Mini Jacket Potato ‘Hygge’ Bowl

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Hump day is here and I feel like another week is whizzing by at an astonishing rate. This month has been a mixed bag so far … work-wise I’ve been desperately trying to form some sort of routine after a tumultuous period in my personal life – easier said than done. I’ve kind of viewed these passed few weeks as a bit of an experiment, seeing what works best for me and here’s a few things I’ve learnt – although not yet fully implemented, I might add:
 

Lists are everything. If I don’t make a list (even if I don’t manage to tick everything off) then I’m pretty much buggered for the entire day. It’s like a reference point keeping me (and my mind) on the straight and narrow.

 
Set targets for the week ahead. Along the lines of a list still but more general. My targets for this week included posting a Youtube video (tick) and getting another blog post up (again, tick!) … of course, there are work targets too, which always take priority but I won’t bother listing those here.
 
Everyday is different, so don’t fight the chaos, embrace it. This is something I continually struggle with because as a creative (self-employed) person I determine how my day plays out. I used to think my day should resemble a typical 9-5 and therefore would desperately (and mostly unsuccessfully) try to structure it like that. Silly idea. Allow yourself the freedom to be flexible, and you’ll feel less like a constant failure.
 
Distractions aren’t necessarily a bad thing. I sometimes need to zone out in order to give myself a little bit of mental space to ‘breathe’ and create – so don’t feel bad if you get caught in a social media vortex every now and then, ultimately some good will come of it. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself.
 
I could probably keep adding to this list (once you start …!) but suffice to say my overall approach is to have some sort of loose structure going on without allowing it to dictate my creative flow –  to that end, I should say I’m currently still in my pj’s and won’t be showering until I’ve posted this. Real life folks. The old me would usually chastise myself for such sloppy behaviour but in the grand scheme of things it’s no big deal. With that said, I often find I’m more productive when I get up early, shower and dress for the day ahead. It just feels lie the right thing to do and gets that proactive mindset into full swing – in other words, do as I say, not as I do.
Food is central to my workday (tends to happen when you’re a food writer) but I also like to make an effort with what I’m eating myself … breakfast, lunch, dinner and everything in between; every meal is given as much love as the next. Buddha bowls are a firm favourite but as we move into the winter months I’m craving carbs and warmth, which means putting a slightly British twist on proceedings. Mini jackets are so satisfying and make for a great addition to this super comforting dish … all in the name of this new Danish ‘Hygge’ craze, don’t you know!
 
Yes, I’m totally jumping aboard the Hygge bandwagon because no-one does cosy better than the British – or Irish, for that matter, ahem. As well as my ‘mini jacket’ obsession, Brussel sprouts are also having a bit of moment in our house too. Tossed in a simple soy marinade and roasted until crisp, I could happily eat these like savoury snacks all on their own. The steamed veg can be anything really, I just happened to have mange tout and babycorn in my fridge. Hummus is the ultimate jacket potato filling, in my opinion, so I dolloped two huge spoonfuls into each before sprinkling over my current herby obsession … tarragon. I’ve seriously been putting this aniseedy wonder in everything from sauces to stews and it really adds a certain umami flavour I currently can’t get enough of. Barely even a recipe but so ridiculously satisfying to eat, this ‘Hygge Bowl’ is definitely where it’s at – for a next level solitary eating experience, simply light a candle, curl up in a blanket, put your worries on hold for a while, and enjoy.

 

what you’ll need

2 large salad potatoes

200g Brussel sprouts

1/4 cup couscous

selection of veg (mange tout, baby corn or other)

1/2 tbsp. coconut oil

2 tbsp. hummus

1 sprig of tarragon

1/2 lime

black sesame seeds

salt & pepper

 

for the sprouts marinade

1/2 tbsp. maple syrup

1/2 tbsp. sesame oil

2 tbsp soya sauce

juice 1/2 lime

 

tahini dressing

1 tbsp. tahini

1 tbsp. marinade

2 tbsp. water

 

what you’ll do

pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees celsius. prick the salad potatoes all over with a fork. rub with coconut oil and season generously. bake for 30-40 minutes or until golden and crispy on the outside.

