Goodbye to all that

And so it’s over – well almost, anyway. Today’s the last day of what many of think of as the most joyless month of the year, and it’s no wonder, because new beginnings are always difficult. Personally, I haven’t found January to be too depressing, but like anyone I have my ups and downs and I’ve really struggled with the dark, dark nights and the particularly grey days.

The winter months are always hard, especially after the fun and fizz of Christmas but as every day inches closer to longer days and brighter skies, I feel hopeful. I know we’re feeling the cold snap at the moment but the sun is rising just that little bit earlier which means that soon I’ll have no excuse not to jump out of bed – in theory, anyway. Daylight is so important and even thirty minutes a day can make a real difference to your physical and mental wellbeing. My daily walks really help my mood and the light always makes me feel brighter – funny that.

Tomorrow’s the first of February (and the day before my birthday) and two years since I started this blog. I never imagined back then that I’d end up writing a cookery book but here I am. Happy February to you all. It might be short and dark but it’s a step closer to spring and that for me is cause for celebration – plus there are some lovely things to eat right now.

Bittersweet blood oranges aren’t around for long and they’re so prettily perfectly Instagrammable so snap them up while you can. They’re nice as a light dessert, cooked with rhubarb (which is also coming into season), added to salads or even sliced and served in a G&T. Tenderstem broccoli has also made an appearance and is lovely lightly steamed and drizzled with lemon juice and olive oil. Make the most of these winter wonders with a salad that bursts with colour and crunch.

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Quinoa and brown rice salad with tendertem broccoli and blood orange

Quinoa and brown rice salad with tenderstem broccoli and blood orange

Serves 2

Ingredients

75g brown rice, rinsed and drained

75g quinoa, rinsed and drained

8-10 stems of tenderstem broccoli (about 125g)

1 and a half blood oranges

1 medium-sized avocado

2 large handfuls of spinach

A handful of fresh dill

25g whole almonds (optional)

1 tbsp rapeseed oil

Salt and pepper

 

For the dressing

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

The juice of half a lime

Salt and pepper

 

Bring a pan of salted water to the boil, then reduce the heat and cook the rice for 15 minutes, then add the quinoa to the same pan and cook for another 10 minutes. Drain and set aside. Meanwhile, heat a large heavy based pan over a medium heat and add the rapeseed oil. Fry the broccoli for 3-4 minutes, turning occasionally, then add the almonds and fry for another 2-3 minutes. Turn off the heat.

Take a large serving dish and add the spinach leaves. Make the dressing by mixing all the ingredients, then spoon half of it over the spinach and massage. Spoon over the rice and quinoa and pour over the rest of the dressing. Add the broccoli and the almonds then peel and segment one of the oranges and remove the skin and stone from the avocado and slices in thin slivers. Add these to the salad, then roughly chop the dill and add that to the bowl. Cut the other orange in half and squeeze over the salad, then season with salt and pepper and serve.

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Milgi

This January has been exceptionally grey and gloomy and on these dark, dark nights we seek comfort in food and a perhaps a cup of cheer, too. Luckily for me, I’ve eaten very well this month and when I was invited to try Milgi’s new menu, I pencilled the date in my diary (I don’t do digital) with great excitement.

Milgi is Cardiff’s cool as a cucumber café, restaurant and bar, and sisters Gabrielle and Rebecca have been feeding the city’s veggies and vegans for nearly 12 years. During this time, it’s been perennially popular and has notched up lots of awards for its food and commitment to sustainability. It was one of the runners-up in the Best Ethical Food Project in last year’s Observer Food Magazine Awards and nominated in the South Wales Echo Food and Drink Awards 2016-17.

It’s obviously a bit of a plant lovers’ paradise but the healthy but hearty dishes here will please even the most die-hard of carnivores, too. The kitchen cooks up pretty platefuls of food and everything is seasonal and organic. There’s a real flair for flavour and not a mushroom risotto in sight, although you can enjoy traditional favourites with a twist: think battered halloumi and chips and nut roast with vegan cauliflower cheese and all the trimmings.

I’ve been coming to Milgi for a long time because the food and drink is so good and because it fits the bill for every occasion. During the day, it’s bright and airy and I guarantee you that a Milgi breakfast will ease even the hardiest of hangovers.  After dark, everything is cosy and intimate so it’s great for a romantic meal or some cocktails with the gang.

