Halloween Spiced Pumpkin Muffins

We love Halloween in our house, and we go all out every year with the decorations and the food. We dress up and take our son out to trick-or-treat in the early evening and we have party food waiting for us at home, even if we’re not having anyone around. For me, of course, the food is very important, and it shouldn’t just be for the kids. I’ve created some more grown-up muffins that aren’t as sweet as others and that are topped with vegan cream cheese (I got mine from Sainsbury’s Free From range). With their delicate hints of cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg they are certainly aimed more at the adult pallet, but that doesn’t mean the little ones can’t enjoy them as well. They also use the buckwheat flour to keep them gluten-free. Give them a try this year, or at any time over the autumn, just remember to keep them refrigerated.


Make 12-14 muffins.

Ingredients:

  • 350-400g diced pumpkin flesh (half a small pumpkin)
  • 1 tbsp flaxseeds (I used ground)
  • 4 tbsp cold water

 

Dry Ingredients:

  • 300g buckwheat flour
  • 1 tsp gluten-free baking powder
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 250g unrefined light brown sugar
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • ½ tsp mixed spice
  • ½ tsp ground nutmeg

 

Wet Ingredients:

  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 60g vegan margarine, softened
  • 300ml almond milk
  • 2 tbsp golden syrup

 

  • 30g pumpkin seeds, plus extra to decorate
  • 1 tub vegan cream cheese.

You will also need a 12-hole muffin tin and spooky Halloween muffin cases.


Preheat the oven to gas 6/200C/400F

Cook the pumpkin flesh by either steaming it or putting it in the microwave with a little water and a loose lid. Microwave on 80% power for 6 minutes. Steam for 8-10 minutes until the flesh is soft. Drain and set aside to cool.

Mix the flaxseeds with the water and leave for 10 minutes to form a gloopy mixture. Put all the dry ingredients into a large bowl and combine, then add the wet ingredients, including the flaxseed mixture and the drained pumpkin and blend together with a whisk until you have a smooth batter.  Stir in the pumpkin seeds at the end.

Line your muffin tin with the cases and spoon the mixture into each one until about half a centimetre below the top.

Cook at the bottom of the oven for 25 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted. Allow to cool and then either pipe or spoon the cream cheese on top. Decorate with some more pumpkin seeds.


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Vegan and Gluten-Free Forest Fruit Chocolate Cake

Love forest fruits? Love chocolate? I’m right with you. Combining these two great ingredients is something I’ve wanted to try for a while. There’s something very dark and earthy about it; a slight bitterness to the fruit that is deeply pleasant in combination with its indulgent chocolate surroundings. Harmonious, yet contrasting enough to arouse the pallet’s interest. This is a cake for the cooler seasons; something to cosy up to as the nights draw in and the air outside becomes crisp and damp. Due to the wet fruit content, this cake needs to be cooked a little longer than some others, and it is best to cover it so that the top doesn’t burn and dry out. For that I have used greaseproof paper and tin foil to act as a lid. This is done for the first hour, before removing for the last 15 or 20 minutes of cooking.


Prep time: 30 minutes. Cooking time: 1 hour 15 minutes, plus cooling time.

Makes 1 x 9 inch cake

Ingredients:

For the cake mix:

  • 1 tbsp chia seeds
  • 4 tbsp cold water
  • 400g vegan margarine, softened
  • 400g unrefined castor sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 400g buckwheat flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp gluten-free baking powder
  • 50g cocoa powder
  • 100g dark chocolate, melted
  • 250g frozen forest fruits, thawed and drained with as much moisture squeezed out as possible (reserve the liquid for the filling)
  • 50ml almond milk

For the compote filling:

  • 250g frozen forest fruits, thawed. Liquid reserved.
  • 150g sugar

For the cake topping:

  • 200g dark chocolate, melted
  • 50g vegan margarine
  • 150ml vegan cream
  • 50g grated dark chocolate
  • 1 tbsp icing sugar.

Preheat the oven the gas 4/180C/350F and grease two 9 inch, loose-bottomed cake tins. Line the bottom of the tins with greaseproof paper. Make a second circle of greaseproof paper for the top of each tin and do the same with tin foil. You should have 6 rounds in total, 4 greaseproof and 2 tin foil.

First make the cake mix. Put the chia seeds and the cold water together in a small bowl and leave for 10 minutes until it becomes a thick and gloopy mixture. Put the margarine and castor sugar into a mixing bowl and cream with an electric whisk until you have a light, fluffy mixture. Once this is done mix in the chia seeds and the vanilla extract. In a separate bowl sift the flour, salt, baking powder and cocoa powder together and then add to the wet cake mixture. Stir with a wooden spoon until fully combined. Make sure your melted chocolate has cooled and then add it to the cake mixture along with the thawed fruit and almond milk. Mix thoroughly.

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Divide the mixture between the two cake tins, then put the greaseproof paper lids onto each, followed by the tin foil lids. Cook in the bottom of the oven for 1 hour, then remove the lids and cook for another 15 minutes or so, until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

While the cakes are cooking make your compote. Put the 250g of forest fruit, plus any draining liquid you have left over from thawing. Add the sugar and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally for 15 minutes until it has a thick, jam-like consistency. Set aside to cool.

