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.

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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.

 

 

 

Spicy stew with Gosh! sweet potato and black bean sausages

If this bank holiday weather’s anything to go by, summer’s packed up and gone away for another year. After a blisteringly hot June and July, our last long weekend’s a bit of a damp squib. It’s nothing we Brits aren’t used to though, and as autumn’s my favourite season, I’m looking forward to cosying up in warm jumpers and coats, kicking up some leaves and making comforting soups and stews.

It’s not cold yet but there’s a noticeable chill in the air and I’ve been wearing a cardigan or jacket for the first time in a while. The changing of the seasons always creeps up on us and it can leave us a bit out of sorts. If like me, if you’re feeling a bit stuck when it comes to cooking, try this speedy stew.

As a Gosh! ambassador, I’ve tried a few of their products over the last few months but the sweet potato and black bean sausages with a hint of chilli and lime are some of my favourites. They’re great in a classic hotdog, with sweet potato mash and vegetables, or in this easy one-pot stew. I’ve been making the most of late summer courgettes, but use whatever vegetables you like.

All Gosh! products are vegan, gluten-free and nut-free, so this mighty meal is a crowd pleaser that everyone can enjoy.

Spicy stew with Gosh! sweet potato and black bean sausagesIMG_7296

Spicy stew with Gosh! sweet potato and black bean sausages

(Serves 4)

Ingredients

1 packet Gosh! sweet potato and black bean sausages, chopped

100g red lentils, rinsed and drained

2 shallots, peeled and diced

1 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil

½  head broccoli, broken into florets

1 large courgette, chopped into medium-sized cubes

1 punnet of cherry tomatoes (or 1 x 400g can tomatoes, chopped or plum)

500ml vegetable stock

2 tsp tomato puree

2 tsp harissa paste

1 tsp sweet paprika

A pinch of chilli flakes

The juice of one lime

Salt and pepper

 

Heat the oil in a large heatproof casserole dish or pan and fry the shallots for 2-3 minutes. Add the chopped sausages and lentils and a little of the stock and stir. Gradually pour in half of the remaining stock, stirring constantly, then add the courgette, season and cook for 10 minutes. Add the broccoli, tomatoes and the rest of the stock, the spices, harissa and the tomato puree and cover with a lid. Cook for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Before serving, add the lime juice and stir through.

 

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.

 

 

Time out

It’s almost the end of April, described by T. S. Eliot as the cruellest month, and perhaps he had a point. In The Waste Land, Eliot’s talking mainly about lost love, but he’s also describing the weather. April’s a big tease. She’s cold and frosty one minute and beaming sunnily down on us the next. She coaxes us out of our coats with the warmest spring day in 60 years, and then puts a dampener on things, literally. Talk about blowing hot and cold. I know it happens every spring and I should be used to it by now but I’m always slightly disappointed by April.

Still, despite the forecast of yet another cold snap, there are lighter and brighter days ahead. This makes me happy and I feel so much freer when darkness doesn’t set in at 4pm on the dot. And after taking a little break from cooking after writing The Occasional Vegan, I’m back in the kitchen testing out recipes. Last weekend, I baked my first lemon drizzle cake, and  never one to stick to the rules, I threw in a bit of thyme to temper all that zesty citrus. A few years ago, during my short stint as a baking blogger, I made a very nice lemon and thyme cake using a Nigel Slater recipe. This time (thyme?), it needed to be vegan so I did some experimenting and ended up with a pretty sweet treat.

It turns out that thyme is relatively high in iron, something I learned when I took part in a radio programme about food trends. In the same discussion, another gardening ‘expert’ (I won’t name him but he’s a presenter on S4C) told me that mushrooms aren’t vegan because they’re half animal.  Right you are, mate. At least the other guy spoke some sense: there are 6.1mg of iron in 5g of thyme, which when you consider that the recommended daily allowance for adult women is 14.8g (it’s 8.7mg for men and women over 50, fact fans), is a pretty sizeable portion.

I had to be a bit sly with this one as my little darlings can be fussy at times (I love them, really), and as I predicted, they enjoyed the cake until they discovered the ‘green bits’.  Needless to say, they didn’t eat any more of it once I’d been caught out. If you’re not a fan of putting herbs in sweet things (and I guess that plenty of people aren’t), you can leave out the thyme and make a lovely lemony cake all the same.