 

halve the brussel sprouts and place in an ovenproof dish. whisk the marinade ingredients together, reserving 1 tbsp. for the tahini dressing before pouring the remainder over the sprouts. roast for 30 minutes, tossing the sprouts from time to time to prevent sticking.

 

place the couscous in a bowl and pour over with 1/4 cup of freshly boiled water. cover and set aside for 10minutes. once the couscous has absorbed the liquid, fluff with a fork, squeeze over the juice of 1/2 lime, stir and set aside until needed.

 

steam or blanch the veg until just cooked but still retaining some crunch.

 

whisk together the tahini, marinade and a tablespoon or two of water until creamy.

 

halve the potatoes and gently squeeze before transferring to a large bowl. arrange the remaining ingredients in the bowl before adding the garnishes … dollop the hummus into the jacket potatoes and distribute the finely chopped tarragon over each. dizzle the tahini dressing over the sprouts and veg and finish with a sprinkling of black sesame seeds. serve with a small wedge of lime.

 
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Savoury Buckwheat Pancakes with a Spicy Chipotle Stew


 
You might be wondering why I haven’t updated my blog in a while – or not, in which case, prepare yourself for a bit of an odd post. It’s been a tumultuous couple of months to say the least and I’d be lying if I said things are getting back to normal. They aren’t. As some of you might already be aware my Father has been suffering from terminal brain cancer for the last two years and just under a month ago he sadly lost his battle with that most cruel of diseases, and our lives have been irrevocably changed forever. A month. I can hardly believe it – it feels like I was hanging out with him in our conservatory in Derry but yesterday, watching ‘Homes Under the Hammer’ and generally making fun of the terrible job the so-called featured ‘property developers’ had made of the renovations. Compelling morning viewing, that we both thoroughly enjoyed. My Dad was always great company. Likeable and kind with the biggest of hearts – being around him made you feel good about yourself. So much so, I’m reminded of that well known Maya Angelou quote … ‘People will forget what you did but they will never forget how you made them feel’- or in my Dad’s case ‘People will never forget what he did or how he made them feel’, such was his unshakable positivity and generosity of spirit. Always armed with a brilliant sense of humour (the king of the one-liner!), he could make you see sense when you thought the world was falling down around you (I err on the side of dramatic at times) – and not forgetting the belief he instilled in me that I could conquer whatever I put my mind to. Even before his illness, his ability to put things into perspective was second to none.

 

So, here I am, without the very person I need to ‘put things into perspective’ and feeling like the world is a much worse place to be in – not quite sure what kind of positive spin he would put on this scenario but no doubt he’d have some comforting words on offer. Of course, I’m fully aware this is just another stage in this process they call ‘grief’ but in all honesty that doesn’t make things any easier. My ability to snap back into my life, work routine etc. has officially ground to a halt – and, as over-the-top as it may seem, I’ve even cancelled a trip to Sweden for a friend’s wedding because I’m simply not up to it. This post then is me dipping my toe back into normality and a weak attempt to metaphorically give myself a shake … the last thing my Dad would want is for me to mope about even though that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing since I got back to Cornwall. Grief is anything but logical. You can try and sweep it under the carpet but sooner or later it will find you, so I’m not going to deny it’s existence this time and allow myself the space I need to deal with this situation.

 

