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

fullsizeoutput_2e27.jpeg
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

fullsizeoutput_2e26.jpeg
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.

Advertisements

Scary spice

October has crept past me and all of a sudden, the clocks have gone back and it’s Halloween. The past four weeks have been a bit of a blur after a short stint of working nine to five in Cardiff. While I enjoyed it (I met some great people, the work was interesting and it gave me a reason to get out of my pyjamas), it was quite a shock to the system after the freedom and flexibility of freelancing. It got me out of the house andI was always paid on time (take note, other companies), but gosh, I was tired. I really don’t miss leaving the house while it was still dark and getting home at 7.30pm. I realise how lucky I am to do what I do.

Although commuting by train from Swansea to Cardiff took up a considerable chunk of the day (thank you, delays), it did mean that, when I wasn’t working, I could sit and watch the world from my window, or just read. I never finish books. Although I’ve always been a bookworm and own piles and piles of paperbacks, it’s rare for me to finish one before starting on another. Call it a short attention span or perhaps it harks back to my English degree when I always had about three books on the go, but I just can’t commit to one.

Well, finally, I’ve settled on one book and I’ve devoured its pages like The Very Hungry Caterpillar. I’m re-reading The Secret History by Donna Tartt, which is my all-time favourite novel. There’s a reason why it’s a cult classic and I’ve loved it ever since I first read it aged 18. For a novel in which the central plot is about a murder, it’s an oddly comforting read (in fact, at uni, I studied it as part of a module called ‘Danger, Domesticity and American Literature’) and the protagonist’s descriptions of fall in New England make me feel all warm and cosy. If you haven’t discovered it yet, you’re in for a treat.

It’s been good for me to slow down my brain, and reading really helps me switch off. While life has been busy, I haven’t had much time to cook, so I’ve been relying on ready meals and batch cooking at the weekends. I’ve always been a fan of one pot meals but they’ve proved especially useful in the past month. This warming curry is another way to use pumpkin and squash this scary season, and it’s pretty easy to make, too. I like the hint of a kick provided by the cardamom – if you’re using the pods, make sure that you remove these before cooking, although you can buy the ground version if it’s easier.

IMG_3059
Pumpkin, lentil and spinach curry with coconut milk and cardamom

Pumpkin, lentil and spinach curry with coconut milk and cardamom

Serves 3-4

Ingredients

1 medium (around 300g) pumpkin or squash, peeled, diced and seeds removed

200g red lentils, rinsed and drained

2 x 400ml cans coconut milk

1 bag (about 250g), fresh spinach (or use frozen)

1 onion, peeled and finely diced

1 heaped teaspoon coconut oil

1 tsp ground turmeric

1 tsp coriander seeds, ground

1 tsp cardamom seeds, ground

2 inches of ginger, peeled and finely chopped or grated

1 clove of garlic, peeled and finely chopped or grated

 

Prepare the pumpkin then in a large pot or saucepan, heat the oil over a low temperature, then add the onion, garlic and spaces and fry for 2 minutes. Add the pumpkin and cook for another 5 minutes. Pour in the coconut milk with the lentils and bring to the boil.

Reduce the heat, cover with a lid and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the spinach, stir through, and cook for another 2 minutes – or a bit longer if using frozen. Serve with brown rice.

Home sweet home

It’s the tail-end of August, and like Cher, I’d be rather pleased if I could turn back time. What’s often a quiet month has, for me, been unusually busy. I had intended to spend the month taking stock of my first year as a freelancer and sorting out my tax return, but it’s gone by in a blur of work and a family holiday. I guess it’s true that life happens when you’re busy making other plans, but I feel even more disorganised than ever. I don’t feel particularly rested after our trip away and I feel like I have a million and one things to do so that I can play catch up.

Holidays are good for the soul, I know, and I’m the biggest advocate for them, but I feel well and truly out of kilter and I’m struggling to get back into a routine. We were sunkissed under the blue skies of Paris, but back in the UK it looks like the heatwave is going, going, gone. As I write this, bundled up under a blanket on the sofa, the grey skies are telling me to stay put even though I need to leave the flat, if only for my own sanity.

On Mondays I rarely talk to a soul until my other half gets back from his day at the office. Working from home can be a lonely business and I sometimes wonder if I’ve forgotten how to socialise, so I’m sure that starting at a new co-working space will change that. September and its shiny new school term always kicks me back into shape.

I’m looking forward to getting back in the kitchen, too, as the past few weeks have been a binge of eating out, oven dinners and of course, holiday food, which in Paris (and Disneyland) is très mal when you’re catering for a vegan and a pair of fussy vegetarians. If I never see another bread roll, I’ll be pleased.