We visited on a windy Thursday evening with tired heads and rumbling tummies but all that was forgotten as we were ushered to our table by our friendly waitress. After she’d talked us through the new menu and taken our drinks orders, we sat back and soaked up the atmosphere. There’s an open kitchen and crates of fruit and vegetables dotted around the place so it’s nice to know that what you see is what you get.  They make their own sauerkraut and kombucha on site, too.

Everything on the menu looks seriously good, especially the vegan seafood platter, which I’ll definitely be trying next time I visit, so it took us a while to decide what to have. Once we ordered though, our food arrived pretty quickly.

I had the green burger, which is indeed a vibrantly verdant hue thanks to its combination of butter beans, spinach, coriander, parsley and a special spice blend. This comes with a fresh and zingy salad and chunky sweet potato fries, and because they’d run out of wholemeal buns, I had the baked polenta which made a nice change and also happens to be the gluten free option. This is probably the healthiest ‘burger and chips’ I’ve ever had and I enjoyed every bite.

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The green burger

My other half is a big halloumi fan so naturally he plumped for the masala battered halloumi and triple-cooked chips with a pleasingly tart nigella seed chutney.

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Masala battered halloumi and chips

For pudding, we shared the cinnamon doughnuts with apple compote and vegan ice cream (not for the faint hearted!) and the ‘mostly raw’ cacoa and berry cheesecake with vanilla yogurt. Both were sweet without being sickly and the perfect end to the meal.

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Doughnuts

 

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Raw cheesecake

We washed everything down with a margarita and a glass of red wine (for me) and a couple of beers (for him) and left feeling warm and just nicely fuzzy. If you need some light during these cold winter months, get yourself down to Milgi.

You can find Milgi at 213 City Road, Cardiff CF24 3JD.

https://milgicardiff.com

Season’s eatings

January is far too dark and cold a month to go on a restrictive diet, but I am trying to be a bit more mindful of what and how I eat – and how it makes me feel. Although I didn’t really overindulge over Christmas, my lifestyle changed quite a bit during 2017 and I don’t feel as bien dans ma peau as I did this time last year.

It’s not surprising that I can’t do my up my jeans because writing a cookery book takes no prisoners and I’ve tested a lot of recipes. I want to do something about it so that that means lots of walking (even in this grey weather, getting some daylight is a godsend for my mental wellbeing), the occasional trip to the gym and lots of veggies, pulses and grains. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy a little indulgence once in a while (if you haven’t tried Greazy Vegan yet, you simply must) but I’m choosing my treats more wisely.

There’s more:  I think I might have a food intolerance.  As someone who loves food and writes about it, giving up the gluten seems somewhat sacrilegious, but let’s just say that it’s not really agreeing with me. I’m going to cut back on the bread and biscuits for a while to see if it makes a difference (we’ll see how long I last with that one) so I’ll keep you posted.

Anyway, gluten-free or not, eating well doesn’t have to be time-consuming, bland – or expensive – as you’ll see with my recipes for a simple seasonal salad and a fast and filling curry with cauliflower rice.

 

Jump for joy salad

Let me introduce you to January’s finest: sweet but mellow russet apples, ravishing Romanesco cauliflower, and my favourite, the humble sprout. One of the cheapest ways to get this winter’s veg is at your local market, although you can use any variety depending on what you can find. The sumac in adds a lovely hit of zesty heat but use ground cumin if you don’t have any. Using tinned lentils makes this a really quick and easy dish (I’m lazy, so sue me) but boil up some dried ones if you prefer.

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Serves 2

Ingredients

For the salad

1 head of Romanesco cauliflower, broken into small florets (keep the leaves for cooking, so roughly chop these, too)

12 sprouts, ends and outer leaves removed and chopped finely

4 large handfuls of kale or spinach, roughly chopped

1 russet apple, cut into thin slices

1 x 400g can brown or green lentils, rinsed and drained

2 large handfuls of parsley, chopped

The juice of half a lemon

Salt and pepper

For the dressing

1 ½ tsp sumac

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp white wine vinegar

Put the cauliflower, sprouts and kale in a large bowl then mix the ingredients for the dressing on a glass or jar. Pour over the vegetables and massage with your hands, then season with salt and pepper.

