Autumn sweater

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

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

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

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

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Autumnal salad with kale, walnuts and blackberries

 

Serves 3-4

 

Ingredients

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

The juice of 2 lemons

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

A generous pinch of sea salt

2 parsnips, peeled and grated

2 small apples, cored and thinly sliced

1 x 400g can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

100g blackberries

100g walnuts

 

For the blackberry vinaigrette

100g blackberries

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp balsamic or apple cider vinegar

1 tbsp caster sugar

A generous pinch of sea salt

 

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

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

 

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Celeriac and white bean dip

 

Makes one large bowl

 

Ingredients

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

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

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

1-2 cloves garlic, peeled

The juice of 1 lemon

1 tbsp tahini

1 tsp dried thyme

Salt and pepper

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Back to school

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Chocolate banana bread

 

Chocolate banana bread

 

Makes 1 medium-sized loaf

Ingredients

225g plain flour

2 tsp baking powder

7 very ripe bananas

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

200ml coconut milk

100g brown sugar

2 tbsp cocoa powder

2 tsp cinnamon

50g chocolate chips or cacoa nibs (optional)

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

 

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.

Eat your greens

You know it’s peak asparagus season when it’s all you can see as you thumb your way  through Instagram.

We’ve reached the end of what farmers call the hungry gap, when, in early spring, there is little fresh produce available. That period is well and truly over, with greens lining up on the shelves of our greengrocers: watercress, cucumber, leeks, spring greens, and my favourite, asparagus. They’re often regarded as a delicacy, but these stubborn little spears are a hardy lot and will generally stick around in the salad drawer for a good week or so.

Spring is definitely here (how can it be mid-May already?) and as the days get longer and temperatures rise, I want to cook easy meals with fresh flavours.

Asparagus season comes but once a year, so I’m making the most of these green shoots while I can. Instead of boiling, I prefer to pan fry them in a little olive oil with salt and pepper and a generous squeeze of lemon juice.

Asparagus works well in most dishes, from pasta to pastry, and because of its robust flavour and texture, it will often take the starring role alongside other ingredients.

This simple risotto takes under half an hour to cook and uses buckwheat (which contains 13.25g of protein per 100g – that’s more than eggs) instead of rice. The wild garlic adds a sweetly mellow flavour, but it’ll be gone in the next few weeks, so two cloves of garlic will also do the trick.

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Buckwheat risotto with asparagus, spinach and wild garlic. Captured hanging out of our kitchen window for optimal daylight (we don’t have a garden).

 Buckwheat risotto with asparagus, spinach and wild garlic

 

Serves 2

Ingredients

150g buckwheat, rinsed and drained

8-10 asparagus spears, ends removed and roughly chopped

500ml vegetable stock

Half a leek, diced (or use half an onion, peeled and diced)

3-4 wild garlic leaves, roughly chopped (keep the edible flowers for a garnish)

3-4 large handfuls spinach

The juice of 1 lemon

A pinch of chilli flakes (optional)

1 tbsp olive oil

Salt and pepper

A few leaves of fresh mint, roughly chopped

 

Heat the oil in a large pan, then add the leek and sauté for 3 minutes. Add the wild garlic and the chilli flakes and cook on a medium heat for a further 2 minutes. In a separate pan, fry the asparagus in a little oil; do this over a medium heat for around 10 minutes.

Add the buckwheat to the pan and mix well, coating each grain in oil – add a little extra if necessary. Add a ladleful of the hot stock to the pearl barley and stir well. Bring to a simmer as the liquid is absorbed by the rice.  Continue adding more stock, a ladleful at a time, letting the buckwheat absorb it gradually; do this for about 15 minutes, until soft.

Add the cooked asparagus to the pan with the spinach, lemon juice and salt and pepper and stir until the spinach has wilted. Turn off the heat and stir through the chopped mint. Squeeze over some more lemon juice and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, if you like, and decorate with the wild garlic flowers. Add a smattering of sunflower seeds for extra bite.

 

Swansea Street Food Festival 2019

Anyone who knows me can tell you that I like to eat, so I was really pleased when I was invited to review Swansea Street Food Festival, which is sponsored by Encona sauces. Thankfully for me, street food isn’t just beef brisket and chicken wings, so armed with a checklist of vegan-friendly traders, I arrived bright and early (and hungry) on a sunny Saturday.

The festival coincided with Swansea Pride and there was a warm and friendly atmosphere with lots of smiley, happy people having a good time.

 

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After a look around the festival, my tummy was rumbling, so I got in line for some tacos from The Bearded Taco. I’d seen photos of the ‘let’s avo cwtch’ tacos plastered across my Instagram feed, but still hadn’t got my greedy paws on them. I’m pleased to say that they are worthy of all the hype. How could you not enjoy gin and tonic tempura avocado with lemon and agave slaw, vegan chipotle aioli and coriander? So. Bloody. Delicious.

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Next up was Vegan Ice Green for, you’ve guessed it, vegan ice cream. I’ve long been a fan of Amy and Josh’s dreamy, creamy cones, and I swear, you’d never guess that it’s dairy-free. The chocolate brownie is my favourite flavour, but for a change, I went for the carrot cake and I’m glad that I did. It was really sweet and chewy thanks to the raisins and nuts.

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I needed a bit of a break from eating, so I went for a coffee and a wander. The sun was still out in the evening, making it the perfect weather for an ice cold beer. I grabbed a can of Kona Brewing Big Wave from The Pop Up Bar Hire Co and a snack from Pakora Pod, where everything is vegan, gluten and nut free. The pakora wrap (a cauliflower pakora with salad, tomato salsa and Jaipur stew, topped with dairy-free yogurt and sweet chilli sauce) was just lovely.