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Once your cakes are cooked take them out of the oven and leave them in their tins for 10 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack. Leave to cool for about an hour.

When you are ready to assemble the cake make the topping. Remember that it will set quickly so only make it when you are ready to put it on the cake. In a bowl, mix the melted chocolate with the vegan margarine and leave to cool for a few minutes. Once it is cool to the touch, whisk in your cream. It will start to thicken immediately.

To assemble the cake, spread your compote onto the top of one cake and then place the other cake on top of that. Spoon the chocolate topping on top of the assembled cake and use a pallet knife to spread it over the top and sides. Unless you’re a dab hand this will be tricky, but try to get it as even as you can. Leave to set for 10 minutes and then sprinkle the grated chocolate over the top. Dust with icing sugar when you are ready to serve. You can add some frozen fruit for decoration here if you like as well.


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Courgette Tempura with Crushed New Potatoes and Lime and Chilli Salsa

I’ve always liked the lime pickle in Indian restaurants, so much so that I keep a jar in the fridge for when I make Indian food and can have a dollop on the side. It’s an acquired taste, I know this because no one else in the house eats it apart from me, and even I can only handle a small amount. I think what really draws me to this hot and sour condiment is the fact that it has whole chunks of lime cooked in, like little sour surprises that leap out at you. It is with that in mind that I created this dish, or certainly the salsa part of it. I’ve used whole chunks of lime cooked down in a tomato sauce with red peppers and plenty of sugar to combat the tartness. I’ve left the lime pieces in the final dish but feel free to remove them after cooking if you like. The tempura batter is made using gram flour to keep it gluten free, and iced water to ensure that it stays cold. You can use a hand whisk for this batter as it doesn’t matter if it’s a little bit lumpy. Just get it as smooth as you can before adding the ice.


Prep time: 30-40 minutes. Cooking time: Up to 1 hour.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

For the Salsa:

  • 2 limes, quartered and then each quarter cut into three chunks (see picture)
  • 1 red pepper, large diced
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 ½ tsp mild chilli powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • 130g unrefined sugar
  • 2 tbsp golden syrup.

For the Tempura:

  • 3 Small courgettes, cut in quarters lengthways, and then those quarters halved (see picture)
  • 300g gram flour, 100g of which will be used for dusting the courgettes
  • 300ml cold water
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 4 ice cubes
  • Enough oil for deep frying
  • You will also need an additional bowl of cold water to soak the courgettes.

For the crushed potatoes:

  • 1 kg baby new potatoes, cooked until tender and then cooled
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
  • Salt to taste.

First make your salsa. Heat the olive oil in a small pan saucepan and then sauté the limes and peppers for five minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chilli powder, salt and tomato puree then mix in. Add the can of tomatoes, the sugar and syrup and bring to the boil. Simmer on a low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until you have a thick and sweet sauce.


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While this is cooking put the courgettes in the bowl of cold water to soak, then whisk 200g of the gram flour with the 300ml cold water and the salt. Once a batter is formed add the ice cubes. Put the remaining flour into another bowl and set the three bowls next to each other: first the courgettes, then the flour, and then the batter.


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For the crushed potatoes heat the olive oil in a frying pan and put in your new potatoes. Whilst they are cooking use either a fork or a potato masher to break up the potatoes a little, so that they are in small crushed chunks. Don’t over mash them. Add the thyme leaves and season with salt to taste. Fry for 7 or 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are slightly browned.

Heat the deep-frying oil in a medium-sized pan. DO NOT fill the pan more than half full with the oil as it will rise when you put in your tempura. Test that the oil is hot enough by dropping a small amount of the batter into it. The oil will bubble and the batter will rise to the surface when it is ready.

Take 6 to 8 courgette chunks from the water and toss them in the gram flour until fully coated. Shake any excess flour off each courgette and place them into the batter until your batch is coated. Take the batter to the frying oil on put in the battered courgettes, on at a time, into the oil. Deep fry for 5 minutes or until the batter is golden, then remove with a slotted spoon and set on some kitchen paper to drain. Repeat this process until all the courgette chunks are cooked.


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To serve, place a spoonful of the potatoes in the centre of a plate, stack 2 to 3 courgettes on top of the potatoes and then spoon some of the salsa on the side.


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BBQ Pineapple Steaks with Chilli and Plum Sauce

I like to cook over open coals. Unfortunately, with the British weather the way it is, I don’t get to do it all that often. When I do barbeque, I always make these pineapple steaks or some variation of them. My family love them and the plate is emptied every time they’re put on the table. These are thick-cut slices of fresh pineapple, marinated in a sweet and hot sauce and cooked over hot coals. Don’t worry if it’s the wrong time of year, these will cook just as well on a griddle on the kitchen stove no matter what season it is.


Prep time: 10 minutes. Marinade time: 30 minutes. Cooking time: 15-20 minutes.

Makes about 12 steaks.