Heat a large frying pan or wok over a high heat, then stir fry the vegetables for 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the lentils and cook for another minute. Remove the pan from the heat and tip everything back into the bowl. Add the apple and parsley and stir though, squeeze over the lemon, then serve.

 

Pea and aubergine curry with cauliflower rice

This quick curry is more fragrant than spicy and ready in about 20 minutes. You can find galangal in larger supermarkets but if you come away empty-handed, just leave it out. I’m not suggesting for one second that carbs are bad but if you fancy something a bit lighter – or you just fancy something different – cauliflower rice is rather nice, especially with the tiniest bit of almond extract. I’ve started cooking with rapeseed oil as it contains good cholesterol and omega fats but use any kind you have in the cupboard – although not extra virgin olive oil!

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Serves 3-4

Ingredients

For the curry

1 medium aubergine, cut into small chunks

200g frozen peas

4 large handfuls of kale, roughly chopped into small pieces

1 tsp chopped or grated fresh ginger

1 tsp chopped or grated galangal, fresh or dried

1 tsp ground cumin

½ tsp salt

2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped

1 x 400g can tomatoes, chopped or plum

1 tbsp peanut butter

1 tbsp rapeseed oil

1 small lime, cut into wedges

For the cauliflower rice

1 large cauliflower

1 tsp coconut oil

1 tsp chopped or grated fresh ginger

A drop of almond essence (optional)

Heat the rapeseed in a large pan over a high heat. Add the chopped aubergine and pour over the salt, then fry for five minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Turn down the heat and add the shallots, ginger, galangal and cumin, then fry for another five minutes. Now, add the tomatoes plus a little water and bring to the boil. Tip in the peas and the kale and add the peanut butter. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the pan with a lid and cook for 5-10 minutes.

Make the ‘rice’ by grating the cauliflower using a box grater – you can use a food processor but I find that a grater takes less washing up. Heat the oil in a pan over a medium heat, then add the cauliflower and the ginger and cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring frequently, until lightly browned. Add a drop of almond essence if using.

Serve with the curry and a squeeze of lime

Viva la Veganuary

Happy new year! The Yuletide season is almost over and on Saturday, we must all take down our trees and tinsel. After feeling decidedly curmudgeonly about Christmas, I finally got into the spirit of things and had a jolly good time.

Now, it’s January, which despite being dark and more than a little depressing after all the festivities, is actually not that awful a month. Ever the optimist (no, really), I think of these first few days of January as an opportunity to take stock and think of the year ahead. Not that I’m one for making resolutions – and I’m definitely not going on a health kick, detox, cleanse or anything else that sounds remotely like a torture method.

That’s why I don’t understand all the slack that Veganuary has received this year. The annual month-long vegan challenge has been accused of promoting itself as just another January diet. That’s not fair. Just because the campaign endorses the health benefits of eating less animal produce and more fruit and veg doesn’t mean it’s a trigger for eating disorders. Yes, we need to be careful about the language we use and no, changing the way we eat doesn’t work for everyone, but listen up, folks: green eating ain’t clean eating. As Veganuary actively promotes on its website and social media, there’s a whole load of cruelty-free junk food out there to be enjoyed.

In the last couple of days, I’ve heard some tired tropes (and frankly, a lot of bull) about eating vegan, so for the record, here are some truths about veganism, Veganuary and anything else that encourages people to treat animals and the environment with love and respect.

It’s not a diet

OK, veganism is a diet in the literal sense of the word: it’s a way of eating. But it’s not a ‘diet’ of deprivation just because it doesn’t include meat, dairy or eggs. Eating more pulses, grains, fruits and vegetables is good for you but most people, although not everyone, choose to eat no (or less) animal produce for ethical reasons. I understand that some people use veganism as a way to control their diet (and that this can potentially be very dangerous) but why is the media criticising Veganuary, which promotes a balanced approach to eating, and not Weight Watchers or Slimming World, organisations that actively encourage its members to obsess over calories and ‘points’ in order to lose weight?

