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.

 

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Blackberry picking

The last time I posted a recipe on here back in May, it was asparagus season and summer was on the way. As I write this, it’s 1 September, what I think of as the first day of autumn, although summer apparently lasts until 23 September.

It’s a beautiful day and the sun is shining, but the leaves are already falling and plump blackberries are sitting on the hedges, waiting to be eaten. This morning, we walked up Kilvey Hill, somewhere we occasionally go to stretch our legs and look down on Swansea when we get to the top.

Recently, life has become a bit of a juggling act with a new job and a fair bit of freelance work to keep me busy. I’m also developing recipes for a new project, which I’ll be able to share with you soon. I have quite a lot on my plate (don’t we all, though?) and I’ve been feeling quite stressed at times.

One thing that helps me switch off is escaping into the countryside. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: nature can be the best medicine. If I want to stop the whirring thoughts inside my head, I get outside and head for the woods or the beach, and I usually feel ten times better afterwards. Last week, I had an afternoon out with my new work colleagues and went rambling around Llantwit Major, which incidentally is where I was born. It turns out that a combination of fresh air, no WIFI and a hearty meal at the pub is tonic for just about anything.

In the last week, I’ve been out and about blackberry picking. As a city dweller, it’s something I’ve come to late in life, but where we live in Swansea, they’re abundant at this time of year. I’m far too impatient for mindfulness, but picking blackberries does help me be ‘present’ – and stops me looking at my phone.

Now that I’ve started picking, I’ve started to notice other ‘pickers’ on my walks, and we smile at each other, almost conspiratorially. It’s like being in a secret club: if you know, you know. Having said that, blackberry picking is one of the most accessible activities, if you know where to look for them, and who doesn’t like free food? They’re plentiful at this time of year, so head out with a load of Tupperware and pick to your heart’s content. Just remember to be careful of thorns and always wash the berries thoroughly. And if you end up with too much, you can freeze them for eating another time.

So what to do with all those blackberries? You can always make crumble or pie – or you can try my simple no bake mini cheesecakes. I’m a sucker for those little Gu puddings (which I buy as a treat or when they’re on offer) so I used the empty glass pots for these cheesecakes. If you don’t have those, use ramekins or glass tumblers, empty jam jars, or even coffee cups.

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No-bake blackberry cheesecakes

Makes four mini cheesecakes

Ingredients

200g (about half a tub) soya or coconut yogurt

3 tsp vanilla extract

100g Hobnobs or oaty biscuits (about six biscuits)

50g vegan butter or margarine

300g blackberries, washed and drained

50g caster sugar

 

In a small pan, melt the butter over a low heat. Add the biscuits to a large bowl and bash with the end of a rolling pin until you have a crumb-like texture. Add the melted butter and set aside.

Using the same pan, add the blackberries, sugar and 1 tsp vanilla extract and warm over a low heat for about 5 minutes. Leave to cool.

In a large bowl, mix the yogurt with 2 tsp vanilla extract and whip vigorously using a hand whisk.

Take four ramekins and spoon the biscuit mixture into the bottom, making sure to press down firmly. Add a layer of yogurt and top with the blackberries. Eat immediately or chill in the fridge. If covered, these will last a couple of days.

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.

 

 

 

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.