Ingredients:

  • 2 fresh pineapples, topped and tailed, peeled and cut into slices about 1½ cm thick

For the marinade:

  • 3 tbsp bottled plum sauce (I used Sharwood’s)
  • 2 tbsp hoisin sauce
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp mild chilli powder

 


Mix all the marinade ingredients together to form a thick marinade. Place the sliced pineapple into a large bowl and pour over the marinade. Mix around with your hands until the pineapple is completely coated and leave to marinade for at least 30 minutes. Place the slices on an already heated barbeque rack or a griddle and cook for 7-10 minutes on each side until soft and slightly browned. Serve immediately.


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Spaghetti with Coriander and Pea Pesto

This pesto has no added oil in it so it’s going to be a whole chunk less calorific that the regular kind. The dish isn’t completely oil-free, however, as some is used to cook the aubergines. Aubergine is just one of many possibilities for this pasta. Mushrooms would work very well, as would artichoke hearts or asparagus. Go with what suits you.


Prep time: 20 minutes. Cooking time: 20 minutes.

Serves 3-4

Ingredients:

For the Pesto:

  • 100g frozen petit pois peas, thawed
  • 60g fresh coriander
  • 40g walnut pieces
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 ½ tsp garlic puree
  • 150ml cold water.

For the rest:

  • 250g (half packet) dried wholewheat spaghetti
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large aubergine, cut into bite-sized chunks
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 100g baby spinach leaves, washed
  • 1 inch of vegan blue-style cheese, chopped very finely.

First sprinkle salt over the aubergine and set aside in a colander to draw out the moisture, then heat a large pan of boiling water for the spaghetti. While that’s coming to the boil, put all the pesto ingredients into a blender and blend until reasonably smooth, then set aside.

Once the pasta water has come to the boil add the spaghetti and boil for 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally to stop them sticking together. While the pasta is cooking heat the olive oil in a non-stick pan and fry the aubergines for 8-10 minutes. Add the chopped garlic and fry for a further minute and the pour the pesto into the pan. Drain the spaghetti.

Once the pesto mixture has heated through add the baby spinach and stir until slightly wilted. Turn off the heat and then mix in the drained spaghetti. Serve with the chopped cheese and a couple of leaves of fresh spinach.


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Delicately-Spiced Pumpkin Curry

I was out shopping today and came across the first pumpkins of the season. The sight of pumpkins on the market shelves always fills me with a little excitement, which I think is because they’re very much a seasonal thing and we only ever see them in the autumn. I become a bit like a squirrel when they appear and, much to the annoyance of my family, I start hoarding them like there’s an impending apocalypse. I fill the house with them, adding to my collection almost every time I go out. Hey kids, look what I got today! They usually start making sarcastic comments when they find themselves stepping around them as they come in through the front door as if they were landmines. It’s a problem, I know, but I just can’t help myself. I do start chopping them up at some point and freezing them, either cooked or raw, for consumption throughout the year.


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This recipe uses diced pumpkin in conjunction with orange juice and just a small amount of spices to augment the flavour of the vegetables.

Prep time: 20 minutes. Cooking time: 40 minutes.

Serves 3-4

Ingredients:

  • 1 small pumpkin, about 1kg in weight
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil, plus extra as needed
  • 150g frozen whole green beans
  • 100g sliced mushrooms
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 ½ tbsp hot madras curry powder
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp ginger paste
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4 tbsp dairy-free yoghurt
  • 1 tbsp tahini
  • Juice of 1 orange
  • 150ml dairy-free cream
  • The seeds from 1 pomegranate (optional)
  • A few coriander leaves to garnish.

To prepare the pumpkin, first cut the stalk off to create a flat end. Turn the pumpkin onto this end for safety and then cut in half down the middle. Cut those halves in half again to create four quarters. Use a desert spoon to scoop out the seeds and then peel the pumpkin quarters with the knife, making sure you keep the pumpkin on a flat surface. Cut each peeled quarter into three strips and then dice them.


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Heat the coconut oil in a non-stick pan and cook the diced pumpkin for 20 minutes on a medium to low heat, stirring occasionally. The pumpkin will soak up the oil so you may need to add a little more part way through the cooking. When the pumpkin is soft most of the way through add the green beans and mushrooms and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the chopped garlic and cook for another minute and then add the spices, the ginger paste, salt, yoghurt and tahini. Allow that to fry for a couple of minutes and then add the orange juice. Stir for a minute more and then pour in the cream. Cook the curry for a few more minutes until you have a thick sauce and the pumpkin is soft all the way through. Turn off the heat and stir in the pomegranate seeds, if using. Garnish with the coriander leaves and serve with basmati rice.


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Vegan and gluten-free Chocolate Tart

Who doesn’t love chocolate?

I think it’s one of the main reasons many vegetarians wince at the thought of going the full hog and switching to veganism. And I get it: chocolate is amazing. I certainly wouldn’t want to live without it. Hopefully this recipe will help change some minds about chocolate, because it really doesn’t have to have dairy to be delicious. Give it a try, tell me what you think. I also use buckwheat flour to keep this desert gluten free, but it does contain nuts.

Prep time: Up to one hour. Cooking time: 25 minutes. Chilling time: 3 hours or overnight.

Ingredients:

For the base:

  • 300g buckwheat flour
  • 150g vegan margarine, plus extra for greasing
  • 1tsp salt
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • 60g cashew nuts
  • 100g dates
  • 50g dark muscovado sugar
  • 4 tbsp almond milk.