It’s not expensive

Look at the price of meat and dairy and then compare that to how little you need to spend on pulses, grains, fruits and vegetables. It’s hardly rocket science, is it? Yes, some vegan substitutes, like ‘chocolate’ and ‘cheese’ can cost a little extra but these shouldn’t make up the bulk of what you eat so save them for a treat.

It’s not elitist or classist

See my point above.

It’s not difficult

I’ll admit that changing the way you eat may at first be a challenge (been there, done that) but cooking without meat and dairy is actually a hell of a lot easier. For a start, you’ll almost certainly never give anyone food poisoning. There’s so much support and advice about cooking, eating out, nutrition and everything else you need to know about being vegan.

It’s not boring

I can’t believe that I still have to tell people that vegan food isn’t bland. Any meal prepared badly will taste terrible whatever it contains. Taking meat and dairy out of cooking means that you need to be more creative and experiment with flavours and textures. Look at all the amazing stuff that Avant-Garde Vegan makes – is that boring? While we’re at it, if you’re eating out, most places will be lovely and accommodating and will try their best to give you something tasty to eat (it’s always worth phoning up in advance), but beware the ‘chef’ who offers you an undressed plate of leaves and charges you a tenner for it. Don’t stand for it. Everyone deserves a decent meal at a restaurant – yes, I’m looking at you, Giles Coren.

It’s not self-obsessed

Thanks for that one, Richard Littlejohn. How is reducing your impact on the environment and saving animals from a life of misery a bad thing? Why shouldn’t we celebrate eating tasty and (mostly) healthy food? What’s wrong with sharing that on Instagram so that we can inspire others to enjoy this kind of food, too?

It’s not bullying

This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard about veganism this week. One journalist criticised PETA for an advert that showed a dog’s head served on a platter and asked if you wouldn’t eat your dog, why eat a turkey?’. Apparently, this campaign was ‘bullying’. Graphic, yes, but let’s just take a minute to think about how turkeys (and all the other animals killed for their meat) are treated – who do you feel sorry for? If you can’t face the unpleasant truth about the meat, dairy and poultry industry, you’re welcome to turn a blind eye and tuck into another bacon sandwich. It’s your decision. Contrary to popular belief, we’re not trying to convert you.

 

So, three cheers to Veganuary for doing a fantastic job this year. Over 140,000 people have signed up to try it in 2018 compared to 5,900 in 2017 and 1,500 when it launched in 2014. It’s friendly, welcoming and fun and gives you all the help you need if you’re a bit stuck.  Just remember, no one is forcing you to become vegan. Just try it, see if you like it and if it works for you, bravo. If it doesn’t, you’ll hopefully decide that you want to stick to eating veggie or vegan a couple of times a week.

I’ll just leave this here…

 

It wouldn’t be a blog post without a recipe so here’s my version of that comforting classic, spaghetti carbonara. Proof that veganised meals aren’t fiddly, faddy or flavourless – and they don’t have to rely on expensive substitutes. Cauliflower and sprouts are cheap and plentiful at this time of year and are a good way to disguise veggies if you’re cooking for fussy people – big or small. I like to use oat milk (which is £1.25 a litre in Morrisons) because it makes a really creamy sauce but any plant milk is fine. Nutritional yeast is a genius product as it gives dishes a deliciously cheesy flavour and you can buy it from most health food shops. If you can’t find it, though, you can use a few tablespoons of soy sauce or a little Marmite instead.

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Spaghetti carbonara

Serves 2

Ingredients

1 small cauliflower (around 300g), broken into small florets

200g sprouts, outer leaves and stalks removed and cut into half

100g mushrooms, roughly sliced

2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped

1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped

1 tbsp olive oil

400ml oat milk

The juice of half a lemon

3-4 tbsp nutritional yeast

1 tsp miso paste

A liberal grating of nutmeg

Salt and pepper

150g spaghetti

 

Bring a large pan of water to the boil, then add the cauliflower florets and sprouts and boil for 7-8 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, over a medium heat, fry the shallots and mushrooms in the oil for 5 minutes, then add the garlic and fry for another 2 minutes. Set aside.

Bring another large pan (if you want to save on washing up, use the same one as before) to the boil and add a pinch of salt. Cook the spaghetti for 8-10 minutes.

