(Almost raw) Cinnamon Chocolate Slice

 

I almost didn’t post this recipe … not because it’s not delicious but because I often play around in the kitchen with similarly yummy results but for whatever many and varied reasons never get around to blogging about it. However, with that ‘New Year, New Me’ mantra still swirling around my head I’m determined to change that pattern, and even though (again) I’m not entirely happy with the images, they’re passable enough to warrant a post. I definitely deserve the ‘over-thinkers achievement award’, don’t you agree?

 

Brasil nuts are a new fav of mine when it comes to raw (or almost raw) desserts, particularly (especially!) for the base. The texture is almost sponge-like when ground and their wonderfully mild flavour ensures the chocolate ganache remains the star of the show – sprinkled with a little cinnamon, it is sure to blow yer socks off. In fact, I’ve been making a conscious effort to buy less and less processed food (yes, even us vegans fall into the convenience trap) and this is where raw desserts really come into their own. For me, there’s nothing more satisfying than a bliss ball or raw slice – it satiates that nagging sweet tooth and gnawing pre-dinner hunger in one fell swoop, with the added bonus that your blood sugar levels don’t sky rocket meaning you’re less likely to falter before your evening meal. Our usual routine usually involves a cup of tea with a slice of something at around 6pm because we don’t eat until 9pm, which I know sounds crazy to some people but it’s just normality to us – basically, we are night owls and we eek out every second of our evenings together.

 

I say this is ‘almost raw’ because I’ve added a heaped tablespoon of coconut milk/water (the canned variety) but if you want to skip that part and swap out the agave addition for something else then feel free – any kind of vegan syrup would also work but I do like the lift it gives the ganache in addition to the palm sugar. Just my preference but you may want to ‘rawify’ it a little further – totally up to you.

 

My urge to purge the last few ‘processed’ items currently in my cupboards and fridge has arisen again after taking a bit of hiatus. Like most people, this miserable Winter weather had me reaching for comfort foods like cookies and whatnot but with Spring (almost) in the air, my body is already telling me to ditch the oreos and replace them with something a little less toxic. Don’t get me wrong, when Ben & Jerry’s finally release their dairy ice-creams I’ll be the first in line to sample the delights but until then I’ll be dining out on slightly healthier desserts like this. I hope you’ll join me too!

 

what you’ll need

for the crust

1 cup brazil nuts

3 medjool dates

1/2 tbsp coconut oil

pinch of pink himalayan salt

 

for the topping

1 tbsp coconut oil

1 heaped tbsp coconut palm sugar

1 heaped tbsp raw cacao

1 tbsp coconut cream

1 tbsp coconut water

1 tbsp agave or other vegan sweetener

generous pinch of cinnamon salt (available from the Cornish Sea Salt Co.)

or a pinch of regular sea salt mixed with grated or ground cinnamon

 

what you’ll do

place the brazil nuts in the blender and blitz to a fine meal. stone the dates and add to the processor along with the coconut oil and pink himalayan salt. blitz until it form a fine rubble before transferring to a lined tin. press firmly with the back of a spoon or spatula and refrigerate for at least an hour.

 

melt the coconut oil in a small saucepan and add the palm sugar. allow it to slowly dissolve before adding the cacao. whisk vigorously until combined … don’t worry if it still looks a bit grainy at this stage. add the coconut cream, coconut water, agave and salt, and whisk again until smooth – you can do this over a very low heat to loosen the mixture.

 

pour over the brazil nut crust and spread out using a spatula. garnish with a generous sprinkling of cinnamon salt.

 

refrigerate for several hours (or ideally overnight) until set. slice and serve … this dessert is quite rich so a small serving will suffice.

 

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Oat Milk ‘n’ Honesty


 

Hey folks, I feel like it’s been a while since we had a proper catch up. So much has happened in the past six months I almost don’t know where to begin and even though I’ve been posting reasonably regularly I guess I do hold back sometimes on the personal stuff … I am the master of talking in riddles it would seem. With that said, here’s what’s happening in my life right now – beginning with oat milk.
 

Okay, the ‘oat milk’ (as lovely as it is) is more of a segue into how I’m feeling about the blog at the moment. Basically, I’m procrastinating way too much before posting, which invariably means I just don’t – I have many excuses ranging from ‘the photos aren’t good enough’ through to ‘haven’t I done a similar recipe before?’ or ‘what exactly am I trying to say in this post?’… the list goes on and on. And yes, I see the awesome work other bloggers are doing right now and I feel my efforts are basically crap in comparison. Ego’s are delicate little things and mine is no different … let’s just say, social media is both a blessing and curse. To counteract this (self-inflicted) negativity, I’ve tried to limit my ‘follows’ to only those who inspire me. In essence, I’ve basically deleted any and all that make me feel like a total ‘daily’ failure – guess what, this strategy actually works. If someone is totally bumming you out with their ‘perfect life’ – whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, press unfollow immediately and swiftly get on with your day, safe in the knowledge their next upload won’t inevitably end up making you question your entire life choices to date. Simples.

 

The thing about social media is that you are basically in control of what you see, so if you surround yourself with people (virtually speaking) that trigger the worst in you then eliminate their presence from your life. For the sake of your sanity, click that ‘unfollow’ button, CLICK IT! Ahem.