For the Filling:

  • 1 x 400g pack of plain tofu, drained
  • 200ml dairy free single cream
  • 50g ground almonds
  • 90g dark muscovado sugar
  • 50g coco powder
  • 75g vegan margarine, softened
  • 200g dark, dairy-free chocolate such as Green & Blacks, melted.

For the topping:

  • 100g of the same dark chocolate as the filling, melted
  • 50g vegan margarine, melted
  • 50ml dairy-free single cream.

To make the base, put the flour, salt and baking powder into a bowl and add the margarine in small pieces. Rub with your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Blend the cashew nuts in a high-quality blender and add to the mixture. Blend the dates separately and add those as well, then add the sugar. Mix these ingredients together and then pour in the almond milk. Bring it all together with your hands and knead into a dough. Cover with cling film and leave in the fridge for an hour.


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Preheat the oven to gas mark 5 / 190 C / 375 F

Take the pastry dough out of the fridge and roll it out using the buckwheat flour to stop it sticking. Grease a 10-inch pie tin with some of the vegan margarine and line it with the pastry. Don’t worry if it breaks up, just press it into the base of the tin and up around the edges with your fingers. You’ll have some pastry left over so feel free to chill this for something else. Once the tin is lined, cut a square of greaseproof paper and press it down on top of the pastry and cut away any edges that stick up too much. Fill the paper with raw rice or baking beans and bake in the bottom of the oven for 15 minutes. Remove the rice and greaseproof paper and bake for a further 10 minutes. Leave to completely cool.


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To make the filling, blend all of the filling ingredients together until completely smooth. You will have to stop repeatedly to scrape down the sides with a spatula. If the mixture is too stiff then you can add more cream to loosen it. You are looking for a consistency similar to cake mix

Once the tart base is cooled, pour in the filling, spreading it to the edges. Cover with cling film and chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours, or overnight if you like.

An hour before serving the tart, remove it from the fridge and make the topping.

Mix together the melted chocolate and margarine until completely smooth. Allow to cool slightly and then add the cream. Stir with a whisk to thoroughly combine and then, using a spoon, spread the topping over the tart. Leave to set outside of the fridge for an hour. Slice and serve.


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After the Wedding Ceremony

After the wedding ceremony, the guests wait outside for the bride and groom to appear from inside the church. The day is bright and cloudless and there is a soft mid-afternoon haze that diffuses the light as it bounces off the nearby cars and windows.  Anticipation hangs in the air as if suspended by large, invisible hooks. The church doors remain open but vacant, an expectant space looking to be filled. The wedding guests are gathered outside, shoulder to shoulder. They talk among themselves but never take their eyes off the doorway. Many hold phones aloft, the screens a tiny televised image of what lay in front of them. They remain frozen, as if time itself has ceased.


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The newlywed couple appear from the gloom of the church interior, stepping out hand in hand into the eager sunlight. There is a raucous cheer from the wedding guests, followed by the soft click of endless camera shutters. Confetti is thrown as the couple descend the church steps and colour snows buoyantly, filling the air around them. They smile, suddenly awash with kaleidoscopic paper, then more cheering as the newlyweds pose for pictures taken by eager photographers who have been waiting for just this moment.

The couple have also been waiting. Months of preparing and planning have led to this. They, hand in hand, two now becoming one. Together and inseparable, they walk down the church steps to the waiting car. They climb into the back, waving and smiling, the car door remains open as more pictures are taken. Someone, a woman, notices that the bride’s dress has caught on the inside of the door. She climbs into the back of the car to fix it and there is laughter from outside. Another woman leans in close to get the photograph, then all is back to normal.


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They close the car door and the married couple wave one more time as the vehicle pulls out into the road. The wedding guests watch it get smaller and smaller as it moves away from them. Then it turns a corner and is out of sight. Behind them, the church doors shut silently against the afternoon light.


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Green Pea Pasta Salad with Pan-Fried Peaches

I’m getting more and more interested in gluten-free dishes lately. I don’t have an intolerance myself but my daughter has been recently diagnosed with one so I’m looking at ways of cooking that don’t involve wheat flour, yet also without using some of the many processed options out there. I found green pea pasta in Morrisons supermarket recently that came in 250g packs. Also, being pea flour, 100g of this has a whopping 20g of protein in with the bargain. Who can say no to that?

This is a cold dish, but with the peaches being pan-fried you have the option of serving them either hot or cold. For this recipe I have chosen to chill them. Another good thing about this is that it can be made the night before and taken to work the next day to have for lunch.


Prep time: 20 minutes. Cooking time: 25 minutes. Cooling time: 1-2 hours.

Serves 2 as a main, 4 as a side dish.

Ingredients:

For the Peaches:

  • 3 Saturn peaches (those are the flat ones)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • Juice of half a lemon

For the Pasta Salad:

  • 250g dried green pea pasta
  • One red Romano pepper, halved, deseeded and finely sliced
  • 1 red onion, halved and finely sliced
  • 1 x 3 inch length of cucumber, diced
  • A handful of chopped coriander
  • 1 tbsp flaked almonds
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the Dressing:

  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp wholegrain mustard.

