl and mash the lentils with a potato masher. The goal is to create a lentil paste while still leaving about 1/3 of the lentils intact.

Add the oil into a large pan, and increase the heat to medium. Stir in the shallots or onion and garlic and season with a pinch or two of salt. Cook for 4-5 minutes until the onion softens.

Stir in the celery and carrot, and continue cooking for another few minutes. Now stir in the grated apple, dried cranberries and apricots, thyme, oregano, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and black pepper. Cook for a few more minutes.

Stir the chestnuts into the mashed lentils mixture and add the balsamic vinegar and maple syrup, then stir in all of the veggie mixture until combined. If the mixture seems dry, add a tablespoon or two of water and mix again.

Press all of the lentil loaf mixture into the prepared loaf pan. Pack it down as firmly as you can as this will help it hold together after cooling.

Bake the lentil loaf, uncovered for 50 to 60 minutes until the edges start to darken and the loaf is semi-firm to the touch. Place the loaf pan directly onto a cooling rack for 15 minutes. Then, slide a knife around the ends to loosen, and carefully lift out the loaf (using the parchment paper as “handles”) and place it directly onto the cooling rack for another 30 minutes.

After cooling, carefully slice the loaf into slabs. Serve immediately. The loaf will continue to firm up as it cools. Some crumbling is normal if sliced while warm.

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Not as pretty as it could look, but trust me; it’s delicious

 

 

Maple roasted sprouts with pecans and cranberries

Ingredients

350g sprouts

75g pecans

50g dried cranberries

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons maple syrup

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

2 teaspoons cinnamon

Method

Preheat the oven to 180C. In a large bowl, mix the oil, maple syrup, vinegar and cinnamon. Cut off the end of the sprouts and the immediate outer leaves. Slice in half, add to the bowl and mix thoroughly so that the sprouts are all coated in the maple dressing. Place in an oven dish and roast for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and add the pecans and the cranberries and cook for another 15-20 minutes.

 

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Guaranteed to convert even the most hardened of sprout haters…

 

 

 

 

 

The avocado emoji has arrived!

Call me basic but I’ve been waiting with baited breath for the avocado emoji to arrive (yes, really) and now it has, I’m a happy woman. At last, I can express my love for this green goddess of a fruit without actually having to say anything.

I see this as a prime opportunity to share with you my favourite (and very predicable for me) foodstuff: the ubiquitous avocado on toast. Now, I know this isn’t a recipe per se – and people got into a right pickle when Nigella dared to share her avo toast last year – but there are many ways to enjoy this easy, healthy (and darned delicious) snack. Of course, you can simply dish up your avocado with a pinch of salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice but I like to do things differently… Read on if you’re after some avo #inspo – LOL.

Avocado on toast with ginger and chilli

When Nigella shared this ‘recipe’ for this on Simply Nigella, the nation really did get its knickers in a twist. It was like Delia and boiled-egg-gate all over again. The thing is, Nigella has changed the way I’ll eat avocado forever because ginger and chilli (while perfectly delicious) are two things I would never have thought to serve with my brunch. Well, this works a treat. Here’s my take on Nigella’s toast – so to speak.

Simply toast your bread, peel and grate an inch or so of fresh ginger and thinly slice half a chilli. Mash half an avocado and mix in the ginger and chilli, then add a squeeze of lime juice and a pinch of salt or a dash of soy sauce. Serve on its own or with some spinach and sauerkraut if you’re feeling particularly healthy and/or smug. Alternatively, spread onto a whopping big crumpet.

healthy  crumpet

 

Avocado on toast with Marmite and peanut butter

Trust me; this is a dream. And it’s especially good if you have a hangover as the salty flavour of the Marmite is offset by the creamy mellowness of the avocado and the richness of the peanut butter. Umami, innit.

Toast your bread. Spread on as much Marmite as you can manage (this will depend on the degree of your hangover and/or your tolerance of the brown stuff) then follow with a liberal amount of peanut butter – the crunchy stuff works best for this. Top with half a mashed or sliced avocado.

PB and marmite2.jpg

 

So this is Christmas

Well, lo and behold, Christmas is around the corner. I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel very festive this year. A lot of us will be glad to see the back of 2016 and after all that’s happened, we might wonder why we’re bothering to celebrate. We’re faced with a ridiculous pressure to spend money, go to parties and buy presents that no one really wants. Christmas can be a very special time (especially for kids) but we often get caught up in its consumerism and forget what it’s really about: caring for and sharing with others, particularly those who really need it.

I don’t really need or want anything so this year I’ve asked my family to give a donation to the Huggard Centre instead of buying me presents. We can all help this Christmas by donating to a local foodbank or buying some extra festive goodies when shopping and leaving them at supermarket drop-off points. A box of mince pies and a Terry’s chocolate orange is bound to make someone’s Christmas a little bit nicer.

If you’re lucky, it’s likely that you’ll find a Terry’s chocolate orange at the bottom of your stocking so I’ve tried to recreate that Christmas morning magic with my recipe for dark chocolate orange brownies. Baking them fills the house with the smell of Yuletide and will make even the soberest of Scrooges smile nostalgically. If all else fails, this playlist might instil a bit of cheer. Things can only get better in 2017.

These brownies are gluten free, although you can use ordinary plain flour if you prefer. And if you’re allergic to nuts, substitute the ground almonds with the equivalent amount of flour.

Chocolate brownies 2.jpg
They’re not Terry’s…

Dark chocolate orange brownies

Ingredients

  • 200g dark chocolate
  • 100g ground almonds
  • 75g rice flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 3 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 ½ oranges, juice and zest
  • 2 tbsp date/maple syrup
  • 300ml almond, soya or oat milk

Method

Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Break 150g of the chocolate into small pieces and place into a microwaveable bowl. Heat on medium power at 60-second intervals until melted. Set aside and allow to cool. Sieve the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and cocoa powder into a large bowl. Add the ground almonds (if using), the date syrup, orange zest and juice, almond milk and a pinch of salt, and stir well. Now, add the melted chocolate and the remainder of the chocolate, cut into small chunks, and stir into the mixture.

Grease a square baking tin (roughly 20cm) with a little oil and line with greaseproof paper. Pour the brownie mixture into the tin and spread out evenly. Bake for about 20 to 25 minutes until cooked on the outside but still gooey in the middle. Leave to cool for about 5 minutes then turn out into a wire cooling rack. These will keep in an airtight container for 3-4 days, although they’re so deliciously moreish they might not last that long…