Okay, so it might seem strange to somehow shoe-horn in a recipe here but I don’t know how else to plough on. Despite my current fragile state, I’ve been finding some solace in the kitchen. Distraction is the name of the game. Although I’m kinda staying in my comfort zone too … no wild experiments at the moment, I’m seeking familiarity instead, which is why I combined two of my foodie loves; pancakes and Mexican food. I should probably come clean at this point and let you know that I have a love/hate relationship with buckwheat – I only like it in certain, very particular, cirumstances. If you’re in possession of my second book The New Vegan you’ll know I have one or two recipes in there that do utilize it … I recommend my ‘Buckwheat Muffins’ for a good intro to this funny naturally gluten-free ingredient. Try as I might though, I cannot get on board with buckwheat pancakes unless they are near enough wafer thin … not so much a crepe but almost akin to a traditional ‘Shrove Tuesday’ style pancake. I have many, many fond memories flipping these lace-like beauties with my Dad (he made a mean pancake), which we always paired with sugar and lemon – simple is almost always best. These pancakes are a savoury, nutty twist on a classic then that goes perfectly with the robust smoky chipotle stew. Similar to a fajita filling, this a dish definitely inspired by my Dad’s penchant for all things spicy – in fact, I’ve cranked up the jalapeno chilli factor in his honour. I hope you like it too.

 

what you’ll need

for the pancakes

70g buckwheat oats

several sprigs of thyme

1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda

juice 1/2 lemon

salt & pepper

 

for the stew

1/2 yellow onion

1 celery stick

1 sweet red pepper

3 garlic cloves

1 tbsp red jalapenos

1 heaped tsp chipotle paste

100ml coconut milk

1/2 cup black-eyed beans

salt & pepper

olive oil

 

to serve

chopped parsley

sliced avocado

tahini sauce

 

what you’ll do

place the buckwheat oats, thyme leaves, bicarb and seasoning into a blender. blitz until it forms a fine flour. transfer to a large mixing bowl and add the lemon and 150ml water. whisk until the batter is a similar consistency to single (soya, ahem) cream. set aside until you need it.

 

meanwhile, slice the onion, celery and red pepper. heat a little olive oil in a shallow skillet and add the veg. season and fry until it begins to soften.

 

mince the garlic and jalapenos together and add to pan. stir to combine and gently fry until the aromas begin to exude.

 

add the chipotle paste and coconut milk, season and bring to a gentle simmer for 10 mins. add the beans and simmer for a further 5 mins until the sauce thickens. cover and set aside until you whip up the pancakes.

 

brush a crepe pan with a little olive oil. over a medium heat ladle in a third of the mixture and spread immediately to the edges using a spatula. cook until the edges come away easily before flipping over for a further 30 secs. transfer to a dish and cover with a clean tea towel. repeat until all the batter is used.

 

there are a few ways you could serve this … either fold, crepe suzette-style and top with the stew or place the pancake in a large dish, fill and roll, or fold. For the tahini sauce simply whisk a heaped teaspoon of tahini together with the juice of 1/2 lemon, a dash of maple syrup and cider vinegar, salt & pepper to taste and a tablespoon or so of water to thin it out. Serve with sliced avocado, a generous drizzle of the tahini sauce and a final smattering of chopped parsley.

 

 

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Mid-Week Mash & Beans

 
I’m always striving to make dinner time easy. I love (adore, am obsessed with) cooking but sometimes I do like recipes that require minimal effort … and I know you guys are into these too, so here’s one I really think you’ll enjoy. Not any old ‘Mash & Beans’ (although my penchant for spuds and a spoonful or two of Heinz’s finest will never diminish) but a rather more upgraded version in the form of sweet potato mash and pesto coated cannellini beans – de.lish. And whilst I always have one eye on the ‘balanced meal’ meter, the ingredients here are merely a happy accident because it’s basically what I happened to have in the fridge. In my opinion the best meals are often borne out of necessity anyway.

 

I would eek this post out further having just watched the first episode of Michael Pollan’s ‘Cooked’ series on Netflix but I think I’ll let my thoughts simmer for a while longer on that – although, what is with the whole ‘let’s break the veggie and get the evidence on camera’ melarkey? Always such a low, disappointing blow especially from someone I actually really admire. Hey ho.  

 

We’re also in the midst of moving and even though we’re actually pretty organised this time (and only have a miniscule distance to travel – major novelty) I’m still feeling a wee bit (read massively) stressed – particularly now that I’ve learnt our soon-to-be landlord went against our wishes and painted the living room grey, meaning we’ll be spending the first few days with paint brushes in our hands. Wonderful. Seriously, the sooner we own our place the better – I’m getting too old for this nonsense. Anywho. Mash ‘n’ Beans. Here’s the recipe.