 

Bring a pan of water to the boil and pour in the dried pasta. Boil for 8-10 minutes, depending on how firm you like it. 8 minutes is quite al dente, but 10 minutes still keeps it reasonably firm. Once the pasta is done (you can check by taking one out with a spoon and eating it) drain and plunge straight into cold water to completely cool.

Next you want to prepare the peaches. Cut each peach into quarters around the stone and prize apart, exactly as you would an avocado. Heat a frying pan with the tablespoon of oil and cook the peaches for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden. Add the brown sugar and lemon juice and cook for a further 4-5 minutes. The peaches will become glazed as the sauce evaporates. Set aside to cool.


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To make the salad, drain the now cold pasta completely, place into a mixing bowl and add all the other salad ingredients. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

In a small dish, blend the olive oil, cider vinegar and wholegrain mustard with a whisk to make an emulsified dressing, then pour over the salad. Add the peaches once they have cooled and mix the salad together. Chill in the fridge for an hour or two before serving.


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Quick and Easy Guacamole

When I first started making guacamole I was working in a restaurant that over-salted everything and added, in my opinion, too many ingredients where a simpler approach was required. It was a chain and they wanted uniformity, and I was quite often so frustrated with the way things were done that I would quietly alter the recipes to make them more palatable. Sometimes I got pulled up on it, but mostly my actions went unnoticed. Guacamole was one of those dishes that had been over-complicated with unnecessary ingredients that only detracted rather than added to the dish. I’ve sampled many different versions over the years and have made as many varieties myself. For me, Guacamole is a humble dish that has some depth but where the main ingredient – the avocado – shines through. It should be clean and fresh, not over salty or too spicy, with just a touch of lemon. I hope you try this version which, for me, represents its unique and subtle flavour. Make this dish two hours ahead of time and serve the same day as it doesn’t keep very well.

Prep time: 10 minutes. Chilling time: 2 hours.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 8 ripe Has avocados, cut in half lengthways and the stones removed
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 mild red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
  • ½ small red onion, finely diced
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • A handful of chopped coriander
  • ¼ tsp garlic granules
  • ¼ tsp ground cumin
  • A pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 4 baby plum or cherry tomatoes, finely diced.

Scoop out the avocado flesh from the skin with a desert spoon (this will be easy with ripe fruit) and place them in a mixing bowl, or saucepan if you prefer a flat surface. Immediately pour on the lemon juice and toss the avocadoes to coat them. Take a potato masher and mash the avocadoes until they are thick and mushy with a few small lumps remaining, then add all the ingredients apart from the tomatoes and mix well. When that is done add the tomatoes and gently fold into the mixture to not disturb them too much. Finally place in an air-tight container and chill in the fridge for two hours before serving.


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Adventures with a Spanish Omelette

I saw a video on Facebook yesterday containing a vegan version of a Spanish omelette. I remember making Spanish omelettes for quite some time and not getting the results that I had seen from my Spanish friends. I could never figure out what I was doing wrong, until one day I was with a long-time friend while she made one. I could see instantly my mistake. I had been frying the potatoes and onions and then pouring the omelette mix into the pan with them, leaving the dish to often break up and be stodgy. What my friend did was allow the potatoes and onions to cool slightly and then add them to the bowl with the omelette in before putting it in the pan. It was like a light had been switched on for me, and from then I was able to make the dish correctly.

Until seeing this video I hadn’t thought of veganising the Spanish omelette but I gave it a go last night with quite reasonable results. The recipe called for gram flour and water to be used as the egg mixture, which the potatoes and onions would be put in. I wanted to make mine with tofu, so that it would be more like the vegan scramble (which, incidentally, with some gram flour mixture is pretty good).

I quickly discovered that we were out of onions. I considered going out to get some but I was already in my pyjamas and didn’t want to get dressed again. We were off to a great start. I decided to proceed regardless and began squeezing as much liquid as I could out of my pack of tofu. I used the microwave to part-cook the potatoes (new potatoes were all I had in), and then fried them for about 10 minutes before putting the tofu in with them.

‘I’m going for a bath, how long will dinner be?’ my wife Samantha called out from the bottom of the stairs.

I looked at the cooking spuds, then I looked over at her. ‘About 20 minutes.’ It was a very generic answer. I had no idea how long it was going to be.

With the tofu fried off I added some nutritional yeast, turmeric, mild chilli powder and garlic, a veg stock cube and then, in a spur-of-the-moment decision, about half a tub of hummus. I let that cool for a few as my friend had taught me and then put them in the gram flour mixture. Oh, and I added some frozen peas as well, just for the hell of it.

I cleaned the pan and put more olive oil in and then poured the mixture into that. I let it cook on a low heat for about 10 minutes until it was solid most if the way through. Then the fun part: I had to flip this thing over. I put a plate over the frying pan so that I could turn the omelette onto it, the traditional Spanish method. I knew this worked with an egg omelette, but with the mixture I had just created I wasn’t so convinced. I prepared for the worst and turned the pan.

Success!