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Lemon and thyme loaf

Lemon and thyme loaf

Ingredients

For the loaf

275g self-raising flour

200g caster sugar

1 tsp baking powder

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

100ml plant milk

150ml cold water

The juice of 2 lemons

4–5 sprigs (or 2 tsps) of thyme, leaves only

 

For the icing

150g icing sugar

The juice of 1 lemon

Heat the oven to 200C/180C fan/gas mark 6. Sieve the flour and baking powder into a mixing bowl and then mix together with the sugar, lemon juice and thyme. Add the oil, milk and cold water, then mix until smooth.

Grease a 9×5-inch loaf and pour the mixture into the tin. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then remove the cake and transfer it to a wire rack to cool.

For the icing, sieve the icing sugar into a bowl. Mix in the lemon juice to make an icing thick enough to pour over the loaf. This will keep in an airtight container for a couple of days.

 

 

Taking stock

It’s a funny old month, April. The days are longer and it’s warmer than it was even a couple of weeks ago (yesterday, I went out without a coat) but spring still feels a little wait away. Today, as I sit at my kitchen table writing this, I’m waiting for it to rain. It’s been forecast all morning but despite the dishwater grey skies, it still hasn’t come. All is quiet in the flat and on the street outside and I haven’t really spoken to anyone all day. Far from feeling lonely, I’m relishing it.

I’m not quite ready for my spring renewal, not just yet. In the last year there’s been so much change in my life (going freelance, moving to another city and writing a book) and now I’m ready to sit tight and take some time to rest and reflect. I’m still working, of course, but life is a bit slower while I try to assemble all the thoughts in my head into some sort of orderly fashion.

What’s next? Surely it’s what anyone asks after writing a book. It’s almost a month since The Occasional Vegan was published and I’m enjoying all the lovely things that people are telling me, but I’m also itching to start something new. I have some exciting projects lined up (including a new vegan menu at Milk & Sugar in Cardiff) and there’ll definitely be more food writing in the near future.

I had such a lovely time at the launch event for the book last week. So many of my nearest and dearest came along to support me (and to buy a signed copy of the book – thank you!) and despite my quavering voice, I managed to say a few words about why I wrote the book and what it means to me. Even though I do lots of TV and radio stuff, I feel anxious every single time so I’m glad that it went down well. In the middle of my rambling, I quoted from a review of the book, by my friend (and fellow vegan), Sareta.

“This book proves that veganism really is for everyone which is refreshing in a world of books by polished west London daddy’s girls. Sarah’s food is real food for real people.”

Now, I have nothing against anyone who’s had life handed to them on a plate (and if that helps them make a living, lucky them) but that’s clearly not me. I’m passionate about making eating well accessible and affordable to everyone and that will continue to be my ethos.

This week, I’m back in the kitchen and cooking simple meals using seasonal ingredients. I’m no purist, but the locally grown stuff tastes like heaven (and it’s often cheaper, too) and the appearance of new season tomatoes and strawberries at my local supermarket or greengrocer really does get me excited. Sometimes I do a little solitary fist pump – people must think I’m odd.

Wild garlic is all over my Instagram feed at the moment and it just so happens to be growing in the woods near to where I live. It’s free and plentiful at this time of year (although don’t pick from private land without permission and only take as much as you intend to use) and is so easy to whizz up into a quick pesto. It has a much mellower flavour than garlic, so you can afford to use a bit more of it than you would with the ordinary kind, but you’ll still get a sweetly fragrant sauce for your pasta. My other half’s not a fan of overly strong flavours (something I’ll never understand) so it got the thumbs up from him, too.

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Pasta with wild garlic pesto

Pasta with wild garlic pesto

Serves 2

For the pesto

5-6 large leaves of wild garlic, chopped finely, stalks removed

2 big handfuls of rocket, spinach or watercress

80g walnuts

4 tbsp olive oil

The juice of one lemon

Salt and pepper

 

150-200g pasta of your choice

 

Boil a pan of salted water and cook your pasta for about 10 minutes (or according to the instructions on the packet) until al dente.

Meanwhile, put all the ingredients for the pesto in a blender and pulse on high for a minute or so. You should end up with a fairly smooth paste, although a grainier texture (if your blender is quite basic, like mine) is fine, too.