 

what you’ll need

 

for the mash

1 sweet potato

2 carrots

sea salt

extra virgin olive oil

 

for the beans

1 small white onion

1 x 400g can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

1 large garlic clove

juice 1 x lemon

pinch of oregano

2 tbsp vegan pesto

handful of roughly chopped spinach

sea salt and pepper

flat leaf parsley

 

to serve

griddled cherry tomatoes

 

what you’ll do

peel and slice the sweet potato and carrots, season with salt, cover with water, bring to a boil and then simmer until soft … about 15-20 minutes. drain, season, drizzle over some evoo and roughly mash … it really doesn’t matter if some lumps remain. keep warm on a low heat until needed.

 

heat a little olive oil in a pan. finely chop the onion and add to pan. season with salt and sweat until translucent. finely slice the garlic and add to pan. gently cook until its aromas begin to exude (and ensuring it doesn’t brown) before squeezing over the lemon juice. saute gently until completely soft.

 

add the drained and rinsed beans to the pan, season with salt and pepper and sprinkle over the oregano and gently heat through. add the pesto and about a 1/4 cup of water and gently heat. add the spinach to the pan, cover and allow it to wilt. check for seasoning before serving.

 

divide the mash and beans between two bowls and top with a few lightly griddled cherry tomatoes. finish with a smattering of finely chopped flat leaf parsley and a final drizzle of olive oil and/or spritz of lemon juice.

 

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Beetroot & Fava Bean Dip


 
With all-too familiar regularity, this Tuesday slump (as it shall henceforth be known) has reared its ugly head once again. It’s weird because I was feeling so sprightly yesterday – new week, new possibilities – but that initial enthusiasm has now been replaced with doubt, panic and all those other lovely emotions that go towards making us basically feel like crap. I think I mentioned in a vlog (oh yeah, I have YouTube channel) I made just before Christmas that I try to quash these anxieties with distraction tactics … making a cup of coffee (which, generally only serves to make me more jittery, so I’ve since switched to green tea), cleaning (there is certainly plenty of that to be getting on with – trust!) and watching endless hours of youtube vids because I’m a nosey parker and love to see what people eat in day. Once I’ve exhausted that little loop and I’m once again left with my own thoughts (and impending deadlines) I find myself wondering what I want out of life … yep, I’m a zero-to-a-hundred kinda gal and ‘the bigger picture’ is always (like a relentless whirring cog) on my mind. Of course, this approach tends to mean you aren’t always living in the present … something I am seriously guilty of. Not one for ‘settling’ or simply ‘being content’ I frequently have the bit between my teeth (pardon the non-vegan expression) quite a lot of time – not just work related, I might add. Like most people I dream of owning my own home, being able to travel more, enjoy more security in my career and maybe, just maybe, start a family at some point too … in my thirties so that clock is ticking loud and clear. These aren’t unobtainable dreams and we’re (my Husband and I) working towards achieving these life-goals all the time, however, in-between I often have to remind myself to enjoy the moment – heck, not just enjoy it but savour it. Remembering that I am, in fact, incredibly lucky (sometimes I need reminding) although seeing as everything is relative I still get caught up in everyday stresses and that definitely erodes my overall happiness.

 

Okay, so being pro-active is very much a part of the plan, and for me, plans usually start with food. Recently my focus has shifted ever so slightly in my vegan journey, as I become more and more fascinated with the raw food movement – which, is slightly ironic given the fact this recipe is so not raw. Stay with me. The power food has on our overall health (mental and physical) is really quite fascinating and as I’ve gradually erred away from food that ultimately doesn’t make me feel good (basically any shop-bought biscuits, breads, sugary yogurts, faux meats etc. which, I hasten to add, make up only a very small portion of my overall diet) I now continually question my choices to see if they comfortably fit into my current lifestyle. Luckily I’m always drawn to fresh fruit, big salad bowls, smoothies and anything that is 100% ‘natural’ and wholesome.