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There’s only so much I can eat, but because I live in Swansea, I came back on the bank holiday Monday. The temperature had dropped quite a bit and it was very busy, so it wasn’t quite the same experience as the first day, but we still enjoyed it.

I queued for half an hour for a Mr Croquewich toasted sandwich, only to find out that they’d run out of vegan cheese (I was a bit sad, but I guess it’s a sign that vegans are eating all the vegan cheese, eh?), so headed to Murray May’s, who do some amazing things with a grill. Last year, I fell in love with the cauliflower kebab, so I had it again, but this time as a mezze box. The combination of grilled, spiced cauliflower, tahini sauce and date molasses is hella good.

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I don’t deal very well with cold weather and my fingertips were numb by this point, so sadly we had to leave. I definitely ate well over the weekend though, and it was great to see so many people enjoying themselves at this family-friendly event (dogs were also welcome!). Thank you to the organisers for inviting me to join them!

The street food festival is run by Street Food Warehouse who are running another three festivals in Wales this summer. They are:

Register for your free tickets and keep your eyes peeled for my vegan and veggie guide to Pembrokeshire Street Food Festival.

 

 

Spring fever

We’re slowly inching away from the cold, dark months of winter, but I’m not quite full of the joys of spring. That could be because it’s been rainy and windy for the last three days or because I’ve been feeling rundown and unwell, but I don’t think that’s it.

Maybe I just need some pie. It’s British Pie Week, another week for another foodstuff, but if there was ever a time for comfort food, this is it. While Brexit rages on, climate change is more apparent than ever (hello, February heatwave) and the number of students in the UK learning a foreign language has nearly halved. Personally, I think our governments need a generous slice of humble pie.

Over the past few months, freelancing has started to chip away at my general wellbeing and I’m starting to wonder whether it’s all it’s cracked up to be. It’s great to have freedom, but that’s not much compensation when you’re chasing yet another outstanding invoice and trying to keep your many ‘bosses’ sweet. If you like structure, this isn’t the life for you.

I thought self-employment would mean endless coffee dates but most of my friends live in Cardiff and I just don’t have the time most weeks. When I do meet a pal during the day, it’s almost guaranteed that an ‘urgent’ email will come through, and when any work is money, it’s hard to say no.  If I do take a break for a few hours to catch up with a friend or go to the gym or for a walk, it feels like I’m mitching from school, and I’m constantly checking my phone to make sure that I haven’t missed anything. It’s difficult to enjoy yourself when you feel that you should be working.

So, work is busy but life is pretty quiet when you don’t go have a 9-5 office job. Some days, my only interactions are with Bobbie, our kitten, the staff at the Starbucks across the road (haters gonna hate, but there isn’t an independent coffee shop nearby and sometimes I need to get out of the flat to work) or the occasional work-related phone call.

Happily, I’m working on a few food-related projects, but they don’t pay the bills, so I don’t always have that much time (or money) to cook fancy meals or eat out. And as I’ve mentioned before, I live with a pair of fussy eaters, who don’t like anything out of the ordinary, which is why I like to have friends over for dinner!

Sure, I get asked to try vegan food at restaurants in return for a blog or Instagram post (and I realise that’s a pretty jammy situation to be in), but I turn down as many invitations as I accept because I can’t justify taking time out my working day to travel to Cardiff just for a meal.

Anyway, it’s British Pie Week (not an ad), and by sheer coincidence I baked a pie using up leftovers from the fridge just last week. This one’s really simple to make, especially as it uses ready-made pastry. All you need to do is prepare the filling cover with pastry and pop it in the oven. Mine came out looking a little less than perfect (all my food looks rustic when it’s unfiltered) but it was very tasty. Food for the soul indeed.

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Celeriac, kale and chickpea pie. Rustic cooking (and photography) at its finest.

Celeriac, kale and chickpea pie

Serves 4

 

Ingredients

1 medium sized celeriac (about 200g), peeled and diced

100g kale, rinsed and roughly chopped or torn

1 x 400g can chickpeas, rinsed and drained (keep the water!)

½ an apple, cored and diced

2 cloves garlic, peeled and grated or finely chopped

A couple of sprigs of  fresh rosemary, chopped (or use dry)

2 tsp wholegrain mustard

The juice of ½ a lemon

200ml plant milk (oat milk works particularly well)

2 tsp nutritional yeast (optional)

Salt and pepper

2 tbsp rapeseed, coconut or vegetable oil

1 sheet (320g) Jus-Rol or supermarket own brand shortcrust pastry sheet (take out of the fridge 45 minutes before making the pie)

 

Preheat your oven to 200C. In a large pan, heat the oil over a medium temperature and fry the celeriac for 5 minutes. Add the rosemary and garlic and fry for another 2-3 minutes, until golden. Add the apple and kale and pour over the lemon juice. Cook for 2-3 minutes, then pour over the milk and stir through the mustard and nutritional yeast, if using. Add the chickpeas (pour the water from the can into a mug or bowl and set aside) and season, then cover with a lid and cook on a low temperature for another 5-10 minutes.

Take the pastry out of its packet and gently unroll and drape over a medium-sized ovenproof dish or pie dish. Make sure to press down the pastry and cover the sides of the dish, then spoon in the pie filling. Take the loose ends of the pastry to form a ‘lid’ and press down together. Now, using a pastry brush, ‘paint’ over some of the chickpea water across the pastry lid.

Place the dish on the middle shelf of the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes. Serve with mashed potato or swede and lots of veggies, or enjoy cold with salad.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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.