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.

 

 

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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.

 

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.

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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.

All the leaves are brown…

Is it just me who feels a bit undone as the seasons change? We’re halfway through September and although the temperature’s dropped, we have much colder weather to come, and I’m dreading it. I’ve been feeling a bit low recently, and on some days I’m gloomier than Eeyore. Hormones and hiraeth are a heady combination.

It’s been over a year since I moved to Swansea, but I’m still in a long-distance relationship with Cardiff. I miss my daily walks through leafy Bute Park, the familiar faces, the smell of Brains Brewery and the gentle hustle and bustle that you can only get in a city the size of Cardiff. Where we live now, all the leaves are brown and the skies are grey.

People tell me that I’m lucky to be by the sea, but contrary to popular belief, not everyone lives in Mumbles, and unless you drive (and I don’t yet), the beaches aren’t quite on your doorstep. Thankfully, I’ve found some comfort in the words of Dylan Thomas, who as we all know, described Swansea as: “An ugly, lovely town … crawling, sprawling … by the side of a long and splendid curving shore. This sea-town was my world.”

It’s not my world yet, Dylan, but I’m working on it. I’m not slagging off Swansea, but it hasn’t found its way to my heart just yet.

At least I can cheer myself up with autumn’s abundance of fruit and vegetables. The kitchen is full of apples, squash, pumpkin, pears and plums, and partly inspired by The Great British Bake Off, I’ve been baking again. The prime-time favourite has survived the move to Channel 4 and watching it is still the televisual equivalent of a warm bath and a bedtime story – well, kind of. I’m rooting for Rahul, who is surely Britain’s nicest man, and looking forward to the much-anticipated vegan week.

I’m no star baker but I do like to experiment with my cakes. This approach can sometimes end in tears, but I’ve created a recipe that works a treat. While we’re on the cusp of courgette season, pears have been at the greengrocers for a few weeks, and the two work surprisingly well together. In this cake, the sweetness of the pears and the mild mellowness of the courgettes are lifted with a pinch of cardamom for a gentle kick of spice. I’ve used rice flour, which makes this a gluten-free bake, but any flour will work.

Perfect with a mug of tea and five minutes’ peace.

 

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Pear, courgette and cardamom loaf

Courgette and pear loaf

Makes 1 medium-sized loaf

 

Ingredients

200g rice flour

2 tsp baking powder

100g porridge oats

2 large ripe pears (300g), cored and cubed

2 small courgettes (200g), grated

100ml vegetable, olive, sunflower or coconut oil (plus a little bit extra for greasing the loaf tin)

200ml plant milk

100g brown sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

1-2 tsp apple cider vinegar (optional)

Cardamom (seeds from 5-6 pods)

Preheat the oven to 200C. In a large bowl, 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 and a skewer inserted into the middle of the cakes comes out clean. Allow to cool, then serve in slices, perhaps with some coconut yogurt or vegan ice cream.

 

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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Inner stew

Although summer’s in full swing, the days are slowly getting shorter, and as many people jet off on their summer holidays, I feel that I need the opposite of a break.

It’s a traditionally quiet time for freelancers, which is not all bad when the weather’s this beautiful, but I’m getting itchy feet. I’ve been lulling the lull with Love Island, but I don’t think it’s helping. This bunch of homogenised honeys might be nice to look at but it all gets a bit repetitive after a while. There are only so many times I can tut as I see Alex turn redder and redder (he’s a doctor for God’s sake; where’s his sun cream?) or watch as Adam snakes his way over to every new woman who arrives at the villa.

A much better way to feng shui my funk is to do something about it, so next week I’m going to make a plan and stick to it. Part of that plan involves me trying very hard not to beat myself up for not ‘achieving’ much this month. I know that I will though, because my inner voice can be a bitch sometimes. Ah, impostor syndrome, the frenemy of women everywhere. A friend who’s also freelance shares my pain and suggested that I start a ‘joy journal’, where I write down my wins, no matter how small, so that I can see where I’m doing well and where I need to improve. I think she’s on to something there.

Anyway, my one constant is cooking and I’ve been road testing some new recipes with summer vegetables. I love making (and eating) stew and although it’s normally a dish associated with chilly nights, a few little tweaks can transform it into a summer staple. This stew is sustaining but it’s also light and zesty. Fresh peas are just in season but if you can’t be bothered to shell them, use frozen instead.

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Summer stew with courgettes, asparagus and peas

Summer stew

Serves 4

Ingredients

2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

2 shallots, peeled and diced

500ml hot stock

100ml oat milk

1-2 tsp white miso paste

400g Jersey royals or new potatoes, quartered

100g asparagus, chopped

150g courgettes, diced

100g peas (podded weight), fresh or frozen

1 x 400g can cannellini beans

The juice of 2 lemons

2 bay leaves

1 tbsp olive oil

A handful of fresh mint, chopped

A handful of fresh parsley, chopped

Salt and pepper

 

In a large heatproof casserole or pan, heat the oil at a low temperature. Add the shallots and garlic and fry for 3-4 minutes, until translucent. Add half the stock, the miso, the bay leaves and the potatoes and bring to the boil. Cover with a lid and cook for 10 minutes. Add the asparagus, courgette and the rest of the stock and cook for 5 minutes, then add the cannellini beans and lemon juice and season. Reduce the heat and simmer for 2-3 minutes, then add the peas and oat milk and cook for another 3 minutes. Just before serving remove the bay leaves and stir through the chopped mint and parsley.

 

 

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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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