 

Having done quite a bit of research though, and knowing my own body, I know that 100% raw is absolutely not for me but I’d really like to find a way of upping my raw intake and decreasing my cooked food but not in a rigid ‘raw-till-4’ type way. I think being flexible will be key because I know sometimes I’ll fancy soup at lunchtime (homemade, of course!) but then maybe reach for a large, bountiful salad at dinner. Being overly dogmatic about calories and whatnot is not my thing (like, soooo not my thing) so again, I’ll be listening to my body when it comes to how much fat, protein and carbs I actually want to consume but yeah, I definitely think I can shimmy those about a bit to suit my needs – side note: 80/10/10 would not work for me either.  Equally, I don’t think totally eliminating certain foods from my lifestyle would be a good move for me or my Husband … and besides, tofu and beans are superb sources of protein (and not to be feared), which I consume regularly and totally love.

 

Likewise, grains – love ’em. Couldn’t (wouldn’t want to) live without ’em. Because yeah, taste, flavour, and all the stuff that surrounds ‘food’ (aside from its ‘fuel’ properties) is also really important to me. Who wants to be isolated in their eating? Not me. I like to create a mood where food is shared and enjoyed – this is so crucial to my vegan lifestyle and one that will encourage others to also embark on this journey … because, let’s face it, it’s lonely enough out there, and without the support of friends and family it can be nigh on impossible. Food is culture. Food is family. Food is joy. Food is everything. So when we make it this solitary endeavour we are missing out on so much. I’m not up for spending my life dining alone or just with my Husband – I want to make (and eat) great food that everyone will rave about (not just vegans) plus I want the freedom to be able to eat out at restaurants and cafes occasionally too. These are my current thoughts – I’ve not exactly put anything into practice just yet, I’m simply toying with ideas, recipes, philosophies and my own bizarre little mind. For now though, I’m happy to indulge in a little extra virgin olive oil action – drizzled over this fava bean dip with a few scattered pomegranate seeds for added sweetness, it is sheer heaven. Hand me a crudite, I’m goin’ in.

 

what you’ll need

1 x 400g can Hodmedod’s Fava Beans

1 x small cooked beetroot (about 50g)

1 tsp ground cumin

1 heaped tbsp tahini

juice 1/2 lemon

3tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp water

1 small garlic clove

pink himalayan salt

black pepper

 

to serve

ground cumin

hemp seeds

pomegranate seeds

extra virgin olive oil

 

what you’ll do

drain and rinse the fava beans and add to a processor along with the beetroot, cumin, tahini, lemon juice, a pinch of pink himalayan salt and some freshly ground black pepper. blend until it forms a rough puree.

 

mince the garlic with a little salt until completely smooth before adding to processor. whilst blending drizzle in the extra virgin olive oil – add the water to loosen the mixture slightly.

 

once you have achieved the desired consistency, transfer to a shallow bowl or plate and swirl with the back back of a spoon to form a groove in the dip.

 

serve with a smattering of hemp and pomegranate seeds, a dusting of cumin and a final drizzle of evoo.

 

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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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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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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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Carrot & Cumin Cuppa Soup


 
The weekend is fast approaching and I have a terrific few days ahead of me beginning with an entire day of film at the Cornwall Film Festival tomorrow (my idea of bliss) quickly followed by a much anticipated break in Bath. The most I’ve ever seen of this place is from the train window as it whizzes past on its way to London but even those snatched glances were enough to peak my curiosity. So, when we decided a stay-cation was in order, this gloriously historical spot was top of my to-do list.

 

We’ve booked a stunning airbnb in one of those grand looking Georgian terraces and I’ve already discovered that Bath is a bit of a hub for vegan food, which has only added to my childlike excitement – that, and the fact there’s apparently an Anthropologie store nearby, eek! I certainly don’t have pots of money at the moment but I figure I’ll have even less in December so what the hell … my Christmas shopping shall start here. Really though, this break is mainly about a change of scenery and a chance to properly unwind – something we haven’t been able to do in quite a while. It might sound strange (ungrateful perhaps?) but even though I do happen to live somewhere most people escape to, it’s nice to shake things up and experience something new … and truthfully all this endless tranquility can occasionally send me doolally. Right now I’m in the mood to be surrounded by people. And shops. And coffee. And restaurants. And wine. And more people. Okay, I just need to not be here for a bit.