It held its shape. I was not scalded by hot vegan omelette, nor was my stove turned into a cleaning nightmare. The food sat solidly on the plate like it had been fixed there. Impressed with myself, I slid it back into the pan to cook the other side. It had browned quite nicely on the cooked side too, giving it a crisp outer coating. Samantha returned at this point, just in time for me to show off my achievement. I cooked it for another five minutes while she got dressed, pressing and shaping occasionally with a plastic spatula and then glided the finished piece onto a clean plate ready for serving. Now to cut. The knife went through easily as I sliced it into wedges and everything stayed in place – a good sign. It was temptingly crisp on the outside, soft in the middle and all looked as if it had worked in my favour.


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We ate it with some vegan sausages and baked beans (a nice British twist on a Spanish classic, I thought). It was surprisingly good for a first attempt. If I’m being critical, I would like to have made it a little lighter, so I think I’ll shorten the cooking time on the next go. For my taste, the seasoning was fine but Samantha said there was too much pepper. She hates pepper, so I’m not trusting her opinion on that.

A Summer Afternoon Blueberry Picking

We bought the plants in April as young adolescents, rife with deep green leaves, their potential growth crammed into tightly-fitting pots at the garden centre near our home. We had been thinking about blueberries for some time, ostensibly as an idea of avoiding paying the asking price per punnet at the supermarket, but also because my wife and I like to harvest our own produce. We enjoy the knowledge that at least a small portion of the food we eat has been picked just yards from where it was consumed.

The process seemed akin to picking a dog from a pound. Rows of juvenile blueberry plants sat swaying gently in the spring breeze, erect and proud. We, examining each specimen as if we were judges at a competition where the stakes were high, looking for any signs that the plants would not yield an abundant crop. Were the leaves sparse or wilted? Did they look bare at all? These were mere guesses to us, of course, but we chose two that look right to us anyway. We bought larger pots as well and, under the guidance of the seller, some Ericaceae compost. The final bill for all of this was in excess of seventy pounds, leaving me to wonder if my attempt at being frugal had been somewhat pointless.

At home we re-potted the plants, giving them fresh compost and room to grow. We fed them and kept them flourishing through the drier parts of the summer season. We watched them expand and fill out and my son was keen to see the new berries, which began to form their green buds in July.

By mid August the wait was over and we were ready to pick our crop. We chose a sunny Sunday afternoon to take out a bowl and start picking the blueberries. Morgan, my 6-year-old son, was a locomotive of enthusiasm whose fires had been freshly stoked by the thought of fruit-picking. He trotted back and forth, not taking the bowl to the plants but plucking them one at a time and ferrying them to the garden table, where he had lain the receptacle.

‘I’ve got another one!’ he shouted with each journey, and added another berry to the growing pile in the container.

As for myself, I took the less energetic approach of gathering a handful before making the trip. I had suggested that perhaps we should take the bowl to the fruit, but children, it seems, do not like to conserve energy and Morgan was vehemently against the idea. The soft, dark berries left their housing with only the smallest of encouragement, most remaining whole but some quashed between our fingers like molten marshmallows, leaving blue-black stains on our fingertips.

We picked in this way until all the ripe berries were in the bowl. With only two plants fruiting in their first year this was not a lengthy task, and probably only fifteen minutes had elapsed before we’d exhausted our supply. Still, it was a good haul for our first run and we both came back inside the house fully satisfied with our bowl of berries and our stained fingers


Breakfast Granola with Spiced Apples and Blueberries.

Here is a stunning and simplistic contrast of hot and cold. The apples are served warm and really stand out against the chilled yoghurt and blueberries.

Prep time: 10 minutes. Cooking time: 15 minutes. Cooling time: 5 minutes.

Serves 2

For the spiced apples:

  • Two medium apples, cored, peeled and cut into wedges
  • 1 tsp coconut oil
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp allspice
  • ¼ tsp grated nutmeg
  • 2 tbsp coconut nectar (brown sugar will also do fine)
  • 1 tbsp cold water

For the rest:

  • 150g simple granola
  • 6 tbsp plain dairy-free yoghurt
  • 2 handfuls fresh blueberries

 

Heat the coconut oil in a pan and gently cook the apples for 10 minutes until soft and slightly browned. Add the spices and cook for another 2 minutes, then add the coconut nectar and water and cook for a further 3-4 minutes. Allow the apples to cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Split the granola into two bowls, then put 3 tbsp of the yoghurt on top of each serving. Spoon half of the spiced apples onto each helping of yoghurt and then put a handful of blueberries on top of that. If the granola is too dry for your taste you can always add some dairy-free milk to the dish.


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Shredded Kale with Cherry Tomatoes and Tamari Dressing

This side dish is super quick to make and will go with just about any Asian main you care to make.

Prep time: 5 minutes. Cooking time: 10 minutes.

Serves 2

Ingredients:

  • 250g black kale, cut into thin strips
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and cut into thick slices of about 2mm
  • 10 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 tbsp sesame oil.

For the Dressing:

  • 3 tbsp tamari (gluten free soy sauce)
  • 2 tbsp sweet chilli sauce
  • 1 tbsp lime juice.

