Pembrokeshire Street Food Festival

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Next weekend sees Pembrokeshire Street Food Festival (14-16 June) return to Tenby for another year, and I for one can’t wait.

There’s something to suit everyone’s tastes – from ​grilled cheese sandwiches​ to ​scrumptious pakoras​ and deliciousice cream​.And if you don’t eat meat, dairy or eggs, you can still enjoy a variety of delicious dishes.

Here’s my guide to enjoying the festival as a vegetarian or vegan.

If you’re vegan, head to these stands…

Ice Green

Hands up if you want creamy, dreamy (and dairy free) ice cream. Roll up for Ice Green! Everything scooped up from Amy and Josh’s vintage 1960s caravan is all vegan and gluten free – and delicious to boot. My favourite flavour is the triple choc brownie.

Pakora Pod

This street food truck travels across the UK, dishing up curries and pakoras that are free from wheat, gluten, nuts, eggs and dairy – and every last bite is delicious.

Chai Street

Chai Street has restaurants across Cardiff and also cooks up delicious Indian-inspired dishes from its trusty van. A lot of the options are vegan and vegetarian friendly, too.

Pink Peppercorn

Enjoy traditional Welsh and British recipes with a modern twist. Owners Alex and Rachel have eaten their way across the world, but home is where the heart is, and you can taste that in their food. The cawlzotto (yes, that’s cawl and risotto) is truly delicious.

Makasih

Makasih brings you the taste of Malaysia, including a few meat-free dishes, including the Malay vegan curry. Yum.

Bao Selecta

Tasty Taiwanse treats in the form of small but sumptuous bao buns. Vegans can opt for crispy ‘fish’ or jackfruit with black beans, which taste as heavenly as they sound.

Modo Italian

Southern Italian dishes come to Tenby in the shape of fried pizza and arancini. Formerly known as Fritti, Modo Italian is an award-winning street vendor, and there’s even a vegan pizza on the menu.

If you’re vegetarian, you can enjoy all of the above as well as…

Gourmet Street Kitchen

Mac and cheese is having a moment and it’s no wonder when it’s as good as this. Choose from a variety of different versions of everyone’s favourite comfort food.

Clark’s Kitchen

They describe themselves as fully-fledged members of the hallouminati. If you’re a fan of squeaky cheese, you need to try it in the form of fries, wraps, burgers – or all three.

Enjoy your food with an ice-cold pint of ​Tenby Harbwr craft beer​ or a minty mojito​ from the ​Pop Up Bar Hire Company.

This year, vendors at Pembrokeshire Street Food Festival are reducing their carbon footprint by using biodegradable, sustainable and environmentally friendly packaging.

The event is sponsored by Encona, the UK’s number one hot pepper sauce brand, the festival is completely ​free​ and ​family friendly​.

Register for your free tickets here.

For more information on the event, check out Swansea Street Food’s FacebookTwitter and Instagram accounts.

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Eat your greens

You know it’s peak asparagus season when it’s all you can see as you thumb your way  through Instagram.

We’ve reached the end of what farmers call the hungry gap, when, in early spring, there is little fresh produce available. That period is well and truly over, with greens lining up on the shelves of our greengrocers: watercress, cucumber, leeks, spring greens, and my favourite, asparagus. They’re often regarded as a delicacy, but these stubborn little spears are a hardy lot and will generally stick around in the salad drawer for a good week or so.

Spring is definitely here (how can it be mid-May already?) and as the days get longer and temperatures rise, I want to cook easy meals with fresh flavours.

Asparagus season comes but once a year, so I’m making the most of these green shoots while I can. Instead of boiling, I prefer to pan fry them in a little olive oil with salt and pepper and a generous squeeze of lemon juice.

Asparagus works well in most dishes, from pasta to pastry, and because of its robust flavour and texture, it will often take the starring role alongside other ingredients.