While the spaghetti is cooking, put the cauliflower and sprouts in a food processor with half the oat milk and and pulse until smooth. Pour the mixture into a pan and add the rest of the pat milk, the nutritional yeast, lemon juice, miso paste and a grating of nutmeg. Stir together and heat on a low heat for 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently.

Drain the spaghetti (keeping a little of the pasta water) and return to the pan. Pour over the carbonara sauce, then stir in the mushrooms and shallots and the little bit of pasta water. Stir together and serve.

 

Scrooged

Bah humbug. It’s three days until Christmas and I’m not feeling at all festive. I’ve done all the things you’re supposed to do at this time of year: I’ve put up the tree, had a go at making mince pies and I’ve been out for the ‘office’ do. Yes, they were jolly but I’m still feeling decidedly Scrooge-like.

I’ve been to see festive films at the cinema – ones that, in a couple of years, will be Boxing Day staples. I fell in love with Paddington 2 (well, who wouldn’t?) and the newest adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express is a reliably good yarn, although Kenneth Brannagh’s Poirot is distractingly identical to Fred, the maître d’ from the First Dates restaurant. Even reading Nigel Slater’s The Christmas Chronicles (a bounty of beautifully written anecdotes and recipes for the winter months) hasn’t helped and neither did watching Nigella’s Christmas.

Am I doomed to be a misery guts this Christmas? I’m sure that once the presents are wrapped under the tree and I pop on some carols, I’ll get into the spirit. I know how lucky I am to be spending the holidays with the people I love because Christmas is a really difficult time for many of us. This year, I’m giving money to Crisis and The Huggard Centre, excellent organisations that are doing their best to look after homeless people this Christmas. If you, like me, are feeling a little lacklustre and jaded, helping someone else is never a bad thing to do.

As Buddy the Elf says: ‘the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear’. My Christmas cheer for you is this festive alternative to nut roast. I call it a higgledy piggledy pie because it’s a bit messy but it’s surprisingly easy to make (you can obviously use ready-made pastry if you’re short of time) and tastes just lovely thanks to the combination of chestnuts, mushrooms and apple. Of course, you could add cranberries to this but it’s not always a crowd-pleaser, and I live with fussy eaters so I should know. My secret ingredient for this is marmalade (guess what I’ve been watching?) but a squeeze of orange juice works just as well.

Whatever you eat on the big day, I hope you have a very merry Christmas.

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This is no humble pie

Higgledy piggledy pie

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

For the pie filling

150g green lentils, dried or tinned

1 packet (150g) of vacuum-packed chestnuts, sliced in half

100g mushrooms, roughly sliced

2 shallots, peeled and diced

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and grated or finely chopped

2 apples, cored and roughly chopped into small chunks

1 tbsp olive oil

2 heaped tbsp. tomato puree

2 tbsp marmalade

A few sprigs of fresh thyme (or ½ tsp dried)

2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1 tbsp maple syrup

Salt and pepper

 

For the pastry

350 g plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

100 g vegan margarine or vegetable fat

175 ml water

1 tsp salt

Some plant milk or vegan margarine for glazing

 

First of all, rinse the lentils in a sieve and drain, then add to a pan of cold water, bring to the boil and cook for 20-25 minutes or until tender. Drain and set aside. If you’re using canned lentils, you can skip this step. Meanwhile, add the oil to a pan over a medium heat and fry the shallots and mushrooms for 2-3 minutes, then add the chestnuts and apples and fry for another 2-3 minutes. Add the balsamic vinegar, the thyme, tomato puree and half a mugful of water, then season with salt and pepper and simmer on a low heat for 10 minutes. Now stir through the lentils and add the maple syrup and marmalade plus some extra water if you think the mixture is a little dry. Simmer for 5 minutes then turn of the heat and allow to cool slightly while you make the pastry.

To make the pastry, sieve the flour, baking powder and salt into a large bowl and mix. In a pan, heat the vegetable fat and water until it comes to the boil, then pour into the flour mixture and mix. When it has cooled, form the mixture into a large dough ball (if you think it’s a bit dry, add a few drops of water, but no more or it will become tacky) and divide in half. Take one half, roll onto a floured surface and place at the base of a greased springform cake tin or pie dish – use one that’s about 10 inches in diameter. On top of this, spoon over the pie filling.