Food aside, we had a lovely time, even if it did prove that my A Level French is woefully rusty. And I can’t complain as I’ve just come back from a flying visit to London where I soaked up some culture (if you like photography, you must catch the Dorothea Lange and Vanessa Winship exhibition at The Barbican before it ends next weekend), saw some dear friends and spent a lot of money on eating and drinking.

The payback of all this is that I’m now broke and busy with work so home cooking will be very necessary for the next few weeks. Here’s a one-pot pasta recipe that I made earlier this summer with runner beans and peas, which are still (but only just) in season. Use whatever green vegetables you have to hand though – courgettes would work pretty well with this, too.

IMG_8268
Pea and runner bean pasta with pesto

Pea and runner bean pasta with pesto

Serves 3-4

 

Ingredients

100g peas, fresh or frozen

100g runner beans, diagonally sliced

200g fusilli or penne pasta

1 x 400g can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

The juice of 1 lemon

Salt and pepper

 

For the pesto

50g nuts of your choice

4-5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

The juice of 1 lemon

5-6 basil leaves, torn and stalks removed, plus extra for garnishing

5-6 mint leaves torn and stalks removed, plus extra for garnishing

2 garlic cloves, peeled and cut finely or grated

2 large handfuls spinach

A dash of plant milk

Salt and pepper

Place the pasta into a large pan and pour over 500ml boiling water, then add the lemon juice and season. Cover with a lid and bring to the boil. Remove the lid and cook on a high heat for 5 minutes, then add the runner beans and after 2 minutes, add the peas and cook for another 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and drain any away any residual water from the pasta and return to the pan.

Meanwhile, quickly make the pesto by placing all the ingredients in a food processor and pulsing on a high setting for a minute or two. Add the cannellini beans to the pan and stir through with the pesto. Scatter over the leftover mint and basil leaves and serve.

Heartburn

The days might be getting longer but it’s still coat and gloves weather – for me, anyway. In our house, I’m the only one who feels the cold, whereas he often goes out without a jacket. So yes, we’ve argued about the central heating.

Apparently, the heating is still switched on when the flat reaches its ‘optimum temperature’ and the radiators stop being warm and go cold, as do I. Where’s the bloody sense in that?

The course of true love never did run smooth, but I know I’m lucky to have him – and my oversized house cardigan, which is one of the better investments I’ve made in recent years. He’s a good egg, really: he calms my kitchen crises, patiently waits while I Instagram our meals and brings me coffee in bed every morning, so I can’t complain.

And there’s always stew. It’s warm and comforting and the longer you leave it to cook, the richer it gets – like any great love affair. Speaking of which, Dolly Alderton’s superlatively brilliant Everything I Know About Love is the new book on the block and proper comfort food for your brain and I devoured it in just a few days. Her ode to female friendship is especially heartwarming.

Back to food. Here are two simple stews to warm your cockles. One’s rich and handsome; the other sweet but suave.

Pearl barley, butterbean and cauliflower stew

IMG_2693.JPG
Pearl barley, butterbean and cauliflower stew

The miso paste really adds depth to this but if you don’t have it, use 2-3 tablespoons of soy sauce instead. I used frozen spinach as it was languishing in the freezer, but fresh will work just as well.

Serves 3-4

Ingredients

1 small cauliflower, broken into florets

1 onion, peeled and diced

1 clove of garlic, peeled and finely chopped

1 tsp caraway seeds

2 bay leaves

1-2 tbsp rapeseed oil

2 tsp miso paste

1 x 400g can of tomatoes, chopped or plum

1 x 400g can of butterbeans, drained

2 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped

150g pearl barley

150g frozen spinach – or about 8 ‘bunches’

Salt and pepper

 

Heat the oil over a medium heat in a large pan or heat-proof casserole dish, then fry the onion and garlic for 2-3 minutes. Add the carrot and cauliflower and fry for another 3 minutes, then tip in the tomatoes (fill the empty can with water and add that too) and the pearl barley, caraway seeds, bay leaves and miso paste. Season with salt and pepper.

Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat, add a lid to the pan and cook for 15 minutes. Add the spinach and butterbeans and cook for another 10-15 (again, with the lid on).

Remove the bay leaves and serve with bread or green vegetables.

 

Chickpea stew with beetroot, fennel and orange

fullsizeoutput_1694
Chickpea stew with beetroot, fennel and orange

A fierce fusion of flavours. Mellow beetroot (use the vacuum-packed kind if you can’t get hold of fresh) turns this a pretty shade of purple and balances the sharp but sweet fennel and orange. If you can’t find fennel, try celery instead.

Serves 3-4

Ingredients

3-4 medium sweet potatoes (r around 200g), peeled and diced

4-5 fresh beetroot, peeled and diced

1 fennel bulb, stalks and fronds removed, and diced

1 x 400g can of tomatoes, chopped or plum

1 x 400g can of chickpeas, drained

1 orange, juice only

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp smoked paprika

Salt and pepper

1 tbsp rapeseed oil

 

Heat the oil over a medium heat in a large pan or heat-proof casserole dish, add the sweet potato and fry for 5 minutes, then add the beetroot, the tomatoes (fill the empty can with water and pour this into the pan), and the spices and season.

Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and place a lid on the pan. After 10 minutes, add the fennel and cook for another 10 minutes. After this, add the chickpeas and the orange juice and cook for 5-10 minutes. Serve with green vegetables or on its own.

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.

IMG_0415.JPG

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.

fullsizeoutput_1243.jpeg
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.

fullsizeoutput_1174.jpeg
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.

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.

 

Chard times

I’m a sucker for a stir-fry and it’s often my go-to when I’m tired, busy or just feeling lazy. Sometimes, though, I get a bit bored of my usual broccoli, ginger and soy sauce combo. Variety is the spice of life, non? This stir-fry is zippy and zesty and features the most vibrant of all the vegetables: rainbow chard. These lively leaves are available all year round but are at their best between July and November. They’re a good source of fibre, iron, calcium and vitamins A, C, K. Best of all, chard is easy to cook and is delicious with lemon and garlic.

On Sunday evening, I was flagging after a family day out (the Dr Who Experience sure is confusing when you’ve never really watched the TV show) and couldn’t be bothered to do a full-on roast dinner. I guess this is a quicker, less heavy version of that Sunday staple – and it goes very well with a glass of red. It’s lovely and lemony and the thyme adds a subtle woodiness.

I’m a recent convert to jarred chickpeas (Nigella’s right when she says that they’re superior) and you can buy them in most supermarkets and world food shops. If you can’t find them, you can just use the canned variety.

fullsizeoutput_c00
More charred than chard, but hey ho…

 

Stir-fry with rainbow chard, chickpeas and baby new potatoes

Ingredients

200g rainbow chard, washed and roughly sliced

1 jar (540g) chickpeas

200g baby new potatoes, halved

1 courgette, cut into strips

2 cloves smoked garlic

1 lemon

1 tsp fresh thyme leaves – or dried thyme

Salt and pepper

1 tbsp olive oil

 

Method

In a large wok, heat the olive oil on a high heat then add the potatoes, the juice of half a lemon and some salt and pepper. Fry for five minutes, stirring frequently. Add a little water so that the potatoes don’t burn. Turn the heat down to medium, add the chickpeas –including the brine – courgette, garlic and thyme to the pan and squeeze over the juice of another half lemon. After a couple of minutes, add the chard and a little more water then cook for another ten minutes, or until the potatoes are soft. Serve in bowls, squeeze over some more lemon juice and season with salt and pepper, if you like.

 

Let’s get ready to crumble

Hello autumn, my old friend. Summer’s on its way out and my favourite time of the year is fast approaching. This season of mists and mellow fruitfulness* is a delicious dalliance of chilly skies and warm and toasty glows – carpets of copper-coloured leaves, bonfires burning bright and sunny squashes.

I’m getting a bit carried away, I know. It’s not here just yet, and in some ways, I’m quite glad as this autumn I need to get fit. In October, for the first time in four years, I’m running a half marathon and I’m not looking forward to it. I’m such a fair-weather runner (actually, I hate running come rain or shine) that I only put on my trainers when I have a race coming up. This means that I’m pretty out of shape and have just over six weeks to train. Help. It could be worse, I guess. On the radio this morning, John Humphreys told listeners that he runs with his eyes closed. At four o’clock in the morning.

When I’m not putting my legs and lungs to the test, I’ll be in the kitchen cooking or eating. Cold and dark nights call for comfort food and nothing quite beats a crumble. This one’s dead easy to make and is a nice way to enjoy summer fruits while they’re still in season. I used rhubarb, strawberries and blackcurrants, but raspberries, blueberries and peaches or nectarines would work a treat, too – or even a bag of the summer berries you can find in the freezer aisle of most supermarkets.

*Keats describes this season better than anyone in the sublime To Autumn.

IMG_0603.JPG

Summer fruits crumble

Ingredients

For the fruit filling

400g summer fruits

1 tsp ground ginger

50g light brown sugar

 

For the crumble topping

150g flour

50g porridge oats

100g vegan margarine, cold from the fridge

 

Method

Preheat the oven to 180C (gas mark 4). Stew the rhubarb with a little water and sugar for about ten minutes, then add the strawberries and blackcurrants and heat for a further five minutes.

To make the crumble topping, sieve the flour into a bowl, then stir through the oats and rub the margarine into the dry ingredients until your mixture resembles breadcrumbs.

Place the fruit mixture in a large ovenproof dish the scatter the crumble topping over and bake for 40 minutes. Serve with vegan ice cream, custard, cream or on its own.