 

Because we won’t be home until next week, I’ve been desperately trying to use up all the odds and ends in my fridge that won’t keep. I’d been craving comfort food anyway so this soup was an obvious choice given the bag of sad looking carrots in my veg drawer … yes, it’s just a silly old soup but by golly did it hit the spot. Lightly spiced (cumin and coriander, bam!) with an added bit of depth courtesy of some coconut cream, this is perfect ‘curl up on the sofa’ fodder – and what better way to consume this warming golden liquor than in a cup. No spoon necessary. Get sipping.
 

what you’ll need

1 tbsp olive oil

1 shallot

1 celery stick

6 medium carrots

2 salad potatoes

1 heaped tsp ground cumin

1/4 tsp ground coriander

1/2 vegetable stock cube

2 tbsp coconut cream

salt and pepper

 

what you’ll do

heat the oil in a saucepan. finely mince the shallot and celery and add to pan. season and sweat for several minutes until they soften and become transparent.

 

peel and slice the carrots into very thin rounds. roughly chop the potatoes and add both to the pan. stir, season and let the veg cook over a medium heat for a minute or two before adding the cumin and coriander. stir to coat and let the spices infuse for a further 5mins before crumbling in the stock cube and covering with around 500ml of water (just enough to cover the veg).

 

simmer gently for 15 minutes until the carrots are soft before transferring to a blender. blend until smooth before returning the puree to a pan – now you can add a little more water to thin out the soup to your taste. add the coconut cream and gently heat for a minute or so. check for seasoning and serve.

 

garnish with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle of zatar and ground cumin, as well as a few scattered chilli flakes.

 

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Pudla Pizza


 
Sometimes I don’t know where to begin a post – particularly if I haven’t blogged in a while. Y’see, occasionally I need a bit of a time-out … mostly, and for some inexplicable reason, these ‘time-outs’ seem to always chose their own time, rather than the other way around. I guess it mostly depends on my mood, and I’ve got to be brutally honest here, but my mood has been somewhat all over the joint these last few weeks. Feelings of guilt for not being with my family at a time when they need me most torment me a lot, and occasionally render me useless. Unfortunately my Husband is the one who has to deal with these emotional meltdowns, which I know can be tiresome and wearing – especially when coupled with a crazy workload. Bad wife.

 

And even though there’s so much great stuff happening, hanging (or should that be clinging for dear life) onto the good stuff can still be difficult. I try to relish these moments but we humans are strange bunch – no matter how much we seemingly have, we always want more. I’m totally working on this flaw, by the way, but it ain’t easy.

 

In the meantime, there’s always pudla. There’s a similar recipe in my book ‘Keep it Vegan’ but this is a new and equally yummy version … the batter is much thinner and technically speaking, it’s probably more of a socca than the former. Fried until crisp and then whacked under a grill, it renders the perfect base to make a pizza – of sorts. Truthfully, I couldn’t be bothered to get into making a full-on sauce so all the toppings are raw – carrot ribbons, roughly chopped tomato, diced avocado, rocket and a whole other array of tidbits that make up this moreish dish. Whilst it makes for a perfect lunch option (you could totally eat it cold at work), I think it would be nice served as a ‘nibble’ at a dinner party – just make sure to quarter them for ease of eating. Plus, they are so wonderfully vibrant, they’re sure to be a little talking point – and a certain mood lifter … just what I happen to be in the market for, ahem. What else can I say – the time to up your pudla game is now!