This simple risotto takes under half an hour to cook and uses buckwheat (which contains 13.25g of protein per 100g – that’s more than eggs) instead of rice. The wild garlic adds a sweetly mellow flavour, but it’ll be gone in the next few weeks, so two cloves of garlic will also do the trick.

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Buckwheat risotto with asparagus, spinach and wild garlic. Captured hanging out of our kitchen window for optimal daylight (we don’t have a garden).

 Buckwheat risotto with asparagus, spinach and wild garlic

 

Serves 2

Ingredients

150g buckwheat, rinsed and drained

8-10 asparagus spears, ends removed and roughly chopped

500ml vegetable stock

Half a leek, diced (or use half an onion, peeled and diced)

3-4 wild garlic leaves, roughly chopped (keep the edible flowers for a garnish)

3-4 large handfuls spinach

The juice of 1 lemon

A pinch of chilli flakes (optional)

1 tbsp olive oil

Salt and pepper

A few leaves of fresh mint, roughly chopped

 

Heat the oil in a large pan, then add the leek and sauté for 3 minutes. Add the wild garlic and the chilli flakes and cook on a medium heat for a further 2 minutes. In a separate pan, fry the asparagus in a little oil; do this over a medium heat for around 10 minutes.

Add the buckwheat to the pan and mix well, coating each grain in oil – add a little extra if necessary. Add a ladleful of the hot stock to the pearl barley and stir well. Bring to a simmer as the liquid is absorbed by the rice.  Continue adding more stock, a ladleful at a time, letting the buckwheat absorb it gradually; do this for about 15 minutes, until soft.

Add the cooked asparagus to the pan with the spinach, lemon juice and salt and pepper and stir until the spinach has wilted. Turn off the heat and stir through the chopped mint. Squeeze over some more lemon juice and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, if you like, and decorate with the wild garlic flowers. Add a smattering of sunflower seeds for extra bite.

 

Swansea Street Food Festival 2019

Anyone who knows me can tell you that I like to eat, so I was really pleased when I was invited to review Swansea Street Food Festival, which is sponsored by Encona sauces. Thankfully for me, street food isn’t just beef brisket and chicken wings, so armed with a checklist of vegan-friendly traders, I arrived bright and early (and hungry) on a sunny Saturday.

The festival coincided with Swansea Pride and there was a warm and friendly atmosphere with lots of smiley, happy people having a good time.

 

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After a look around the festival, my tummy was rumbling, so I got in line for some tacos from The Bearded Taco. I’d seen photos of the ‘let’s avo cwtch’ tacos plastered across my Instagram feed, but still hadn’t got my greedy paws on them. I’m pleased to say that they are worthy of all the hype. How could you not enjoy gin and tonic tempura avocado with lemon and agave slaw, vegan chipotle aioli and coriander? So. Bloody. Delicious.

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Next up was Vegan Ice Green for, you’ve guessed it, vegan ice cream. I’ve long been a fan of Amy and Josh’s dreamy, creamy cones, and I swear, you’d never guess that it’s dairy-free. The chocolate brownie is my favourite flavour, but for a change, I went for the carrot cake and I’m glad that I did. It was really sweet and chewy thanks to the raisins and nuts.

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I needed a bit of a break from eating, so I went for a coffee and a wander. The sun was still out in the evening, making it the perfect weather for an ice cold beer. I grabbed a can of Kona Brewing Big Wave from The Pop Up Bar Hire Co and a snack from Pakora Pod, where everything is vegan, gluten and nut free. The pakora wrap (a cauliflower pakora with salad, tomato salsa and Jaipur stew, topped with dairy-free yogurt and sweet chilli sauce) was just lovely.

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There’s only so much I can eat, but because I live in Swansea, I came back on the bank holiday Monday. The temperature had dropped quite a bit and it was very busy, so it wasn’t quite the same experience as the first day, but we still enjoyed it.

