Freekeh Friday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Freekeh salad with asparagus, nectarine and green olives

Freekeh salad with asparagus, nectarine and green olives

 Serves 2

Ingredients

For the salad

100g freekeh

Pinch of sea salt

1 tbsp olive oil

8 asparagus spears, sliced lengthways

2 nectarines, thinly sliced

Half a 340g jar pitted green olives

3-4 handfuls spinach leaves

2 handfuls unsalted almonds (optional)

 

For the dressing

The juice of 1 and ½ lemons

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp dried mint (or oregano)

½ tsp chilli flakes

½ tsp sea salt

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

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Inner stew

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

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

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

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

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Summer stew with courgettes, asparagus and peas

Summer stew

Serves 4

Ingredients

2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

2 shallots, peeled and diced

500ml hot stock

100ml oat milk

1-2 tsp white miso paste

400g Jersey royals or new potatoes, quartered

100g asparagus, chopped

150g courgettes, diced

100g peas (podded weight), fresh or frozen

1 x 400g can cannellini beans

The juice of 2 lemons

2 bay leaves

1 tbsp olive oil

A handful of fresh mint, chopped

A handful of fresh parsley, chopped

Salt and pepper

 

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

 

 

Gosh!

Hands up if you’re vegan. 🙋🏼‍♀️🙋🏾‍♂️The latest figures show that there are an estimated 3.5 million vegans in the UK (that’s around seven percent of the population), which is an increase of a massive 546% since 2016. Even if you’re if you’re not vegan, I’ll bet that you know someone who is.

Eating fewer animal products is a very popular choice and more people are choosing to ditch the meat a few times a week. Did you know that more than a quarter of all evening meals in the UK are vegan or vegetarian? Once upon a time, convenience food was a bit of a no-go area for plant-eaters, but now we’re spoiled for choice.

There are tempting treats galore for your shopping trolley, but my favourite range has to be Gosh! for its creative approach to flavours. When given the choice between sweet pumpkin and chilli bites, beetroot burgers or butternut, tomato and basil sausages (and that’s just three of their products), what’s a girl to do?

Well, I’m in luck. I’m really pleased to be working as an ambassador for Gosh! which means that I get to try lots of their gorgeous goodies and use them to create easy recipes for you to enjoy.

I’ll be sharing plenty of delicious dishes this summer, but first up is this easy salad which goes just perfectly with Gosh! Moroccan spiced koftas. These veggie ‘meatballs’ are made with chickpeas, red pepper and apricot so they’re full of flavour – and protein, too. When served with this light but zesty salad, it’s the perfect meal for a summer evening. And because all Gosh! products are naturally free-from, this is fully vegan, gluten-free and nut-free, so that everyone can have a taste!

Moroccan spiced koftas with roasted broccoli, quinoa and orange
Moroccan spiced koftas with roasted broccoli, quinoa and orange

 

Moroccan spiced koftas with roasted broccoli, quinoa and orange

(Serves 2-3)

 

Ingredients

1 packet Gosh! Moroccan spiced koftas

1 head broccoli, broken into florets

200g quinoa, rinsed and drained

3-4 handfuls spinach

2 red or green peppers, cut into medium-sized chunks

A punnet of cherry tomatoes, halved

Half a cucumber, diced

1 orange, divided into segments and chopped

A large handful of flat leaf parsley

The juice of 2 lemons

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

5-6 tbsp tahini (optional)

2 tsp sumac (optional)

Salt and pepper

 

Preheat the oven to 200C. Bring a pan of salted water to the boil, then add the quinoa and cook over a medium heat for 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large oven dish, spread out the broccoli florets and peppers and pour over half the lemon juice and the sumac, if using. Season with salt and pepper and place in the oven for 10-15 minutes. Remove from the oven, add the koftas and cook for another 10 minutes.

When the quinoa is cooked, drain and set aside. In a large bowl, massage the spinach leaves with half of the remainder of the lemon juice, a little oil and some salt. Add lemon juice and olive oil to the quinoa and stir, then add the cucumber, tomatoes, orange and parsley. Add this mixture to the spinach leaves with the roasted broccoli and peppers. Divide between plates and serve with the koftas. Drizzle over some tahini, if you like.

 

 

 

 

Park House Restaurant

I’d never normally put vegan and fine dining in the same sentence  – or so I thought. Then I tried the tasting menu at Park House Restaurant in Cardiff, and let me tell you, it changed everything.

These days, it’s so much easier to eat out as a vegan – I mean, we can even go to Nando’s – and we enjoy delicious meals at restaurants up and down the country, but it’s hardly haute cuisine. And that’s fine by me because that’s not the kind of food I want to eat every day.

For a special occasion though, and especially if your meat-eating friends want a slap-up meal, options can be a bit thin on the ground if you’re not a carnivore. Fortunately for us friends of the animals, fancy restaurants are starting realise that vegans like food, too.

I really like food and I really liked the dishes at Park House Restaurant, and as with all good restaurants, there’s an emphasis on using quality seasonal ingredients that are locally sourced. Any chef worth his or her salt can create something exquisite with vegetables and chef patron Andrew Frost is la crème de la crème of the Welsh culinary world so we’re in safe hands. My friend Cara had the regular menu and was just as impressed, and we enjoyed every morsel of our eight (yes, eight!) courses.

6.Heritage carrots with ras el hanout, grilled vegan halloumi and local sea herbs
This photo really doesn’t do justice to this plate of perfection.

The menu changes weekly (which makes sense with all the lovely seasonal veg that’s around) but here’s what I ate when I visited last week:

  1. Leek and wild garlic veloutte

This was the perfect start to the meal and came with bread and some amazing garlic and lemon ‘butter’.

  1. Heritage tomato (cannelloni – capers)

The cutest little cannelloni with juicy tomatoes and tart capers.

  1. Cardiff salad (mixed vegetables and black garlic).

This came from just down the road in Bute Park and was simple and delicious.

  1. Pertuis asparagus (morels and vin jaune jus)

The asparagus hailed all the way from the town of Pertuis in Provence and was served with morels, a type of funghi, and a jus that tasted just like heaven.

  1. Fricassee of beans and peas with garlic

A goddess of green goodness. Very, very moreish.

  1. Heritage carrots with ras el hanout, grilled vegan halloumi and local sea herbs

The star of the show – and yes, vegan halloumi is pretty swell, especially with all these flavours.

  1. Rhubarb with Brecon gin sorbet

Two of my favourite things combined in a dessert. Sharply sweet and refreshing.

  1. Apple tart tatin

Just lovely, especially when served with vegan vanilla ice cream.

At £75, it’s not cheap – and it costs the same as the regular menu which obviously contains meat – so I can understand why some vegans won’t want to fork out that much money. But when you take into account the cost of running a restaurant (paying staff wages, rent, ingredients etc.), and the skill involved, it seems a fair price to pay. You can also try the five-course tasting menu for £55.

So yes, it’s a treat (and full disclosure: I didn’t have to pay for this) but like the food, the service is exquisite, so you’re paying for an experience. It’s a grand old building, too (Grade 1 listed), so it’s the perfect place to be wined and dined. If you’re celebrating or simply want to spoil yourself with some vegan fine dining, book a table – you won’t be disappointed.

Park House Restaurant is at 20 Park Place, Cardiff CF10 3DQ.

https://www.parkhouserestaurant.co.uk