 

what you’ll need

80g gram (chickpea) flour

1/4 tsp baking powder

pinch of salt

1/4 tsp cumin

1/4 tsp paprika

pinch of cayenne

juice of 1/2 lemon

100ml water

30ml extra virgin olive

2 tbsp olive oil

 

pizza toppings

1 x carrot

2 cherry tomatoes

1/2 avocado

large handful of rocket

3 tbsp hummus

juice 1/2 lemon or lime

pinch of chilli flakes

sriracha

nutritional yeast

 

what you’ll do

sieve the flour, baking powder, salt and spices into a bowl. whisk in the water and lemon juice before drizzling in the extra virgin olive oil until you achieve a silky smooth batter. cover and set aside for at least 1hr.

 

meanwhile, prep your toppings – cut the carrots into ribbons, roughly chop the tomatoes and season generously. dice the avocado, squeeze with a little lemon juice to avoid browning. toss the rocket with some evoo and balsamic vinegar and make the hummus sauce by stirring in the juice of 1/2 lemon until smooth.

 

pre-heat the grill. heat a tablespoon of oil in a skillet and ladle in half the batter, spreading to edges with the back of the spoon. cook until the edges begin to curve in and the bottom is perfectly golden (I use a palette knife to lift up the sides and peek) before finishing it off under the grill.

 

layer up the topping, starting with the rocket and followed by the carrots, tomatoes and avocado. dollop over the hummus sauce and finish with a smidge of sriracha, smattering of nutritional yeast and a few chilli flakes. lightly season and serve.

 

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Creamy Aubergine Dip

 

I’m currently visiting the folks in Ireland and because everything leading up to this trip was borderline chaos I’m only just finding the time to blog. I know! Excuses, excuses. Anyway, I hope this ‘Aubergine Dip’ (mutabal, baba ganoush, whatever you wish to call it) will in some way make up for my absence – it’s from my book (yep, that one on the sidebar, nudge nudge, wink wink) and is a recipe I rely on more than I care to admit … it makes for a particularly good alternative to hummus. I’ve served it to reluctant guests at dinner parties (I would advise not mentioning it’s made from aubergines prior to sampling) but is an equally good solitary indulgence option – a bowl of this and some toasted pitta makes me a very happy girl.

 

There is a little intro in the book where I explain my aversion to ‘smoking’ them the long-winded way – namely hovering over a flame … side note; I currently don’t possess a gas hob so this would be an impossibility anyway. Instead, I prefer to pop them in the oven until they are soft and unctuous before scooping out the flesh and mashing thoroughly by hand. Please don’t be tempted to use a food processor, as you will lose all that wondrous texture, which is a crucial part of the consuming pleasure, in my opinion.

 

Yes, it’s a just a dip but that doesn’t mean I won’t wax lyrical about it. Whether its part of a mezze or simply on its own, this is a humble bowl of greatness that I just can’t get bored of. Hope you enjoy it too!

 

what you’ll need

oil, for greasing

2 aubergines

1 garlic clove

½ teaspoon sea salt

30ml extra virgin olive oil, plus

extra for drizzling

juice of 1 lemon

1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

50g tahini

30g fresh flat-leaf parsley, roughly

chopped, plus extra to garnish

salt and freshly ground

black pepper

toasted sesame seeds, to garnish

 

what you’ll do

Preheat the oven to 180˚C/gas mark 4. Oil a baking sheet.

 

Slice the aubergines lengthways and place them on the baking sheet. Bake

for 30–40 minutes until the flesh is soft, turning them over halfway through.

 

Cover and cool completely before scooping out the flesh. Chop thoroughly

with a knife and then mash with a fork, ensuring there are no lumps.

 

Pound the garlic and sea salt together using a pestle and mortar.

Place the aubergine flesh in a bowl along with the crushed garlic, extra

virgin olive oil, lemon juice and smoked paprika. Mix thoroughly before

stirring in the tahini and parsley.

 

Season to taste and serve topped with a generous drizzle of extra virgin oil,

a little more parsley and a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds. This is lovely

served with crispbreads, pitta, crudités or as a spread in sandwiches.

 

Taken from ‘Keep it Vegan’ published by Kyle Books. Photo Credit: Ali Allen

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