 

We’ve established I want to blog more frequently – and, more importantly, not fret over my uploads too much. Yes, it’s just oat milk but it’s such a handy recipe to have up your sleeve … and the pulp makes for one heck of a shake – think Ed’s Diner (pre-vegan memories) without the guilt – my fav combo is oat milk (plus pulp), banana, raw cacao, pb, maca and medjool dates. Pretty much everything I post here is something I’ve eaten and enjoyed, meaning it hasn’t been designed specifically for the blog. Remember, real life is so much better than a carefully constructed internet presence, which leads me nicely onto my favourite recent vlog/blog find, Mango Island Mamma. Um, hello?!! Why has nobody told me about this gal before? *raps collective internet knuckles* What a totally awesome chick – so content and sure of herself, and completely down to earth with it. Raising two adorable bambinos on a mostly raw vegan diet – I salute you missus, and I can confirm I’m now your newest number one fan. If, like me, you are tired of the usual internet rubbish and need something to truly feed your soul, go check out her blog and youtube channel … mahalo.

 

The next thing weighing on my mind is our current flat hunting crisis – perhaps crisis is an exaggeration but I’m certainly starting to panic. Our landlord is selling the house we’re currently renting, which means we are yet again on the move. Almost twelve years together and the longest we’ve lived anywhere is two years … I can tell you it takes its toll. So far, so bad on the flat hunting front meant I was even willing to rid myself of most of my furniture (even the stuff that genuinely ‘sparks joy’) just so we could feasibly fit inside the only decent property we viewed. It ticked so many boxes (great kitchen, high spec finish, good location, amazing seaviews etc.) but was unfortunately the size of a shoebox. Given the fact I work from home most days meant that it was only a matter of time before I went stir crazy – and that is definitely not a pretty sight. My Husband was so desperate, however, he even suggested we sell the sofa (my indigo L-shaped mid-centuryesque pride and joy… uh, hell no!) and ‘downsize’ to fit the flat. Basically, not happening. I don’t doubt we’ll find somewhere suitable (patience is key) but in the meantime I’m left feeling (reeling?) in limbo – sat in a house I no longer feel is ‘ours’ and not knowing what the future holds … and how much it’ll cost.

 

Of course, all this pales in comparison when I think about what my poor Dad is going through. Eighteenth months on and he’s still battling but it breaks my heart (and maddens in equal measure) to see what cancer can do to a person even when they have all the will in the world to live. I think feeling totally helpless is natural but the guilt that comes with living in another country is also difficult to bear … we do what we can but my Mum is the one that has to deal with it on a daily basis. It’s honestly incredible how well she has coped – they are both superstars in my eyes, and I feel lucky everyday to have such an incredible family. My Sister and I have been afforded every possible opportunity in life, which is all credit to my parents … we were always encouraged to follow our dreams and without that kind of unflinching support I know we’d be in very, very different careers. Creativity has always been at the crux of our family unit – it’s the only language we understand, and what a privilege that has been. How many people are in jobs they hate because their parents held them back whereas ours said ‘reality be damned, aim for the stars’ – but get your degree too, haha. That’s the thing, as sad as we are about my Dad’s illness we haven’t spent a lot of time brooding on it – when we’re together, we laugh, chat, eat (my family are currently all plant-based nommers), do all the things we normally would. Perhaps it’s the elephant in the room but we never really dwell on the negatives and instead focus on everything we’ve achieved … the prognosis was grim but we’ve beaten those odds and then some. Like I said to my Dad when the surgeon delivered the worst news we’ll ever hear, it’s not all doom and gloom – and I stand by that, I really do.

 

Apologies for getting so heavy on you guys but I thought you should know where I’m at right now. This has always been a ‘safe space’ for me and will continue to be so – in my opinion, honesty is always the best policy. Let’s brighten the vibe then and get back to what I arguably do best … simple, plant-based fodder that makes you smile. Onwards.

 

what you’ll need

1 cup jumbo rolled oats

pinch of pink himalayan salt

1/2 tbsp agave or 1 tbsp maple syrup (or 2 medjool dates)

 

what you’ll do

add the oats to a blender along with 2 cups of water (3 if you prefer a thinner consistency) along with the pink himalayan salt and agave.

 

blitz until smooth and then strain through a nut milk bag.

 

chill for at least an hour and serve.

 

perfect in porridge, poured over cereals or into coffee – or it’s own!

 

 

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Carlin Pea Chilli Bowl


 
It’s Fri-YAY, and I’m in the mood to part-TAY … or at the very least, hunker down with a bowl of chilli and a fridge-cold Cornish beer. My social life is pretty predictable these days but that’s just the way I like it – although I do enjoy a boogie from time to time, mostly I’m happy to stay put. Yup, mama’s lost her mojo. In other news, I apparently share my name with a pea … how cool/weird is that? Until Hodmedod’s kindly sent me some, I’d never actually come across ‘Carlin Peas’ before (also known as Black Badgers) so didn’t really know what to expect – apparently they’re popular up North and are frequently used to make mushy peas … and heaven knows, I do love mushy peas! I didn’t quite go down side dish route myself, as I was hankering after an all-in-one recipe that I could re-heat for our self-imposed Friday night hibernation.

 

Obviously I wanted to put my own spin on it though so opted for a generous dollop of harissa instead of my usual chilli spice combo (cumin, paprika, cayenne etc.) and I’m pleased to say it really worked a treat. You can easily up the spice ante with a dash more chilli if you please but one birds eye (sans seeds) was sufficient for me, especially as I didn’t want the harissa overshadowed by mega-heat. I was tempted to serve this with Hodmedods quinoa (also British grown!) but went in for my favourite chilli accompaniment instead … tortilla chips. Oh, and don’t forget that guac/avocado for added creaminess that will offset the richness of the tomato sauce.