I queued for half an hour for a Mr Croquewich toasted sandwich, only to find out that they’d run out of vegan cheese (I was a bit sad, but I guess it’s a sign that vegans are eating all the vegan cheese, eh?), so headed to Murray May’s, who do some amazing things with a grill. Last year, I fell in love with the cauliflower kebab, so I had it again, but this time as a mezze box. The combination of grilled, spiced cauliflower, tahini sauce and date molasses is hella good.

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I don’t deal very well with cold weather and my fingertips were numb by this point, so sadly we had to leave. I definitely ate well over the weekend though, and it was great to see so many people enjoying themselves at this family-friendly event (dogs were also welcome!). Thank you to the organisers for inviting me to join them!

The street food festival is run by Street Food Warehouse who are running another three festivals in Wales this summer. They are:

Register for your free tickets and keep your eyes peeled for my vegan and veggie guide to Pembrokeshire Street Food Festival.

 

 

Swansea Street Food Festival

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The Easter weekend may almost be over, but there’s another bank holiday weekend just around the corner… It’s a little over ten days until Swansea Street Food Festival (4-6 May) returns to Museum Park – and it’s set to be a weekend to remember.

With over 25 street food stalls, there’s something to suit everyone’s tastes – from​ vegan friendly grilled cheese sandwiches​ to​ scrumptious pakoras​ and delicious vegan ice cream. It’s not all burgers and pulled pork sandwiches, so if you prefer to eat kindly, you can enjoy a variety of vegan and vegetarian cuisines from all over the world.

Here’s my guide to enjoying the festival as a vegetarian or vegan.

If you’re vegan, head to these stands…

Ice Green

Husband and wife team, Amy and Josh, make some of the best ice cream around – and it’s all vegan and gluten free – from a vintage 1960s caravan. My favourite flavour is the triple choc brownie. Drool.

Pakora Pod

This street food truck travels across the UK, dishing up curries and pakoras that are free from wheat, gluten, nuts, eggs and dairy – and every last bite is delicious.

Mr Croquewich

Say bonjour to Mr Croquewich, who does a special cheese toastie for us vegans. I can’t wait to eat at least three of these.

Chai Street

Chai Street has restaurants across Cardiff and also cooks up delicious Indian-inspired dishes from its trusty van. A lot of the options are vegan and vegetarian friendly, too.

Makasih

Makasih brings you the taste of Malaysia, including a few meat-free dishes, like the Malay vegan curry. Yum.

Murray May’s

If you want a classier kebab, you’ve come to the right place. Everything is cooked on a grill from a converted ambulance – and the vegan cauliflower kebab with tahini and date molasses is out-of-this-world amazing.

The Bearded Taco

You’ve guessed it, these guys make tacos – and they’re seriously good ones, too. Sian and Jake travel around in Contessa, a converted police riot wagon (yes, really), and best of all, their tempura avocado taco can be made vegan.

If you’re vegetarian, you can enjoy all of the above as well as…

Clark’s Kitchen

They describe themselves as fully-fledged members of the hallouminati. If you’re a fan of squeaky cheese, you need to try it in the form of fries, wraps, burgers – or all three.

Monte Forte

If you want a pizza the action, meet Paolo and Luca, two brothers with a passion for food. They bake all their pizzas from a wood-fired oven, and there are plenty of veggie options for you to enjoy.

Modo Italian

Southern Italian dishes come to Swansea in the shape of fried pizza and arancini – and many of them are suitable for vegetarians. Formerly known as Fritti, Modo Italian is an award-winning street vendor so you’re in for a treat.

Whatever you’re eating, enjoy your food with an ice-cold pint of ​Tenby Harbwr craft beer ​or a zesty mojito ​from the ​Pop Up Bar Hire Company​.

This year, many vendors at Swansea Street Food Festival are reducing their carbon footprint by using biodegradable, sustainable and environmentally friendly packaging.

The event is sponsored by Encona, the UK’s number one hot pepper sauce brand, and the festival is ​free​ and​ family friendly​.

Register for your free tickets here.

See you there!