When the pasta’s cooked, keep a tablespoon or two of the water and then drain. Return to the pan, stir through the pesto and the pasta water and heat for a minute, then serve.

The Occasional Vegan

I’ve written a book! It’s not every day you can say that, is it? After months of recipe testing and writing, The Occasional Vegan is here and I’m finally feeling confident enough to blow my own trumpet, just a little bit. A hell of a lot of work went into it (what’s the vegan equivalent of blood, sweat and tears?) so yes, I’m feeling pretty happy at the moment.

Since it was published last week, I’ve been busy doing media interviews and trying to fit in all my freelance work at the same time. It’s an exciting time, although I’m a pick and mix bagful of excited and nervous about the launch event next month. If you want to come along, you can get your free ticket here.

Over the next week or so, I’ll be hopping onto other people’s blogs and, so far, I’ve been on Eat Happy and For the Love of Hygge, where I talk about taking a balanced approach to eating. That’s one of the reasons I wrote this book: to prove that being vegan can be about having your cake and eating it. It’s not all rabbit food (or ‘clean eating’, whatever that actually means) and you certainly indulge in the occasional treat, because ditching the meat and dairy doesn’t mean that you have to miss out.

I want to inspire people to cook vegan dishes, whatever their budget or lifestyle, so the book is divided into four sections, which you dip and out of, depending on the occasion.

  1. The working week: quick and easy breakfasts, lunches and dinners
  2. Something for the weekend: lazy brunches, lunches and meals for friends and family
  3. High days and holidays: dishes for special occasions
  4. Comfort food and childhood favourites: think cawl, lasagne and chocolate brownies

As you’ll see when you read the book, there is so much variety in the vegan way of eating. Go forth and cook!

If you want to see me channelling my inner Nigella (I wish), you can watch a video of me making KFC (that’s Kentucky fried cauliflower), which is one of my favourite recipes from the book. It was filmed by Manon Houston, who also took all the photographs for the book. If you need a food photographer and stylist, check her out; she’s super talented and is great fun to work with.

For a taster of The Occasional Vegan, here’s an exclusive recipe from the book. This tofu dish is all sorts of delicious and the sticky lemon glaze is a dream come true. Why bother with a takeaway when you can make this instead?

 

Lemon tofu and fried rice

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Lemon tofu and fried rice

As a child, Chinese food was a big treat and every once in a while, Mum would come home with a couple of oven meals from Marks and Spencer. It was only when I got older that I tried the takeaway kind, but for me, it was way too greasy.

I loved umami flavours from a young age, so sweet and sour sauce was a firm favourite but what I remember the most is lemon chicken. This is a vegan version of that with fried rice. When life gives you lemons, make this.

50-55 minutes, plus time for preparing the tofu

Serves 2

Ingredients

 

For the lemon tofu

1 x 400g block firm tofu

1 yellow pepper, cut into thin strips

The juice of 4 lemons

1 tbsp flour

1 tbsp soy sauce

4 tsps sugar

1 tbsp sesame oil

 

For the fried rice

125g brown rice

100g peas, fresh or frozen

1 tbsp sesame oil

 

Take the tofu and use kitchen roll or a clean tea towel to blot and absorb all its water. Take a heavy wooden chopping board or a hardback book and place it on top of the wrapped tofu. This will press down on it and absorb excess moisture. Leave for 30 minutes then slice into medium-sized strips.

Preheat the oven to 200C and in an oven-proof dish, mix the soy sauce, flour and juice from two of the lemons. Coat both sides of the tofu strips with the mixture and leave to marinate for 15 minutes then bake for 25-30 minutes, turning every so often.

Meanwhile, rinse and drain the rice and add to a pan of cold water. Bring to the boil and cook for 20 minutes then drain. In a large pan or wok, heat the sesame oil and add the rice and peas and fry for ten minutes.

Remove the tofu from the oven. Mix together the remainder of the lemon juice, the sugar and the sesame oil and heat in a large pan. Add the sliced pepper and fry for a minute or two before adding the tofu. Cook for another 5-6 minutes until the tofu is glazed in the sauce, then serve with the fried rice.

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

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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

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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.

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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.