 

Now, as for the peas. Well, what can I say other than they were a resounding triumph! Meaty, perfectly round and quite simply made for chilli – or any stew for that matter. I like to reduce the sauce until it’s super thick and scoopable … even when simmered for a long time on the stove the peas don’t lose their shape and are incredibly substantial – you certainly won’t be hungry after a bowl of this! Is that Friday night calling? Yep, methinks it is – grab a bowl (and some Carlin peas) and let’s go.

 

what you’ll need

1 tbsp olive oil

2 red onions

1 heaped tsp garlic puree or 3 garlic cloves

1 tsp red vinegar

pinch of brown sugar (optional)

1 x 400g canned chopped tomatoes

1 tbsp tomato puree

1 x 400g carlin peas

2 heaped tsp harissa paste

1 birds eye chilli

100g fresh spinach

salt and pepper

 

to serve

avocado

tortilla chips

 

what you’ll do

heat the olive oil in a heavy-based saucepan. finely dice the red onion and add to pan.

 

season and sweat until the red onion begins to soften before adding the garlic puree. cover and cook until the red onion is transparent. add the red wine vinegar and pinch of sugar (if using) and gently sweat for a few minutes further.

 

add the canned tomatoes, tomato puree and season generously. fill the empty with water or vegetable stock and swill out any excess juice into the pan. simmer gently for around 40minutes breaking the tomatoes up with the back of a spoon.

 

drain and rinse the carlin peas and add to the sauce along with the harissa paste. finely mince the chilli and add to pan. check for seasoning and simmer for a further 20minutes.

 

finely chop the spinach and add to the pan. simmer for an additional 10-15minutes until it has fully wilted. check for seasoning and serve.

 

divide the chilli between 2-3 bowls and top with sliced or mashed avocado, a smattering of hemp seeds and a side of tortilla chips.

 

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Green Lentil & Spinach Curry/The New Vegan

 

I realised recently that I haven’t revealed too much about my new book yet … well, at least not on here I haven’t. I guess I presume most of you follow me on twitter and instagram so you’re already up to date – but perhaps not? Anyway, maybe this easy dinner recipe will pique your curiosity surrounding my latest offering The New Vegan. Whilst there’s plenty of info for newbies, I’ve been keen to ensure the book appeals to seasoned vegans (and non-vegans) too … my thinking behind the title was more of a fresh, new approach to veganism free from many of those negative connotations associated with the word. I feel this new wave of veganites are less constrained by labels, and I wanted this to be reflected in the book – which, by the way, also includes chapters on ‘cruelty-free beauty’ (featuring DIY beauty recipes) and ‘my vegan wardrobe’ … who says you can’t be vegan and stylish, eh?

 

As ever, my recipes are quite straightforward with ingredients that can all be found at the supermarket. Like most people I’m on a pretty tight weekly budget, so none of the dishes will break the bank – I also try to incorporate nutritional tips that lay bare how easy it is to be healthy and vegan without restricting yourself. That means you’ll find a smattering of sugar and the odd bit of white flour – I’m a foodie first and foremost, and still love playing around with these ingredients even if they’ve been somewhat demonised in recent months. Of course, I balance it all out with fresh juices, sumptuous salads and decadent raw desserts but make no mistake, the only reason for their inclusion in the book was due to their deliciousness and not because they fit the ‘clean eating’ criteria. Whilst I have nothing against ‘clean eating’ in theory, I try to not let it influence my cooking/eating too much because I think it sets a worrying precedent – namely that we end up flailing ourselves should anything ‘unclean’ pass our lips, and, in my opinion, that’s no way to live.

 

This ‘Green Lentil and Spinach Curry’ is pretty basic but during the week, this is exactly the kind of dish I’m after – warming, wholesome with a crucial kick thanks to chilli and cayenne. I’ve been known to make a huge batch which I can then reheat for lunches throughout the week … you could easily take it to work and reheat it in the microwave for a homemade hit midday. Equally, it’s a great option for when you have guests – I often pair it with some easy flatbreads and let everyone help themselves. For those of you who aren’t so confident in the kitchen, this is a great starting point. Likewise, all the recipes are easily adaptable so if you’re missing one or two ingredients you can easily sub it out with something else.

 

A few of my other favourites from the book include the Red Pepper & Spinach Stromboli, Jerk-Style Cauliflower Steaks and my Aduki Bean Casserole. For the salad-lovers amongst you I have a feeling you’re going to love my Roasted Cauliflower Fattoush, Quinoa Tabbouleh with a Harissa Dressing and not forgettting the Thai-Inspired (spiralised) Salad with Tamari Roasted Cashews, which always get rave reviews. Got a sweet tooth? Gotcha covered. Think Banoffee Pie, (gluten-free) Orange Polenta Cake, Fruit ‘n’ Nut Truffles and Wholemeal ‘Buttermilk’ Scones to name but a few (or four) although there are many, many more that are sure to whet your appetite. And how could I possibly not mention breakfast (my favourite meal of the day) which includes everything from Buckwheat Griddle-pan Waffles through to Chai Chia Pudding, No-Bake Granola Bars and Savoury Indian-Style Crepes – oh, and if you like baked beans as much as me, you’re going to love my staple ‘stove-top’ alternative.

 

No doubt I’ll be checking in again with yet more recipes and insights into the book but in the meantime I hope this is just the taster you need to go check it out for yourself – be sure to let me know what your favourite recipes are, and if you happen to be on instagram please do post a pic … they always make my day!