For more information on the event, check out Swansea Street Food’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.

 

Spring fever

We’re slowly inching away from the cold, dark months of winter, but I’m not quite full of the joys of spring. That could be because it’s been rainy and windy for the last three days or because I’ve been feeling rundown and unwell, but I don’t think that’s it.

Maybe I just need some pie. It’s British Pie Week, another week for another foodstuff, but if there was ever a time for comfort food, this is it. While Brexit rages on, climate change is more apparent than ever (hello, February heatwave) and the number of students in the UK learning a foreign language has nearly halved. Personally, I think our governments need a generous slice of humble pie.

Over the past few months, freelancing has started to chip away at my general wellbeing and I’m starting to wonder whether it’s all it’s cracked up to be. It’s great to have freedom, but that’s not much compensation when you’re chasing yet another outstanding invoice and trying to keep your many ‘bosses’ sweet. If you like structure, this isn’t the life for you.

I thought self-employment would mean endless coffee dates but most of my friends live in Cardiff and I just don’t have the time most weeks. When I do meet a pal during the day, it’s almost guaranteed that an ‘urgent’ email will come through, and when any work is money, it’s hard to say no.  If I do take a break for a few hours to catch up with a friend or go to the gym or for a walk, it feels like I’m mitching from school, and I’m constantly checking my phone to make sure that I haven’t missed anything. It’s difficult to enjoy yourself when you feel that you should be working.

So, work is busy but life is pretty quiet when you don’t go have a 9-5 office job. Some days, my only interactions are with Bobbie, our kitten, the staff at the Starbucks across the road (haters gonna hate, but there isn’t an independent coffee shop nearby and sometimes I need to get out of the flat to work) or the occasional work-related phone call.

Happily, I’m working on a few food-related projects, but they don’t pay the bills, so I don’t always have that much time (or money) to cook fancy meals or eat out. And as I’ve mentioned before, I live with a pair of fussy eaters, who don’t like anything out of the ordinary, which is why I like to have friends over for dinner!

Sure, I get asked to try vegan food at restaurants in return for a blog or Instagram post (and I realise that’s a pretty jammy situation to be in), but I turn down as many invitations as I accept because I can’t justify taking time out my working day to travel to Cardiff just for a meal.

Anyway, it’s British Pie Week (not an ad), and by sheer coincidence I baked a pie using up leftovers from the fridge just last week. This one’s really simple to make, especially as it uses ready-made pastry. All you need to do is prepare the filling cover with pastry and pop it in the oven. Mine came out looking a little less than perfect (all my food looks rustic when it’s unfiltered) but it was very tasty. Food for the soul indeed.

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Celeriac, kale and chickpea pie. Rustic cooking (and photography) at its finest.

Celeriac, kale and chickpea pie

Serves 4

 

Ingredients

1 medium sized celeriac (about 200g), peeled and diced

100g kale, rinsed and roughly chopped or torn

1 x 400g can chickpeas, rinsed and drained (keep the water!)

½ an apple, cored and diced

2 cloves garlic, peeled and grated or finely chopped

A couple of sprigs of  fresh rosemary, chopped (or use dry)

2 tsp wholegrain mustard

The juice of ½ a lemon

200ml plant milk (oat milk works particularly well)

2 tsp nutritional yeast (optional)

Salt and pepper

2 tbsp rapeseed, coconut or vegetable oil

1 sheet (320g) Jus-Rol or supermarket own brand shortcrust pastry sheet (take out of the fridge 45 minutes before making the pie)

 

Preheat your oven to 200C. In a large pan, heat the oil over a medium temperature and fry the celeriac for 5 minutes. Add the rosemary and garlic and fry for another 2-3 minutes, until golden. Add the apple and kale and pour over the lemon juice. Cook for 2-3 minutes, then pour over the milk and stir through the mustard and nutritional yeast, if using. Add the chickpeas (pour the water from the can into a mug or bowl and set aside) and season, then cover with a lid and cook on a low temperature for another 5-10 minutes.