Now, roll out the rest of the pastry, making it a bit bigger than the pastry base so that it can fold over the top and use this to cover the pie filling. Try to do it as neatly as possible and make sure that there are no gaps or holes for the filling to come through. Use your fingers to seal the pastry then brush over a little milk or margarine and place on the top shelf of the oven and bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Serve with roast potatoes and parsnips, green vegetables (sprouts are my favourite) and red cabbage.

 

Tis the season to be sniffly

Magical it may be, but the lead-up to Christmas and its non-stop carousel of shopping lists and office dos means that it’s also the season to get the sniffles. It’s no wonder, really, that if you add large amounts of fizz and frivolity you end up feeling a bit feverish. We’ve all been under the weather at our house this week so I’ve made lots of this soup. It’s light on the tummy and packed with nourishing root veg – and even if it doesn’t make you better, it’ll certainly lift your spirits.

If you can, slip into your PJs and eat this under a blanket while watching a sickly sweet Christmas film on Channel 5 or Netflix. I hear that The Christmas Prince is so bad it’s good – perfect comfort viewing.

I’ve got two parties this week (one for grown-ups, then a slightly more sober affair: a kids’ birthday bash) so I’m loading up on the vitamins. Until then, you’ll find me on the sofa.

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Soup for the soul. That’s vegan cheese, if you’re wondering.

A soup for sickness

Ingredients

Half a swede, peeled and diced

3 large potatoes, peeled and diced

1 large parsnip, peeled and diced

2 large carrots, peeled and diced

2-3 stalks celery, ends removed and diced

200g red lentils

1 tsp chopped fresh ginger

Half a red chili, thinly sliced

1.5 litres vegetable stock

1 tbsp olive oil

Salt and pepper

 

Heat the oil over a low heat in a large pan, then add the potatoes, parsnips, swede and carrots and fry for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the celery, ginger, chili and lentils and fry for another 2 minutes, then add the stock, season with salt and pepper and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat, cover with a lid and simmer for 20-25 minutes, or until the vegetables are all cooked, stirring occasionally.

Serve with crusty bread.

Bar 44

If you think tapas are all about chorizo and calamari, you’ve been looking at the wrong menus. Spanish cuisine is traditionally heavy on the meat and cheese but it’s perfectly possible to find tasty tapas that’s vegan, too. After all, the Mediterranean boasts a bounty of fresh produce: think fat olives, sun-ripened tomatoes and pretty peppers.

In Cardiff, we’re lucky to have some pretty fine tapas bars in the city centre and all within a few yards of each other. In the tapas triangle, as I like to call it, there’s Bar 44, its little sister, Asador 44, and Curado. I like them all a lot but Bar 44 is my favourite and I’ve long been a fan of their meat-free morsels. When they invited me to try their new vegan menu, I very happily accepted.

It was an otherwise mediocre Monday evening and I was feeling a little tired and rundown. Never mind though; it was warm and cosy inside and I was looking forward to some good food and wine and a well overdue catch up with my friend, Lleucu, who arrived, ever the glam gal, in a ravishing red coat.

Coats off, we looked at the menu and chatted to our friendly waitress. We were a bit gutted to hear that the padron peppers had run out (it’s almost not a trip here without them) but luckily there were plenty of other goodies on the menu to tempt us.

First up: some juicy Gordal olives and mixed pickles, which we nibbled on as we chatted and drank some delicious vegan wine. Next, the pan con tomate, and they do it so well here that it gives the real deal a run for its money – it’s sweet, sharp and salty all at the same time.

The calabaza is as colourful as its name and this spiced roast squash with chickpeas, pomegranate and coriander certainly packs a punch. The remolacha, a heady combination of beetroot, hazelnuts and figs, looks and tastes beautiful.

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The alcachofa and remolacha

We also enjoyed the alcachofa, crispy artichokes with caramelised peppers and the piperrada, silky smooth slivers of braised peppers which were both smoky and sweet, served with crispbreads.