 

what you’ll need

1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 garlic clove
thumb-size piece of fresh ginger
1 red chilli
125g dried green lentils
400ml can coconut milk
½ gluten-free vegetable stock cube
1 tablespoon tomato purée
150g spinach
30g fresh coriander, roughly
chopped
sea salt and freshly ground black
pepper
brown rice, to serve

 

for the cucumber and
coconut dressing
¼ small cucumber
2 tablespoons coconut cream
juice of ½ lime
1 spring onion, finely chopped
pinch of salt

 

for the curry powder
3 cardamom pods
½ teaspoon garam masala
½ teaspoon palm sugar or other
vegan sweetener
a few black peppercorns
pinch of cayenne pepper

 

what you’ll do

1. First make the dressing. Deseed and finely grate the cucumber, squeezing out any excess juice. Whisk together with the other dressing ingredients, but be sure not to over-season. Refrigerate until needed.

 

2. Next, grind the curry powder ingredients together in a pestle and mortar to a fine powder.

 

3. Heat the oil in a large heavybased frying pan. Add the onion and carrot to the pan, season and sweat for several minutes until they begin to soften.

 

4. Using a knife, mince the garlic, ginger and chilli together on a clean chopping board and add them to the pan. Cover and sweat until fragrant before tossing in the dried lentils. Stir to coat and let the lentils absorb any flavours in the pan before sprinkling over the prepared curry powder. Cover and sweat for several minutes until the spices become nicely toasted and the flavours have penetrated the veg and lentils.

 

5. Add the coconut milk, stock cube and 150ml water, cover and simmer gently over a medium heat for about 1 hour until the lentils cook through.

 

6. Stir through the tomato purée and boil the sauce, uncovered, for about 10 minutes to reduce before adding the spinach to the pan. Cover and let the spinach leaves wilt into the sauce.

 

7. Add almost all of the coriander to the pan, reserving a little for a garnish. Once the sauce has sufficiently reduced and the spinach leaves have wilted, serve over a bed of brown rice with a spoonful of the cucumber and coconut dressing.

 

Taken from The New Vegan by Áine Carlin. Image by Nassima Rothacker.

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Chia Bia Balls


 

Ugh, I’ve been meaning to upload this recipe since before the weekend and here I am on a Sunday night still faffing about with photos/words – and for what reason I do not know. Call it procrastination or complete laziness but sometimes I just simply cannot get it together … a perpetual mental stumbling block or general over-thinking – I realise I’m alluding to things and bordering on the vague here so please forgive me. It has little or nothing to do with the recipe (they’re bliss balls for pete’s sake!) and everything to do with me. Yup, silly old self flagellating me.
 

Okay, so let’s get off one nutty train and onto another … the kind that involves actual nuts and my new obsession, milled chia. Until Chia Bia sent me a bunch of their awesome products, I’d actually not come across ‘milled chia’, so I was pretty excited to give it (them?) a whirl. I thought it best to start with the basics (and it doesn’t get much simpler than these energy bites) but I have a feeling this ‘new to me’ ingredient is going to be making frequent appearances in my kitchen experiments – next up, I’ll be testing them out as an alternative binder in muffins and breads!
 

Onto the nitty gritty. Or should that be ‘itty, bitty, nitty gritty’? It is, in my opinion, the perfect bliss ball addition because unlike their whole seed counterpart, they refrain from taking on that jelly-like quality so associated with chia. Once milled, they can used almost like flaxseed – I’ve been liberally sprinkling it on my oatmeal and yoghurt in case you’re interested, for an added Omega 3 boost in the morning (alongside their capsules, which are also a new fav). There’s also a crazy awesome recipe in Susan Jane White’s latest book ‘The Virtuous Tart’ that calls for milled chia (i’m referring to her Amazonian Truffles – can you say yum?) although until now I’ve been using regular chia seeds (with success, I might add!) in lieu of the milled variety so we shall see how they compare when I inevitably make a batch this week. I’m thinking it will elevate them from fabulous to fantabulous. Just a hunch.
 

I couldn’t decide what to call these little blighters and toyed with the idea of giving them some sort of ‘protein boost’ tagline just because I’ve managed to cram so many nuts in there but I went with ‘Chia Bia Balls’ in the end, in honour of the brand that brought this wondrous little ingredient to my attention. We’ve been munching on ‘em since Friday and I can safely say they are the perfect pick-me-up snack – in fact, my Husband is so taken with them I’ve had to squirrel them away at the back of the fridge … mwahahaha, more for me! We’ve got a busy week ahead, which means these are going to come in very handy indeed. Anyway, enough of my rambling, here’s the recipe:
 

what you’ll need

90g soaked cashews

50g milled chia

50g dessicated coconut

50g almonds

50g raw cacao

4 large medjool dates

50g raisins

2 tbsp almond butter or smooth peanut butter

pinch of pink himalayan salt

1/4 tsp of freshly grated cinnamon

 

to coat

blueberry chia mix

dessicated coconut

 

what you’ll do

place the milled chia, almonds, cacao and coconut into a food processor and blitz to a fine powder. add the remaining ingredients and blitz until it forms a sticky rubble, scraping down the sides from time to time.

 

roll a teaspoon amount of ‘dough’ into ball, toss in either the blueberry chia mix or dessicated coconut and repeat until all of the mixture has been used.

 

refrigerate for at least an hour before eating.

 

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2016 … what now?