Take the pastry out of its packet and gently unroll and drape over a medium-sized ovenproof dish or pie dish. Make sure to press down the pastry and cover the sides of the dish, then spoon in the pie filling. Take the loose ends of the pastry to form a ‘lid’ and press down together. Now, using a pastry brush, ‘paint’ over some of the chickpea water across the pastry lid.

Place the dish on the middle shelf of the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes. Serve with mashed potato or swede and lots of veggies, or enjoy cold with salad.

 

 

 

 

Fairtrade Fortnight

Today is the start of Fairtrade Fortnight (25 February to 10 March) and this year’s theme is a real favourite of mine – yes, it’s chocolate.

For two weeks each year, thousands of people in the UK celebrate the people in poorer countries who grow our food and who are often exploited and badly paid.

For Fairtrade Fortnight 2019, we’re highlighting women cocoa farmers in the Cote d’Ivoire in West Africa. A typical cocoa farmer in Cote d’Ivoire is paid just 74p** a day (£1.86* is the amount needed each day in order to achieve a living income), and women have even fewer rights than men.

These are women who look after children, carry water, collect wood, cook and clean for the family and also plant and harvest on the farm and transport the cocoa beans to market. Without them we wouldn’t be able to get the chocolate we love so much and that’s why we’re campaigning for #SheDeserves so that women farmers are treated better. She Deserves running water, She Deserves a doctor, #SheDeserves a living income.

One of the easiest ways to support cocoa farmers is by buying Fairtrade certified chocolate and cocoa as it allows farmers to sell more of their cocoa at a fair price, which increases their income. Doing this helps women earn enough money to pay for essentials such as clothing, medicine and school fees for their children.

There are lots of other ways to help these women, from signing the petition to get the UK Government to address the poverty issue in our trade with developing countries to organising a fundraising event with your family, friends or colleagues.

You can find out more on the Fairtrade website here.

And when you’ve bought your Fairtrade goodies, you can turn them into a delicious chocolate mousse. This recipe features in my book, The Occasional Vegan, and it’s really easy to make. The surprise ingredient here is chickpea water, also known as aquafaba, which acts in the same way as egg whites and gives you a light and fluffy mousse.

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Chocolate mousse (photograph by Manon Houston)

Chocolate mousse

20-25 minutes, plus chilling time

Serves 2

 

Ingredients

150g dark Fairtrade chocolate

A dash of plant milk

120ml chickpea water

1 tsp vanilla extract

A pinch of sea salt (optional)

 

Carefully place a heatproof bowl over a pan of boiling water and add the chocolate and plant milk and stir gently until melted. Remove the bowl from the pan and set aside to cool slightly. If you have a microwave, heat the bowl on a medium power at 60-second intervals until melted.

Pour the chickpea water (one can should give you about 120ml water and you save the chickpeas for cooking something else) into a large bowl and whisk vigorously for 15 minutes, or until you have stiff peaks. This requires a strong wrist although you can use an electric whisk if you have one. To check if you have said stiff peaks, tilt the bowl slightly – if the water runs down the edge, you need to whisk more. When stiff, fold into the chocolate mixture then add the vanilla extract and the salt and stir well.

Pour into glasses or ramekins and leave in the fridge to set for at least an hour.

 

 

Light at the end of the tunnel

We’re almost halfway through February, a short but (bitter)sweet month. It’s always been a happy time for me because it’s when I celebrate my birthday and it’s one step closer to the beginning of spring. By the end of February, it’ll be almost six o’clock before it gets dark, and just a month later, the clocks go forward and we’ll say hello to British Summer Time.

It might be a small and dark month, but its fruits (and vegetable) are handsome; ‘tis the season of blood oranges, purple sprouting broccoli and Jerusalem artichokes.

I’m pretty passionate about eating seasonally when possible because it’s tastier, better for the environment, and it’s often cheaper as well. Head to your local market (or even supermarket) and you’ll find local home-grown fruit and veg at a very reasonable price.