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The calabaza, pipperada and zanahoria

It should go without saying that everything here is delicious, but the star of the show – the piece de resistance, if you will – is definitely the zanahoria. These cute little heritage carrots are roasted and served on a bed of gloriously green salsa verde made from watercress, garlic and almonds. Muy apetitoso.

Finally, we managed to fit in a little sweet treat that’s not on the menu yet: a decadent chocolate brownie with cherries soaked in sherry (sherries?) and cherry sorbet. Wowzas.

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The perfect end to a meal

The service was brilliant as always and the staff really looked after us. Bar 44 be one of my favourite Cardiff restaurants for some time yet I think.

Bar 44 Cardiff is at 15-23 Westgate Street, Cardiff, CF10 1DD

https://www.bar44.co.uk/cardiff 

 

 

The calm before the storm

It’s a tired cliché, I know, but I’ll repeat what everyone else is saying: where did 2017 go? The last couple of months have really whizzed by. I guess (humble brag alert) that’s what happens when you write a book. I’ve been cosseted in a warm blanket of food, writing, photoshoots and (God forbid) my mangled thoughts but now the manuscript is with my publisher and it’s time to re-emerge.

So here is December and all its expectant joy. It’s dark and bleak outside and we’re set to have the coldest winter in years, but the bright lights of Christmas are here until the last box of mince pies lies, half-eaten – usually the day after Boxing Day when everyone’s too full to eat any more.

It’s a funny time of year, isn’t it? Most of us are very lucky that we can eat, drink and be merry for a few days but boy, is the build-up a bit of a palaver. Just this morning, I popped to the supermarket to get some bread and it was heaving with shoppers who were panic buying Christmas puddings and sprouts like they were going out of fashion.

I like to take a more relaxed approach to the festive season, and I won’t be buying presents or tucking into festive fare for a while yet. In fact, after cooking (and eating) my way through an entire cookbook, I want more of the same ­– food that’s simple, wholesome and full of flavour. It also needs warmth and a pinch of punchiness to brighten up these long and dark evenings so this week, I’ll turn to this pearl barley risotto which features in the book.

Pearl barley is full of fibre and has a nuttier texture and taste than risotto rice, plus it’s much cheaper. The mushrooms are reassuringly soft and velvety and the lemon and thyme add a nice bit of zing. This won’t take you long to cook and the occasional stirring can be rather meditative, especially after a taxing day at work – or even worse, Christmas shopping.

You’ll notice that this risotto looks exceptionally nice, which is thanks to Manon Houston who took all the photos for the book. Manon’s a fantastic food photographer and stylist and she’s super lovely, too. You can check out her website here.

Mushroom risotto 2
Pearl barley risotto with mushrooms and thyme

Pearl barley risotto with mushrooms and thyme

Serves 4

30 minutes

 

Ingredients

200g pearl barley

100g mushrooms, sliced

100ml white wine

500ml vegetable stock

2 shallots, peeled and diced

2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

1 small carrot, peeled and diced

1 celery stalk, ends removed and diced

5-6 sprigs of thyme

The juice of 1 lemon

1 tbsp olive oil

50g pine nuts

Black pepper

 

Heat the oil in a large pan, then add the shallots, carrot and celery and sauté for 3 minutes. Add the garlic and thyme and cook for a further 2 minutes. Add the pearl barley to the pan with the white wine. Mix well, coating each grain in oil – add a little extra if necessary. Add the mushrooms and cook the mixture for another 2-3 minutes. 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 pearl barley absorb it gradually; do this for about 15-20 minutes, until the pearl barley is soft.

Add the lemon juice, black pepper and pine nuts and serve with green vegetables or on its own. Squeeze over some more lemon juice and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, if you like.

 

Stranger Things

If, like many a millennial, you spent the weekend devouring season two of Stranger Things, you’ll have seen a lot of pumpkins in the last few days. Even if you don’t watch the cult series (and you really should because even a scaredy cat like me is a fan), you’ve probably passed a windowsill or two with a jagged-toothed jack o’lantern on display.  Whether you heart Halloween or hate it, it’s the time of year to parade those golden globes – and when it’s over, you can turn them into something tasty.

