Autumn sweater

We haven’t heard the last swansong of summer just yet, but there’s definitely a chill in the air. Last week, I wore a jumper for the first time in months, and I was almost tempted to put the heating on.

The nights may be drawing in, but the sun’s still shining. It’s not quite the weather for comfort food but autumn’s harvest is in abundance. I know it’s a bit basic to quote a certain Keats poem, but it really is a ‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’, and I’m trying to make the most of root veg, blackberries, apples and plump plums.

My work-life balance isn’t too healthy at the moment and I haven’t had much time to cook, so I’ve come up with some easy no-cook meals using seasonal ingredients.

There’s a colourful autumn salad with blackberries (if you don’t have time to go picking, or don’t live close to where they grow, just buy them from the supermarket or greengrocer) and a celeriac and white bean dip which makes a tasting topping for toast, sandwiches and baked potatoes.

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Autumnal salad with kale, walnuts and blackberries

 

Serves 3-4

 

Ingredients

1 x 180g bag pre-cut kale (or buy the leaves and roughly chop), rinsed and drained

The juice of 2 lemons

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

A generous pinch of sea salt

2 parsnips, peeled and grated

2 small apples, cored and thinly sliced

1 x 400g can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

100g blackberries

100g walnuts

 

For the blackberry vinaigrette

100g blackberries

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp balsamic or apple cider vinegar

1 tbsp caster sugar

A generous pinch of sea salt

 

Put the kale in a large bowl and add 3 tbsp olive oil, the juice of 1 lemon and some salt. Using your hands, massage the kale until each leaf is covered in the mixture. Add the grated parsnip, the sliced apple and the chickpeas, then cover with 1 tbsp olive oil, the rest of the lemon juice and a little more salt. Massage again to combine all the ingredients. Scatter over the blackberries and walnuts.

Quickly make the vinaigrette by placing all the ingredients in a bowl and blending using a hand-held mixer (or put them in a food processor or blender). Serve the salad and drizzle over the vinaigrette.

 

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Celeriac and white bean dip

 

Makes one large bowl

 

Ingredients

Half a large celeriac (around 200g), peeled and grated

1 x 400g can cannellini beans (chickpeas or butter beans will also work well), rinsed and drained

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

1-2 cloves garlic, peeled

The juice of 1 lemon

1 tbsp tahini

1 tsp dried thyme

Salt and pepper

 

Simply put all the ingredients into a bowl and blend using a hand-held mixer – or pop them into a food processor or blender and blitz. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of thyme.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back to school

It definitely feels like the start of the school term. It’s back to business as usual and summer will soon feel like a lifetime ago (I write this on a grey and drizzly evening). It’s also a time of new beginnings: my nephew is off to sixth form college and my stepdaughter (I hate that term, but what else do I use?) is starting secondary school.

Change is usually a good thing, although perhaps not in parliament as we face yet another general election. Boris is throwing all of his toys out of the pram and breaking news alerts either make me want to hide behind the sofa or reach for the popcorn as the drama unfolds. It’s no wonder that many of us want to stick their fingers in their ears, pretend it’s not happening and stick Bake Off on the telly.

Despite my fondness for food, I don’t watch Bake Off, because like Strictly Come Dancing and X Factor, I struggle to find the time to watch it. And because I take an all or nothing approach to life, I know that I’d feel guilty if I missed an episode. The summer before last, experiencing Love Island for the first time, I lost a good few days to watching every single episode. I’m not sure it was worth it, but I’m still a bit sad that Jack and Dani are no longer an item.

Watching a TV programme like Bake Off requires a dedication I simply don’t have. So much time and effort is needed just to keep up with the group chats on Whatsapp or to avoid spoilers on Twitter. It’s just too much of a commitment.

But bake I will, especially when confronted with a fruit bowl full of brown bananas. Some things, like the seasons, never change, and we always have a few sad-looking ones knocking around. No one will eat them and I watch them turn from speckled to almost black. I’m loath to waste food, so they either go in the freezer (they end up in smoothies and porridge) or I make banana bread, which is possibly one of the easiest things one can bake.