Back to those Jersusalem artichokes. These knobbly brown roots might not look very jolly, but they’re sweetly mellow and incredibly versatile. They’re not actually artichokes, but a type of sunflower, hence the name which is derived from girasole, the Italian word for those sunny shoots.

Jerusalem artichokes contain vitamin C, phosphorus and potassium, and are a good source of iron. They’re also very rich in inulin, a carbohydrate linked with good intestinal health due to its prebiotic properties.

You can eat them raw in a salad (try pairing them with apple or beetroot) or roast them like potatoes. Last week, I roasted them and made them into a light but velvety soup. The lemon adds a lovely bit of zing and you could add spinach if you wanted a bit of extra vitamin C.

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Roasted Jerusalem artichoke and lemon soup

 

Roasted Jerusalem artichoke and lemon soup

 

Serves 2

Ingredients

400-500g Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and roughly sliced

2 unwaxed lemons

1 medium onion, peeled and finely diced

500ml hot vegetable stock

Salt and pepper

Fresh basil leaves, roughly torn

Olive oil

 

Preheat the oven to 200C. Put the sliced artichokes into a large oven dish and pour over a generous glug of olive oil. Squeeze over the juice from the lemon halves then add them to the dish, and season. Place the dish on the top shelf of the oven and roast for about 45-50 minutes.

When cooked, remove from the oven and set aside. Heat some oil in a large pan and fry the onion for 5 minutes. Pour in the roasted artichokes and lemons (use a little boiling water to loosen the juices from the dish and use these as well) and cook for another 5 minutes. Pour over the hot stock, season, and bring to the boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover with a lid and then cook for another 10 minutes. Turn off the heat, remove the lemon halves from the pan and add the basil leaves, then blend with a hand blender. Serve with bread and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

I don’t care if Monday’s blue…

Today (21 January) is Blue Monday, which is apparently the bleakest day of the year. It’s something to do with the post-Christmas slump, failed new year’s resolutions, gloomy weather and being broke until pay day. It’s true that January can be pretty joyless, but it can also be a quiet, contempalative and even quite consoling time of year – if you’re kind to yourself, that is. A lot of us put so much pressure on ourselves to be perfect – to lose weight, kick those goals and be a ‘better’ person – that it’s no wonder that we feel rubbish. Maybe it’s best to hunker down, eat up those leftover mince pies and ride it out until spring – and finally, the days are getting ever so slightly longer.

There’ll be none of that ‘new year, new me’ nonsense for me. In the past, I’ve given up on too many resolutions, so this year I didn’t make any. I’m just going to keep going and that’s enough, because I’m enough.

That said, I’m trying to head to the gym regularly, not because I’m on a health kick – although I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to tone up a bit – but because of how it makes me feel. As a fairweather runner (during my twenties, I somehow managed to do three half marathons), I know all about the power of post-exercise endorphins, and although I’m much less fit these days, I still feel high after the gym. I feel more upbeat, less anxious and I usually sleep better as well. It seems that this is one spot of ‘self-improvement’ that might actually work.

I haven’t cooked much recently as I’m busy with work (no bad thing for a freelancer who’s about to pay her first tax return), but I did make an easy stew the other week. This brightly hued one pot features the stars of winter veg, beetroot and celeriac and is guaranteed to brighten up the chilliest of evenings. It’s also a good way to use up leftover chestnuts, although you can use chickpeas or lentils if you don’t eat nuts. If you have brown bananas wallowing in the fruit bowl, take one and mash it up and use instead of the tomato puree for a richer and slightly sweeter sauce.

This is lovely served with mashed swede and steamed red cabbage – and if you’re not doing Dry January (I’m certainly not), a glass of red.