 

Heat the sesame oil in a non-stick pan and fry the kale for 5 minutes or until slightly wilted. Add the cherry tomatoes and garlic at the same time and fry on a medium heat for a further 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. To make the dressing mix together the tamari, sweet chilli sauce and lime juice. Put the kale mixture into a bowl to serve and pour over the dressing. Serve warm.



Oven Roasted Figs With ‘Blue Style’ Cheese

Remember the pineapple and cheese cubes on sticks we used to get at parties? Well think of this as the posh version. Your social cred will go up mega points if you serve these at your next bash, plus they take no time at all.

Prep time: Maybe 5 minutes if you stop for a cup of tea in the middle. Cooking time: 12 minutes.

Serves 6-12

Ingredients:

  • 12 ripe figs
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 12 x 1 cm cubes vegan blue style cheese.

Preheat the oven to gas mark 7 (200 C). Cut the stalk off the top of each fig and then cut a cross downwards from the top of each fig to about half way through. Put the figs into a bowl with the olive oil and then toss them around to coat them. Take each fig by the bottom and gently squeeze so that the cross you made opens up like a flower, then put one cube of cheese inside each open fig. Place the figs on a baking tray and roast in the oven for 12 minutes, until the fruit is soft and the cheese is melted slightly. Serve hot or cold.



Gluten-Free Apple and Blueberry Pie

All of the fruit in this recipe came from my garden. I’m far from an avid fruit and veg grower. I was quite prolific for a year or two but between business and family life I only find the time these days to dabble. Saying that, the apples take care of themselves and have done for years. The blueberries I brought as whole plants this year, so this is their first crop. Fairly good haul for a first year, I think. I decided to make this pie recipe gluten-free but you can substitute for normal flour if you like.

 

Prep time: 30 minutes. Cooking time: 1 hour. Chilling time: 30 minutes.

Make 1 10 inch pie

Ingredients:

For the Pastry

  • 500g gluten-free plain flour
  • 1 tbsp Xantham gum
  • 250g vegan margarine, cubed plus extra for greasing
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 150g sugar
  • 100ml almond milk, plus extra for glazing.

For the Filling

  • 800g apples, peeled, cored and sliced
  • 350g blueberries
  • 250g sugar.

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4 (160 C). Sift the flour, Xantham gum and salt into a mixing bowl, add the margarine and work between your fingers until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the sugar and mix some more then add the milk and bring together into a dough. Knead for a short while but don’t overdo it, just so that it becomes smooth in texture. Cover the pastry in cling film and chill for 30 minutes.

Once chilled, divide the pasty into two parts: one a third and one two thirds. Grease a 10 inch pie tin with vegan butter and roll out the larger portion of pastry until it is able to line the pie tin with a little overlapping the edges. Cut a circle of baking paper slightly larger than the pie tin and put in the tin on top of the raw pastry. Put baking beans or rice in the tin on top of the paper and bake in the oven for 15 minutes or until the pastry is firm but not burned.

Once that is done remove the beans and paper and set aside.

To make the filling, place the apples in a microwavable dish with a drop of water, put a plate on top as a lid and microwave on 80% power for 7 minutes to soften the apples. Drain completely of any liquid.

Put the blueberries and the sugar with the drained apples and mix together with a spoon, then put them into your cooked pastry base. Roll out the second portion of raw pastry and place as a lid on the top of the pie, squeezing the edges with your fingers to join the top and bottom. Using a sharp knife put two small slits right through the pastry lid to allow steam to escape during cooking. Brush the top with almond milk and cook on the bottom of the oven for 45 minutes, or until golden brown. Allow 20 minutes to cool before serving.

Oven Roasted Apricots

Have these as a desert or simply as a snack, serve hot or cold. These apricots are easy to cook and amazing to eat.

Prep time: 10 minutes. Cook time 30-40 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 600g ripe apricots, stoned and halved
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground mixed spice
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • 2 tbsp unrefined sugar.

Preheat the oven to gas mark 6 (180 C). Put all of your ingredients into a large mixing bowl and mix together with your hands until evenly combined. Place on a baking tray with the flesh side up and cook in the oven for 30 – 40 minutes, or until the edges have started to brown. Allow to cool for 5 minutes or so before serving, or cool completely and then chill for 2 hours.



Vegan Braised Tofu Thai Cakes

This dish uses the same technique as the potato rosti and is a great way of doing something a little different with your spuds. It involves grating the raw potato and squeezing as much of the moisture out as you can so that you don’t end up with a mushy, water-logged mixture that isn’t going to fry. There are many variations you can make of these. I’ve used a Thai chilli theme but once you’ve got your basic potato and tofu mixture together you can pick what you like for the rest. Go nuts!

Prep time: 15 minutes. Cooking time: 15 minutes.

Makes about 12 cakes.

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium potatoes
  • 1 can braised tofu, drained and shredded
  • 2 spring onions, finely sliced
  • 1 mild green chilli, deseeded and chopped
  • Small handful fresh parsley, chopped
  • ½ tsp ground paprika
  • 1 tsp hot madras curry powder
  • Juice of half a lime
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp dairy-free yoghurt
  • 4 tbsp gram flour
  • Cracked black pepper to taste
  • Olive oil for frying.