 

I know that some of you will be expecting this post to be one of ‘new beginnings’, ‘fresh starts’ and ‘resolutions’ but I’ve got to be honest with ya – the line that divides 2015 and 2016 is a bit blurred for me. That might be partly due to the release date of my latest book The New Vegan (31st Dec), which kinda straddled the two and meant I was essentially ending and starting on a high – a weird but terrific feeling. Of course, there’s still so much more work to do with ongoing publicity and the like but I’m also trying to do something I didn’t manage to achieve with Keep it Vegan, which is to savour each and every moment. I’m so incredibly proud of the book and want it to be equally well received but in this game nothing is ever guaranteed. Being the control freak that I am, releasing something into the ether and allowing it to have a life of its own is strange but ultimately, when you write a book, that’s precisely what you have to do – let it go. So, while I’m working on letting things go (physically, metaphorically and even spiritually) I’m easing myself into a year that promises to be full of surprises – and trust me, there’s already been a few. It’s true what they say, the more you do something the easier it gets and I’ve definitely found this with live tv in particular. When I think back to my first tv appearance more than a year ago, I feel like I’ve learnt so much – same goes for radio … it’s so fast-paced you really have to think on your feet but that’s what makes it so thrilling. I guess all those years of training and acting professionally have finally come in handy!

 

little side note about The New Vegan … not just for ‘new vegans’ the title was more of a nod to a fresh take on a lifestyle that is plagued with preconceptions. It’s as much about a new collective approach to veganism as well as my own particular mindset, and contains advice on ‘What to tell people’, as well as ways to veganize your wardrobe. The recipes range from raw, gluten offerings through to robust, wholesome fodder, which means there’s something for everyone – even the pickiest of eaters should find a selection of recipes they will use and like. As ever, I’ve applied my straight-up straightforward, simple approach to things and I’ve even included a handful of DIY beauty recipes that you’ll hopefully find useful. I’m so proud of the book and can’t thank Nassima Rothaker enough for her creative input and incredible photos – it was like she was reading my mind and absolutely nailed the vibe I was after. If only I had  1% of her photography talent! In my opinion the book is quite a departure from ‘Keep it Vegan’ although I’ve retained my storytelling style, prefixing each dish with a personal tale. Anyway, let me know what you think, I always love to read your comments.

 

Aside from that, the other big question, of course, has got to be am I or have I made any resolutions? Well, no. I’m a continual goal-setter but when it comes to cut and dried resolutions, I’d just rather not. Take last year for example. I had two major goals I set myself for the year. Were they resolutions? I really don’t believe so and despite the fact I managed to tick those particular goals off my list, not having them set so rigidly in stone meant I was much more relaxed about them … and ensured that I wouldn’t feel terrible had I not achieved them. That’s my crazy logic anyway.

 

Right now I’m trying not to have too many inflated expectations and simply let life unfold in a more organic way. I know I’m much happier when I’m not obsessing over things, so leading a (semi) relaxed existence is something I’m ‘mindfully’ trying to implement – and have been for a while. That doesn’t mean I don’t still get stressed about things or apply myself in the same way … I just try to not carry around any silly annoyances with me and leave work at the home office door – easier said than done! Speaking of home offices, I’m trying to find a way of making that space more creative for me to work in. It feels quite stale at the moment and because it doubles up as my closet and laundry room, it doesn’t always offer that zen atmosphere I’m after. I think a bit of a re-jig is in order and I’m after a large planner that I can put on the wall, as I’m already keeping too many deadlines and appointments in my head, which is only asking for trouble.

 

Thankfully my Sister bought me this cool organiser type notebook for Christmas. It’s entirely blank (no restricting lines to prevent any necessary doodling) and begging to be the beginning of a brand new recipe book – although I suspect there’ll be lots of other ideas and creative titbits scribbled in there very soon too … believe it or not my interests and ambitions extend beyond food. So yeah, I’m excited for the year ahead but taking it one day at a time, and trying not to let the small things slip me by. How do you like to approach the new year?

 


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Six steps to a stress-free Christmas Day

Christmas Day. One of the most eagerly awaited holidays of the year. Full of magic and wonder … unless, of course, you happen to be in the kitchen. In which case, that magic and wonder is replaced with sweating and swearing, and vows to be more way prepared next year. Well, next year has arrived folks so it’s time (and believe me, there still is time!) to put those best laid plans into action. Here then is my crucial six-step plan, which will hopefully make Christmas Day just that teeny bit more bearable … please note; copious amounts of wine will still be required.

 

1. Let’s cut right to the chase. Any decent plan requires a list and here’s how mine tends to play out. It all begins on Christmas Eve – but don’t worry, we’re not spending the whole day in the kitchen, that would just be silly. I want you to be able to savour every moment – but also get yourself a little ahead of the game for tomorrow. I begin with breakfast … that’s Christmas Day brekkie I’m referring to and, in my opinion, baked goods are absolutely the way to go. Pumpkin Bread has become a bit of a tradition in our house, and it means we can open our gifts at leisure. A fresh pot of tea (or cafetiere of coffee) are the perfect accompaniment – maybe a few fresh figs or other fruit to pick on, and you’ve got yourself a delicious festive breakfast that will quash any hunger pangs but still leave plenty of room for that hefty midday (or, in our case, late afternoon) dinner.

 

Here’s my go-to Pumpkin Bread recipe. Got more people coming? Just double the quantities and divide between two loaf tins. Whammo.

 

2. Okay, now you’ve made your breakfast bread it’s time to turn your attention to your starter. Trust me, unless you’re happy to faff about in the midst of preparing arguably the biggest/ most important meal of the year then you’ll want this one done and dusted and ready to be re-heated as and when needed. This year, I’ve opted for a seriously simple Chestnut Soup. In the past, I’ve opted for stuffed mushrooms but when you’re cooking for five or six, have limited room in both your fridge and oven, this can be a logistic nightmare. And besides, everyone is going to adore this silky smooth Chestnut Soup – it’s just enough to whet the appetite without over-facing everyone.
 