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Beetroot, celeriac and chestnut casserole

Beetroot, celeriac and chestnut casserole

 

Serves 2-3

 

Ingredients

1 tbsp olive, coconut or rapeseed oil

1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped finely or grated

2 shallots, peeled and diced

200g celeriac, peeled and cut into small chunks

250g beetroot, peeled and cut into small chunks

180g cooked chestnut, roughly chopped

1 x 400g can chopped or plum tomatoes

2 tsp tomato puree

½ tsp fresh or dried thyme leaves

2 tbsp cider apple vinegar

Salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a pan at a medium temperature, then fry the shallots and garlic for 2-3 minutes. Add the beetroot, celeriac, thyme and vinegar, and season. Cook for 5 minutes, then add the tomatoes (fill the empty can with water and pour that in, too) and tomato puree, cover with a lid and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chestnuts, cover with the lid, and cook for another 10-15 minutes.

 

 

 

All I want for Christmas…

The Beach Boys once sang, ‘Christmas comes this time each year’, and if you ask me, it gets more tiresome every time. I’m not completely ‘bah humbug’,  but I’m feeling more flat than festive at the moment even though I started the month feeling pretty jolly about the holiday season. Then my hormones went haywire and my pep petered out. So far, I’ve managed to avoid the pitfalls of party season (I don’t have an office do and I have few friends in Swansea), so I’m waiting for the Christmas spirit to kick in by watching films under a blanket and buying presents online.

It’s really, really cold at the moment, and all I want this Christmas is to hibernate. Obviously, that involves food and drink, so I set about making my own Christmas cake, as there aren’t many vegan versions in the shops and the ones I’ve tried are synthetically sweet.

This one’s easy to make and should keep for a couple of weeks. As well as being vegan, it’s free from and nuts, which means that everyone can enjoy a slice.

With all that fruit, I don’t think there’s really any need to add marzipan and icing (plus, I’m lazy), but you can buy vegan versions if you’d like to top the cake. Although the alcohol in the brandy’s burned off in the baking, you can use 150ml of tea (try Chai or Earl Grey for a fruitier taste) instead, but be aware that it will only last for a few days if you do this.

Use whatever dried fruit you like and of course, you can bake with plain flour, if you like.

Merry Christmas!

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Christmas cake

Christmas cake

Ingredients

250g sultanas

250g raisins

125g glacé cherries, roughly chopped

100g, dried apricots, roughly chopped

100ml brandy

350g rice (or gluten free) flour

1 tsp baking powder

150g light brown sugar

50ml rapeseed, olive or vegetable oil, plus extra for greasing

250ml plant milk

The juice of 1 orange

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp allspice

 

First of all, place all the dried fruit in a large mixing bowl, pour over the brandy and orange juice and give it a good stir. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave to soak overnight or for at least a couple of hours.

When you’re ready to make the cake, preheat the oven to 160C. Sift the flour, baking powder and spices over the soaked fruit and combine with a wooden spoon, then add the sugar and mix again. Add the oil and stir, then add the milk and stir again. You’ll need to use a bit of elbow grease to make sure that the flour is fully mixed in with the rest of the ingredients.

Line a 9-inch springform (loose-based) tin with greaseproof paper or use a little oil, then pour the cake batter into the tin and smooth out evenly. Place on the top shelf of the oven and bake for an hour, then, without opening the oven, turn the temperature down to 150C and bake for another 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and test with a skewer – if it comes out clean, it’s cooked. Transfer to a cooling rack and allow to cool.

Store in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

 

Recipes for Bonfire Night

And so it’s November, the quiet spell before the festive fervour begins – and when it really starts to get cold.

It’s also World Vegan Month (Thursday was World Vegan Day) and a recent survey has revealed that one in eight Brits are vegan or vegetarian, while 21% of us follow a flexitarian diet. It seems that ditching the meat, dairy and eggs – or eating less of it – is now the norm.

Things have changed a lot in the three and a half years since I went vegan, back when it was assumed that switching to a plantbased way of eating meant sacrificing any form of flavour. Well, my tastebuds aren’t (and never have been) for turning and I’ve been trying to explain that to the naysayers for a long time. Now there are dairy-free Magnums, a sure sign that veganism has gone mainstream.

