Autumn sweater

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

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

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

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

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Autumnal salad with kale, walnuts and blackberries

 

Serves 3-4

 

Ingredients

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

The juice of 2 lemons

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

A generous pinch of sea salt

2 parsnips, peeled and grated

2 small apples, cored and thinly sliced

1 x 400g can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

100g blackberries

100g walnuts

 

For the blackberry vinaigrette

100g blackberries

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp balsamic or apple cider vinegar

1 tbsp caster sugar

A generous pinch of sea salt

 

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

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

 

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Celeriac and white bean dip

 

Makes one large bowl

 

Ingredients

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

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

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

1-2 cloves garlic, peeled

The juice of 1 lemon

1 tbsp tahini

1 tsp dried thyme

Salt and pepper

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Back to school

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Chocolate banana bread

 

Chocolate banana bread

 

Makes 1 medium-sized loaf

Ingredients

225g plain flour

2 tsp baking powder

7 very ripe bananas

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

200ml coconut milk

100g brown sugar

2 tbsp cocoa powder

2 tsp cinnamon

50g chocolate chips or cacoa nibs (optional)

Preheat the oven to 200C. In a large bowl, mash the bananas with a fork, then add the oil and sugar and mix with a wooden spoon. Sieve over the flour and baking powder and mix together. Add the other ingredients and stir thoroughly. Grease a 9×5-inch loaf pan, add the cake mixture and place on the middle shelf of the oven. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until golden brown. Allow to cool, then serve in slices. This will keep in an airtight container for about two days after baking.

 

Pinch, punch, first of the month

It might be the first of September, but like most of us sun-spoiled Brits, I’m hoping for an Indian summer. I adore the autumn, which for me, is the season of new starts, but I’m feeling rather ill-prepared for it this year.

I don’t feel ready to get back into the swing of things because I never got off in the first place. My freelancing has been more feast than fast recently, which is no bad thing, but it does mean that I didn’t get to enjoy as many long and lazy summer days as I’d have liked.

Perhaps I need follow the example of our Gallic neighbours. If you’ve ever been to Paris during August, you’ll know that everything shuts down. The French love their holidays, but in September, after a well-deserved break, it’s ‘à la rentrée’, and life returns to normal.

School starts next week and so does the beginning of a busy month for me, and many others. The nights are already drawing in and I’m not relishing the return of colder, darker days. I really don’t want to say sayonara to the summer so in typical rebellious fashion, I plan to stay bare-legged, go out without a coat and eat summer berries for as long as I possibly can.

Speaking of which, summer strawberries are still on the shelves, but only just, so in homage to the sunny season, here’s a sweet bake to brighten up those grey skies. You can find tahini in most larger supermarkets and world food shops, but peanut butter works well, too. When strawberries disappear, you can try it with autumn apples or blackberries.

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Strawberry and tahini loaf

Ingredients

1 punnet (about 400g) strawberries, hulled

200g plain or rice flour

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

2 tsp baking powder

100g caster sugar

250ml plant milk

75ml rapeseed oil, plus extra for greasing

3 tbsp tahini

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp vanilla extract

Heat the oven to 200C. Take half the strawberries and chop into small pieces. Add to a pan with a little water and a tablespoon of caster sugar and warm over a low heat for 5 minutes. Leave to cool.

Sieve the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda into a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar and stir thoroughly. Add the milk and stir through and then the oil, and stir again. Now add the tahini, cinnamon and vanilla extract and stir again. Finally, add the strawberries, making sure to include the juice and stir through the mixture.

Pour into a greased loaf tin and place on the top shelf of the oven. Bake for 25 mins or until fully risen and a skewer inserted into the middle of the cakes comes out clean.

When the cake has cooled, slice the remainder of the strawberries and layer over the top of the cake. This will keep for a day or two in an airtight container.

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You had me at halloumi

Boy, have I eaten well over the last few days. Steak, chicken, cheese, ham, chocolate doughnuts – I could go on. Before you ask, I haven’t fallen off the wagon; it’s all as fake as Donald Trump’s newsfeed. Yup, plant-based eating has moved on a lot in the two years that I’ve been vegan.

When I first ditched the meat, eggs and dairy two years ago I would never have dreamed of eating substitutes. I kind of fell into the trap of ‘clean eating’ (bleeurgh) and although it was just a phase, I still turned my nose up at processed foods, even if they were vegan. Eventually though, curiosity (and Instagram) got the better of me and in the last six months, I’ve relaxed a bit and eaten a lot of vegan ‘junk’ food. When I’m not scoffing fishless fingers and ‘chicken’ nuggets (thank you, Quorn), you’ll find me in the biscuit aisle – damn you, Oreos. Sure, my jeans are tighter, but it’s nice that I no longer feel like I’m missing out.

And so I move on to the subject of vegan halloumi – yes, you read that correctly. Demand for plant-based cheeses is higher than ever and Violife has a new range, which includes a Wensleydale-type cheese with cranberries or blueberries – and a much-hyped halloumi.

I dabble in a bit of dairy-free cheese now and then but it’s halloumi, in all its salty squeakiness, that I really crave. I’m not going to lie to you: this doesn’t taste like the real thing. It’s tasty and keeps its shape when fried or grilled but it’s more sticky than squeaky and needs a good bit of seasoning to really sing. I’d eat it again though.

Whether you’re trying the Violife version or just eating the regular stuff, halloumi goes really, really well with fruit. In this salad, I’ve paired it with watermelon but nectarine or blueberries would work just as well. I used D’aucy lentils (one of the best canned version around in my opinion) but own-brand green or brown ones will do. Obviously, you can cook them from scratch but using canned saves a bit of time.

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Halloumi, lentil and watermelon salad

Serves 2

Takes 15-20 minutes to make

 

Ingredients

1 packet halloumi (vegan or dairy), cut into long slices

1 can (400g) lentils, drained

2 small courgettes, cut into wedges

1 bag watercress

As much watermelon as you like

1 large handful pine nuts

1 large lemon

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1 handful flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped

Salt and pepper

 

Method

Place two large pans on a medium heat and add a tablespoon of olive oil to each one. In one pan, add the courgettes and a good squeeze of lemon juice and cook for five minutes until brown, then remove from the pan and set aside. In the other pan, fry the halloumi slices with a squeeze of lemon for around ten minutes, turning frequently – they’ll be ready when they’re brown on both sides. Meanwhile, add the drained lentils and watercress to the other pan with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and warm for five minutes. Return the cooked courgettes to the pan and heat for another minute. Remove the halloumi from the pan and lightly toast the pine nuts for a minute or so. Serve the lentils with the halloumi and watermelon and scatter over the pine nuts and parsley with a squeeze of lemon and some salt and pepper.