 

3. Likewise, dessert needs to be a breeze, especially after consuming a plate of food the size of your head. We tend to leave quite a gap between our main on Christmas Day, meaning we enjoy it more. This year my Sister has requested my Mince-pie Galette (although my Mont-Blanc Cups would also be a good option), which can be partially or fully prepped in advance. For those wanting it completely fresh on the day you can simply make and refrigerate the pastry the day ahead, then roll it out when required. Otherwise, make the whole thing a day or two before (it keeps well, loosely wrapped in foil in the fridge) and then gently heat before serving. I wholeheartedly insist you serve it with both (soya) cream and ‘ice-cream’. That and the Downton Christmas special equals festive perfection.

 

4. Don’t forget nibbles and drinks … my go-to drink is a glass of chilled prosecco with a splash of pomegranate juice, and (optional) dash of gingerbread syrup. You could also make my Pomegranate & Thyme Mocktail – to make more than one, skip the cocktail shaker method and simply double, triple or quadruple the ingredients. Place everything in a large jug and stir with wooden spoon. Divide the base mixture between the glasses and top with sparkling water – or for an alcoholic version, champagne.

 

For nibbles, I’m going down the Bloody Mary Bruschetta Route, partially because the colours scream Christmas but also because my version contains vodka. What can I say … ’tis the season!

 

5. Set the table. Or, at the very least, delegate someone to do it for you. I always seem to be rushing prior to serving up, so I like to make sure the table is ready to go well in advance. Whilst everyone is busying themselves getting ready, take a moment to chose a simple theme that will really show off your food. I’m all about self-service, so like to lay everything out, which means that pretty bowls and crockery are essential. Dot the table with a few votives and foliage but don’t over-do it … people like to have room to ‘breathe’ too. I like things somewhat informal so minimal is the order of the day. I think of these few precious moments as the calm before the storm so enjoy it. Now’s the time to potter, play and savour that Christmas spirit.

 

6. Onto the main event. I tend to go through all the side dishes I want to make and highlight those that can be made ahead without impairing the taste. I’ve also narrowed it down over the years … reducing my sides from upwards of twelve (seriously) to around eight or nine, depending on how I’m feeling. Here’s this years choices:
 

(1.) Braised Cabbage & Apple

(2.) Maple Roasted Parsnips

(3.) Pan-fried Brussel Sprouts

(4.) Sweet Potato Casserole (recipe in ‘Keep it Vegan’)

(5.) Roast Potatoes

(6.) Gravy (here’s a YouTube link to my ‘Easy Vegan Gravy’ recipe)

(7.) Cranberry Sauce

(8.) Carrot & Sage Slice

(9.) Tofurkey

 

That’s quite a hefty list as it is but imagine trying to make all that on the day … er, nightmare! These are quite traditional offering so if you’re after something a little more unusual may I suggest the following:
 

Winter Squash &  CousCous Salad
Warm Pumpkin & Red Onion Salad
Festive Slaw
Baked Aubergine with Lemon-infused CousCous

 

From my preferred side-dish list above, here are the ones that I can easily prep ahead:

Braised Red Cabbage, Cranberry Sauce, Carrot & Sage Slice, Sweet Potato Casserole (don’t add the pecans until the following day) and Gravy.

 

Thus leaving these remaining dishes for the day:

Maple Roasted Parsnips, Roast Potatoes, Pan-fried Sprouts and the Tofurkey.
 

 

Seeing it laid out like that already makes it seems much more manageable. I get someone else to peel the potatoes meaning I can then happily prep the parsnips and slice the sprouts. I’ll cook the tofurkey as instructed and then cover it in foil until needed, thus freeing up space in the oven. Most of my dishes take a maximum of 30 minutes to reheat so I’ll par-boil the roasties before popping them in the oven first … in case you’re wondering I’ll coat them in a basic sunflower oil and roast them for abut 45mins or until they properly crisp up. A few minutes later, I’ll roast the ‘snips and then gently re-heat the Braised Cabbage on the stove. Ensuring everything on the stove is re-heated at a medium temperature tends to keep panic to a minimum too. Sprinkle over the pecan topping before baking the Sweet Potato Casserole until piping hot along with the Carrot & Sage Slice, which is essentially acting as my ‘stuffing’ element this year. The last dish you want to cook is your Sprout because you want to ensure they still some freshness and bite. Stir-fry them on a high heat in some coconut oil and serve immediately.

 

Like I mentioned above, I don’t personally serve everyone individually, I simply lay everything out on the table and let everyone help themselves. For me, this is all part of that communal eating atmosphere I love so much. Pass the gravy will ya!

 

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Chestnut Miso Soup with Chickpea Croutons

 

Do you ever feel like things are getting on top of you? So much so that it’s affecting your ability to savour the moment, even for a second? Your over-active brain is rendering your physical body completely inert, and you quite literally can’t see the wood for the trees? Welcome to my my current state of play where everything seems disproportionally out of control – no rhyme, no reason, just is. Okay, so I can partially attribute my mental state to being semi-trapped in a village that I truly adore but which also leaves me feeling totally out on a limb with no connection to the ‘real-world’ … whatever that may be.

 

It’s a catch 22. We have a super house (mid-century mews with south-facing courtyard and balcony and great open-plan living space) and are privileged enough to call one of the prettiest villages in Cornwall our home – and yet, this somehow is not enough. I don’t (yet) drive and the bus into town is stupidly expensive so unless I walk (which I do when the weather is good) I’m here all alone for the most of the week. Yes, people (friends/family/work colleagues) come to me and I’ve made a concerted effort to get out and about more frequently but that doesn’t mean I don’t crave access to all those town-based amenities … call me crazy (or just a Londoner trying to find out how and where she fits in) but I need to be around people – perhaps it’s a safety in numbers thing but crowds weirdly make me feel safe.