On Thursday, I went onto Prynhawn Da (you can watch me here – and there are subtitles if you don’t speak Welsh) to show the huge selection of vegan convenience foods that are now at supermarkets.  From pizza, burgers and fishless fingers, to Christmas cake, mince pies and Wensleydale with cranberry, it’s clear that eating vegan is easier than ever before. And while these goodies can be a little pricier, like the non-vegan versions, they should perhaps be seen as an occasional treat. After all, the bulk of a vegan diet (fruits, veggies, grains and pulses) are some of the cheapest things you can buy.

But while these are handy meals to bung in the oven or microwave when you’re tired or busy (the vegan life doesn’t have to consist of kale and cacoa), I’m actually really keen to cook at the moment. I’ve had a few weeks of not eating particularly well, thanks to working, commuting and generally being busy, so I’m looking forward to healthy, hearty soups and stews, and perhaps the odd cake, too.

It’s Bonfire Night on Monday, one of my favourite times of the year. It marks the turning point in the calendar, just after Halloween, when it’s just about acceptable to start thinking about Christmas.

This year, I’ll be staying in with baby Bobbie, our five-month-old kitten, who no doubt will be a bit afraid of the bangs and screeches, which are even louder than mine during a bad case of PMT.

It’s an evening for food to warm the cockles, so here are two easy recipes for you to try.

We had a load of pumpkins and apples left over from our Halloween party (which Bobbie and I just about survived – a gaggle of tweenage girls is terrifying whether you’re cat or human) so I’ve put them to good use in a simple but sustaining pumpkin soup and a sticky and sweet apple cake.

 

Pumpkin and red lentil soup with apple and sage

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Pumpkin and red lentil soup with apple and sage

Ingredients

1 medium pumpkin (or 400g) pumpkin or squash, peeled, roughly chopped and seeds and flesh removed

2 apples, cored and diced

2 small onions, finely diced

5-6 sage leaves

200g red lentils, rinsed and drained

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp allspice

1 red chilli, finely chopped

1.5 litres vegetable stock

A glug of rapeseed or olive oil

Salt and pepper

 

To garnish (optional)

Sage leaves

Pumpkin seeds

 

In a large pan, heat the oil over a medium temperature. Add the onion and sage leaves and fry for 2-3 minutes then add the pumpkin and apple and cook for another 5-6 minutes. Add the chilli and spices and fry for a minute, then add the lentils and the stock and season. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat, place a lid on the pan and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Turn off the heat and blend with a stick blender.

Serve in bowls with crusty bread. If you like, fry the pumpkin seeds and sage leaves in a little oil for a few minutes, or until crispy, and scatter over the soup.

 

Toffee apple traybake

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Toffee apple traybake

 

Ingredients

200g dates, roughly chopped

400ml milk

100ml rapeseed, vegetable or sunflower oil, plus extra for greasing

250g self-raising flour

100g light soft brown sugar

½ tsp baking powder

2 tbsp mixed spice

2 tsp vanilla extract

4 apples, grated

 

For the topping (optional)

1 apple, thinly sliced

A little brown sugar

 

Heat the oven to 180C. Grease and line a 20 x 30cm baking tray with baking parchment. Put the dates and 200ml of the milk in a small pan and simmer gently for 10-15 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

Whizz the date mixture to a smooth purée in a food processor or blender, then scrape into a large mixing bowl. Tip in the oil, the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, mixed spice, vanilla extract and the rest of the milk,  and mix together well. Fold in the grated apple.

Pour the mixture into the tray and spread out evenly. Place the tray on the top shelf of the oven and bake for 45 minutes until a skewer poked into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tray then cut into slices.

If you’d like to add the topping, remove the cake from the oven after 35 minutes, arrange the apple slices on top and sprinkle over the brown sugar. Return to the oven and bake for another 10 minutes.