First peel and grate the potatoes. Once that is done place them onto a clean tea towel, wrap them up and squeeze over the sink until you get as much water out as you can. The dryer the better. Empty the drained potatoes into a mixing bowl. Add all of the other ingredients except for the oil into the bowl and mix well.

Pre heat the oven to gas 6 (200 C). Heat a non-stick frying pan with a drop of olive oil and, using a desert spoon, place four balls of the mixture into the pan. These cakes are quite small, so don’t add too much. Fry for a few minutes on one side and then turn them over. Do this a couple of time until golden brown on each side and then place on a baking tray. Fry in batches of four until the mixture has gone and then place them in the oven for 10 minutes to make sure the potato has cooked through.



Spiced Pumpkin Seed Hummus

This is a slight alternative to the classic hummus recipe. Orangey-red in colour, with crunchy pumpkin seeds in every bite and a background of Cajun spice. Serve this on some rustic bread and you’ve got a delicious light snack. It’ll keep for about 4 days.

Prep time: 10 minutes.

Makes 750ml

Ingredients:

  • 2 cans drained chickpeas
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 3 tsp Cajun spice
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp ground paprika
  • ¼ tsp ground cumin
  • 100 ml olive oil
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 20g pumpkin seeds.

Place all of the ingredients except for the pumpkin seeds into a blender and puree until completely smooth. Pour into a container, stir in the pumpkin seeds and store in the refrigerator until ready to eat.



Vegan Chilli with Coffee and Chocolate

I’ve been developing this recipe for ages, first when I was a meat eater and now that I’m vegan. This is how it stands at the moment and who knows what changes I might make in the future. This chilli is dark, intense and hot without being overpowering, a great weekend meal. I’ve made this video for you so that you can easily follow along. Enjoy!

Cooking time: about 1 hour. Prep: 20 minutes.

Serves 4.

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 2 Romano peppers, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1tbsp chipotle chilli flakes
  • 1tbsp cumin seeds
  • 1tbsp dried oregano
  • 2 tbsp dark mild chilli powder
  • 6 tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • 2 vegetable stock cubes
  • 1 can red kidney beans, drained
  • 1 can borlotti beans, drained
  • 2 cans chopped tomatoes
  • 1 can water
  • 1 cup espresso coffee
  • 100g dark chocolate
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 400g (1 pack) frozen vegan mince
  • Salt to taste

 

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan and fry the onions and peppers for five minutes. Add the garlic and fry for another minute. Grind the whole spices in a pestle and mortar or spice grinder and put these in with the chilli powder and oregano. Stir in and add the fresh tomatoes. Cook down for five more minutes and then add the tomato puree and vegetable stock. Once those are mixed in put in the beans then the canned tomatoes and the can of water. Add the coffee, chocolate and lime and simmer gently for 40 minutes until a thick sauce is formed. Add the vegan mince and salt if required and cook for a further 10 minutes. Serve with rice or tortillas.



Chocolate Cheesecake with Raspberry Topping

This is a really decedent desert that takes a little bit of time to make but the results are well worth it. I’ve always loved cheesecake and used to make them a lot before I turned vegan. Once I discovered that you could live on a plant-based diet and still have cheesecake… that was me sold! This recipe is easily made gluten-free, just swap the biscuit base for a gluten-free alternative. You may need to add some sugar as some gluten-free biscuits are not as sweet.


Prep time: 20 minutes. Cooking time: 15-20 minutes. Cooling time: 2-3 hours.

Makes 4

Ingredients:

For the base:

  • 150g (half packet) oat biscuits. Check ingredients as some are vegan and some are not.
  • 30g vegan margarine, melted.

For the Cheesecake Filling:

  • 350g silken tofu
  • 100g creamed coconut
  • 100ml vegan cream
  • 60g soft, white vegan cheese
  • 100g sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 100g dark chocolate

For the Topping:

  • 300g fresh raspberries
  • 200g sugar

 

First make your base. Crush the biscuits in a bowl. You can do this with a food processor if you like but I hate the extra washing up so I use a rolling pin. Once they are like rough breadcrumbs mix in your melted butter until thoroughly combined. Select four glass desert dishes and put a quarter of the base into each one, pressing down with your fingers or a spoon to compress them. Put the glasses in the fridge and chill for half an hour.

Next put all your filling ingredients, except for the chocolate, into a blender and puree until the mixture is smooth. Break the chocolate up into small pieces. Heat it in a bowl in the microwave for about a minute, or until it is partially melted. Stir the chocolate pieces for a few minutes while the rest of it melts. Allow to cool for 5 minutes and then pour into the cheesecake mixture. Puree once more. Pour this mixture into the glass bowls on top of your biscuit base, remembering to leave a small amount of space for the topping. Place the glasses back in the fridge for 2 hours.

In the meantime, put your raspberries and sugar into a pan and heat until it starts to bubble. Simmer gently for 15-20 minutes until a thick jam-like consistency is formed. Turn off the heat and leave to cool for a couple of minutes. Pass the raspberries through a strainer to remove the seeds. You can leave a few in if you like for aesthetics, but trust me, you don’t want to be spending your desert time picking seeds out of your teeth! Leave the jam to cool and then spoon on top of the cheesecake. Chill for one more hour and you are good to go.