 

Anyway, suffice to say it’s come to a bit of a ‘elephant-in-the-room’ head and we are now making serious moves to find a new abode. And, as sorry as I’ll be to leave our early 70′s haven, I can’t say I’m not eager to embrace town-life once again – we’re talking Penzance here, not, I hasten to add, the big smoke. In hindsight, it was probably a bit of leap coming directly from London and expecting to settle into a sleepy village right off the bat. Truthfully, I don’t think I even knew how much of a city girl I was until I made the move down here to the depths of Cornwall … plus, I’m inherently a people person and am/was used to dealing with various demanding situations on a daily basis. These days I rarely get to flex my ‘problem-solving’ muscles – and we all know that if ya don’t use it, ya lose it, am I right?

 

Don’t feel too sorry for me though because I have lots of exciting things planned for the New Year(hurrah!) – both personally and professionally, and one maybe, might, as in definitely will involve a wittle doggler that is in desperate need of a loving home. In the meantime, I have you blessed people to keep me company (holiday hugs all round!) and a big bowl of festive Chestnut Soup to warm me cockles- don’t forget the ‘chickpea croutons’ either. Okay, I concede…  it ain’t all bad.

 

p.s. click here for my latest vlog where I make this deliciously festive soup – please do ‘like’, ‘subscribe’ & ‘share’.

 

what you’ll need

serves 4 as a starter or 2 as a main

1 tbsp olive oil

1/2 red onion

1 carrot

1 garlic clove

220g cooked chestnuts

1 heaped tsp miso

salt and pepper

 

for the chickpeas

juice 1/2 satsuma/tangerine

2 tbsp olive oil

glug (1/2 tbsp maple syrup)

2 sprigs of rosemary, finely chopped

good pinch of pink himalayan salt or sea salt

 

to serve

soya cream

chopped curly parsley

 

what you’ll do

 

pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees celsius.

 

heat the olive oil in a saucepan. finely chop the red onion and carrot and add to pan. sweat for several minutes until it begins to soften.

 

crumble in the chestnuts and stir through the miso. cover the mixture with water (approx 350ml) and bring to a gentle simmer for around 20 minutes.

 

drain and rinse the chickpeas and add to oven-proof pan. vigorously whisk the satsuma juice, oil and maple syrup together. pour over the chickpeas, sprinkle over the chopped rosemary and generously season with salt. toss to combine and roast for 25-30 minutes or until golden.

 

transfer the soup to a blender and blitz until smooth. return to pan and heat through – you can thin it out further with a little more water if you so desire at this stage.

 

ladle into warmed bowls or mugs, drizzle over some soya cream, spoon in the crunchy chickpea croutons and finish with a smattering of parsley.

 

Christmas Day starter sorted!

 

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Festive Mincemeat Galette

 

How in the heck is it the 1st of December already? Whilst part of me is jumping for ‘Christmas-is-coming’ joy, the other half is screaming ‘stop, the year can’t be over just yet’! Yes, I love Christmas but really it’s the build-up I adore more than anything … I mostly find the day itself a bit of a let-down. There’s always so many people to see and it’s usually a little tension-filled (lest it be anything less than perfect) which is probably why I eek out every last drop of Christmas Eve. Granted, the pressure I feel is mostly self-inflicted although I’ve been working on my Christmas Day zen mode the last couple of years. Can’t say I’ve been entirely successful just yet but at least I’m trying, right?

 

As always, I seek solace in the kitchen. I’ve already made some rather wonky looking star cookies (that’ll teach me to shove my baking equipment in a box) and as I type my Husband is making me a snowflake cutter on his fancy 3d machine thingy – exciting! Today though, I really fancied a dessert. More specifically, I was in the mood for mincemeat. Oh, lordy, do I love mincemeat. Not only have I necked about a dozen pies since they appeared on the supermarket shelves (in .. er, early November) but now I’m toying with a handful of recipes that utilize this most British of festive fillings. Sure, I could make it from scratch but why bother when most shop bought versions are vegan anyway – in case you’re wondering, I bought this one in the Co-op and it was spot on. Mincemeat Galette a go-go.

 

what you’ll need

 

for the pastry

80g spelt flour

40g plain white flour

50g icing sugar

pinch of salt

50g chilled coconut butter or marg

1 tbsp water

 

for the filling

400g mincemeat

 

to garnish

toasted flaked almonds

icing sugar

 

what you’ll do

 

sieve the flours, icing sugar and salt into a bowl. work the coconut butter into the flour mix until it resembles breadcrumbs. add the water and work it into a dough ball using your hands. wrap in cling film and chill for around 30mins – 1 hr.

 

pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees celsius.

 

flour a clean surface and carefully roll out the pastry into an oval shape. transfer to a lined baking sheet.

 

spoon the mincemeat into the centre of the pastry, leaving a generous amount of pastry around the edge. roughly crease the edges around the filling and bake for 30 minutes.

 

serve hot or cold with soya cream.