This time, I’ve added a bit of cocoa powder and coconut milk (although any plant milk will work) for a richer, squidgier loaf. Yes, there are seven whole bananas in here, but using fewer will also yield sweet results. Enjoy with a cup of tea and a sit down.

 

Chocolate banana bread

 

Chocolate banana bread

 

Makes 1 medium-sized loaf

Ingredients

225g plain flour

2 tsp baking powder

7 very ripe bananas

50ml vegetable, olive, sunflower or coconut oil (plus a little bit extra for greasing the loaf tin)

200ml coconut milk

100g brown sugar

2 tbsp cocoa powder

2 tsp cinnamon

50g chocolate chips or cacoa nibs (optional)

Preheat the oven to 200C. In a large bowl, mash the bananas with a fork, then add the oil and sugar and mix with a wooden spoon. 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. Allow to cool, then serve in slices. This will keep in an airtight container for about two days after baking.

 

Blackberry picking

The last time I posted a recipe on here back in May, it was asparagus season and summer was on the way. As I write this, it’s 1 September, what I think of as the first day of autumn, although summer apparently lasts until 23 September.

It’s a beautiful day and the sun is shining, but the leaves are already falling and plump blackberries are sitting on the hedges, waiting to be eaten. This morning, we walked up Kilvey Hill, somewhere we occasionally go to stretch our legs and look down on Swansea when we get to the top.

Recently, life has become a bit of a juggling act with a new job and a fair bit of freelance work to keep me busy. I’m also developing recipes for a new project, which I’ll be able to share with you soon. I have quite a lot on my plate (don’t we all, though?) and I’ve been feeling quite stressed at times.

One thing that helps me switch off is escaping into the countryside. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: nature can be the best medicine. If I want to stop the whirring thoughts inside my head, I get outside and head for the woods or the beach, and I usually feel ten times better afterwards. Last week, I had an afternoon out with my new work colleagues and went rambling around Llantwit Major, which incidentally is where I was born. It turns out that a combination of fresh air, no WIFI and a hearty meal at the pub is tonic for just about anything.

In the last week, I’ve been out and about blackberry picking. As a city dweller, it’s something I’ve come to late in life, but where we live in Swansea, they’re abundant at this time of year. I’m far too impatient for mindfulness, but picking blackberries does help me be ‘present’ – and stops me looking at my phone.

Now that I’ve started picking, I’ve started to notice other ‘pickers’ on my walks, and we smile at each other, almost conspiratorially. It’s like being in a secret club: if you know, you know. Having said that, blackberry picking is one of the most accessible activities, if you know where to look for them, and who doesn’t like free food? They’re plentiful at this time of year, so head out with a load of Tupperware and pick to your heart’s content. Just remember to be careful of thorns and always wash the berries thoroughly. And if you end up with too much, you can freeze them for eating another time.

So what to do with all those blackberries? You can always make crumble or pie – or you can try my simple no bake mini cheesecakes. I’m a sucker for those little Gu puddings (which I buy as a treat or when they’re on offer) so I used the empty glass pots for these cheesecakes. If you don’t have those, use ramekins or glass tumblers, empty jam jars, or even coffee cups.

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No-bake blackberry cheesecakes

Makes four mini cheesecakes

Ingredients

200g (about half a tub) soya or coconut yogurt

3 tsp vanilla extract

100g Hobnobs or oaty biscuits (about six biscuits)

50g vegan butter or margarine

300g blackberries, washed and drained

50g caster sugar

 

In a small pan, melt the butter over a low heat. Add the biscuits to a large bowl and bash with the end of a rolling pin until you have a crumb-like texture. Add the melted butter and set aside.

Using the same pan, add the blackberries, sugar and 1 tsp vanilla extract and warm over a low heat for about 5 minutes. Leave to cool.

In a large bowl, mix the yogurt with 2 tsp vanilla extract and whip vigorously using a hand whisk.

Take four ramekins and spoon the biscuit mixture into the bottom, making sure to press down firmly. Add a layer of yogurt and top with the blackberries. Eat immediately or chill in the fridge. If covered, these will last a couple of days.