I haven’t had much of a chance to enjoy autumn’s abundance this year because I’ve been too busy recipe testing. Gone are the gorgeous gourds I normally eat during these months as I make room in the kitchen (and my tummy) for lasagne, beetroot bourgignon, cauliflower ‘cheese’, and lots of other lovely things. If you think that sounds delicious, you can pre-order my book here.

In the meantime, pick up a pumpkin (or squash) and try these easy recipes. First up is a bright and sunny salad of roasted swede, pumpkin, broccoli, courgettes, tomatoes and, my favourite, romanesco cauliflower. Then there’s orange and cinnamon roasted pumpkin and sweet potato wedges,  the perfect partner for chilli or a hearty stew. Enjoy.

Autumn salad
All your RDA in one bowl

Autumn salad

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 small pumpkin or squash, peeled and sliced into wedges (remove the pith but keep cook the seeds, if you like)

1 swede, peeled and sliced into wedges

1 head romanesco cauliflower, cut into florets

1 head broccoli, cut into florets

1 punnet cherry or plum tomatoes

Herbs of your choice (fresh or dried)

2-3 tbsp olive oil

½ lemon

Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 200C (gas mark 6). Place the pumpkin and swede in a large ovenproof dish and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle over some herbs (thyme works well here) and season with salt and pepper. Place on the top shelf of the oven and roast for 10-15 minutes. Now, take another dish and add the cauliflower florets, courgettes and broccoli, drizzle with oil, squeeze over some lemon juice, and season. Place on the middle shelf of the oven and bake for 15 minutes – in the last five minutes, add the tomatoes. When cooked, divide the vegetables onto plates, drizzle with a bit more oil and eat.

Pumpkin and sweet potato wedges
Golden globes

Pumpkin and sweet potato wedges with orange and cinnamon

Serves 3-4

1 small pumpkin or squash, peeled and sliced into wedges (remove the pith but keep cook the seeds, if you like)

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced into wedges

1 orange

2 tsp cinnamon

2-3 tbsp olive oil

Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 200C (gas mark 6). Place the pumpkin and sweet potato wedges in a large ovenproof dish and drizzle with olive oil, then squeeze over the orange juice and sprinkle over the cinnamon. Season, then place on the top shelf of the oven and roast for 30-35 minutes.

 

 

Seeing red

I’m an impatient bugger. It’s mid-September and there’s still no sign of those ravishingly red leaves. Get a move on, autumn; these grey skies are making me grumpy. Admittedly, I’m not too excited about the approaching drop in temperature (I’ve been told that the heating doesn’t come on until October – we’ll see about that…) but I do hope those colours come out soon. If not, an Indian summer would suit me just fine but this in-between stage is rather getting on my nerves.

Luckily, I don’t have that much time to be distracted by the weather. Work is picking up and I have the not so small task of writing a cookery book – when I’m not testing recipes, that is. It’s a good thing I’ve joined a gym because at the moment, I feel like I’m eating for two (sometimes three or four), minus the pregnancy bit. When I’m not making cauliflower cheese, crumble, and tofish and chips (heavenly on the lips and the hips) I’m rusting up some healthy but hearty meals – just for a bit of balance, you know?

This sweet little salad is light but warming and the orange and tomato (British toms are still around so grab ‘em while you can) are a match made in heaven. I’ve used white kale, which I found at Swansea Market, but any sort of green leaves will do. When it gets colder (or if you’re really hungry) you can bulk it up with autumnal squash or pumpkin – or sweet potato. It would also be nice with rice.

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Indian summer salad

Serves 2

 

Ingredients

Head of cauliflower, broken into florets

1 leek or two spring onions, finely sliced

1 punnet cherry or plum tomatoes, whole

2 tbsp olive oil

3 big handfuls of kale or spinach, roughly chopped

1 tsp ground cumin

1 orange, peeled and in segments

Juice from 1 lemon

2 tsp capers

2 tbsp ground almonds

Flatleaf parsley or coriander to garnish (optional)

 

Method

Heat the oil in a large pan over a medium heat. Add the leeks, cauliflower, cumin and lemon juice and cook for five minutes, stirring frequently. Stir through the kale and tomatoes and cook for two minutes then add the orange segments and the capers, plus a little of brine from the jar, if you like. Season with salt and pepper and cook for another two minutes.

Serve with the almonds scattered over, plus the parsley or coriander if using.