 

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Carrot & Sage Slice


 
This time last year Vegetarian Living Mag published this ‘Carrot & Sage Slice’ recipe I developed for their December issue … a simple ‘meat-free’ main that is (in my humble opinion, ahem) the perfect centre-piece to any Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. Ta-da! And yes, I realise Thanksgiving isn’t exactly a UK tradition but since our stint in the States we’ve made a point of celebrating it – always with a huge spread and usually a few invited guests, so it’s definitely an established holiday for us now. I think we’ve won most of our non-American friends over too, I’m pleased to say … even the ones who had never seen ‘Planes, Trains & Automobiles’. Say wha?!

 

It’s unfortunate though that we (that’s the all-encompassing British/Irish ‘we’) seem to have latched onto the whole ‘Black-Friday’ thing (I know, last pay-day before Christmas and all that) and yet completely surpassed the whole point of Thanksgiving itself, which, in my eyes, is decidedly less commercial than Christmas … and probably why I love it. However, being a die-hard bargain-hunter at heart you’d think the Black Friday sales would be right up my street when in actual fact they fill me with utter dread – much like the January sales, which are closely akin to the seventh level of hell. Look, I love a bit of retail-therapy as much as the next person but don’t you think it’s all gotten a bit out of hand? With YouTube flooded with ‘haul’ videos, Twitter being almost like a never-ending ad-reel, and everyone’s desire to seemingly want ‘more, more, more’ it kind of takes the shine out of shopping for me – in fact, it more often than not makes me feel a wee bit dirty … as if I’m contributing to everything that is wrong with the world.

 

I know how lucky I am. I have a wonderful Husband and family. A beautiful home (albeit it rented) filled with plenty of ‘stuff’, and yet none of that really matters if you don’t have perspective on what is truly important. Sure, there are always going to be things I ‘want’ but does that mean I should have them? I’m not so sure it’s healthy to have everything you covet, and I’m also not so sure the subliminal messages we receive daily (whether it’s on YouTube, Instagram or any other social media outlet) to essentially buy to your hearts content are healthy either. It’s relentless – and, for the record, doesn’t make us happy. Whenever I get these overwhelming urges to purchase something frivolous I remind myself of that story I read as a child …  ‘What Wanda Wanted’ – er, anyone else remember those Christmas Storyteller magazines? Ah, memories. Anyway, suffice to say, anytime I had a tantrum after not getting ‘what I wanted’ my Mum would say ‘What Wanda wants, Wanda must have’! Even now, those words feel me with dread.

 

Now, I know this all feels a bit ‘party-pooper’, and it’s not that I’m saying we shouldn’t treat ourselves now and then but perhaps the extremity of our consumption needs taming – mine included. I’m desperately trying to pare down my lifestyle (easier said than done) and rid myself of all the things that regularly weigh me down. It always feels so great when I do a massive clear-out and donate all those bits to charity. It’s like starting afresh every time. And then as quick as you can say ‘Black-Friday Sale’ the house seems to fill up with crap again. Ugh. So yeah, it’s definitely a work in progress. What are your thoughts on our collective consumerist tendencies?

 

Oh, and before I forget why I actually came on here … Happy Thanksgiving ya filthy animals! Wait. Wrong holiday.
 

What you’ll need

 

For the Loaf

4 Shallots, finely chopped

2 Large Parsnips, finely diced

100g Breadcrumbs, pref. stale

4 Large Carrots, grated

25g Sage, finely chopped

25g Rosemary, finely chopped

3 Sprigs of Thyme

30g Flat Leaf Parsley, roughly chopped

1 tbsp Cider Vinegar

2-3 tbsp olive oil

Salt & Pepper

 

For the Caramelised Carrots

16-20 Baby Carrots

3 tbsp Agave, Maple Syrup or other Sweetener

2 tbsp good quality Olive Oil

3 Sprigs Rosemary, finely chopped

Several Sprigs of Thyme

Salt & Pepper

 

For the Redcurrant Glaze

120ml Redcurrant Jelly

3 Tbsp Sugar

1 tbsp Balsamic or Red Wine Vinegar

1 Cinnamon Stick

1 Star Anise

 

What you’ll do

Heat the olive oil in a large pan or skillet. Add the shallots and gently fry for several minutes before adding the parsnip. Season, cover and sweat for a few minutes until the parsnip begins to soften. Next, add the finely chopped sage, rosemary and thyme leaves, stir to combine and allow the flavours to infuse for a few minutes more.

 

Add the breadcrumbs to the pan, season generously, cover and let the crumbs absorb the flavours in the pan for 5 or so minutes, stirring every now and then to prevent sticking.

 

Squeeze out all excess juice from the grated carrot – it is crucial the carrot is as dry as possible. Add to the pan along with the cider vinegar. Season and stir to combine. Cover and allow the carrot to reduce. Cook for around 10 minutes more or until the mixture is fairly dry but holds its shape when pressed.

 

Grease a small loaf tin and transfer the mixture to the tin. Press firmly with the back of a spoon and cover tightly with foil, ensuring the foil touches the slice. Allow the mixture to cool before transferring to the fridge where it will chill overnight – you will achieve a firmer slice this way. If using immediately then pre-heat oven to 200 degrees celsius and bake covered for 45 minutes and uncovered for a further 30mins. Remove from oven and allow it to cool slightly before gently turning out onto a serving platter.

 

In a separate baking dish, toss the baby carrots with the oil, agave, seasoning and herbs. Cover and bake for 1hr 15minutes at 200 degrees celsius, giving it a shake once in a while to prevent sticking. For ease, you can cook the slice and carrots at the same time. Once cooked, arrange the carrots on top of the slice.

 

Place all the redcurrant glaze ingredients into a pan and bring to a gentle simmer for around 10 minutes. Let it cool slightly before spooning/brushing over the slice.

 

Can be served immediately but is equally good the next day.

 

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