April ‘Appenings

Can you tell I’m struggling to think up a title each time for these monthly posts? I will still need another A for August and just the one was hard enough.

I’ve resorted to improper English. Say it in a Yorkshire accent and I reckon it just about works.

So yes it’s the end of April. Already! Wow that really did fly by. So what’s happened for me this month? Apart from a new haircut, bleached to blonde and dyed back to brown again, that’s about it. Yes that’s the most exciting my life really does get. Not forgetting time spent gathering up the best bits to share with all you lovely readers.

I feel like I’ve neglected the blog recently, I’ve been ferrying around London and and up and down the country on trains, so there hasn’t been much time in my kitchen for some recipe crushing. Well, there has been a few baking attempts, majority of which ended up in the bin, let’s just forget about those. But panic not. I have some things waiting in the pipeline. A new dip recipe – perhaps I should change the blog name to ‘In Homage To Hummus’ it’s becoming a recurring theme – and talking about beans, a little sweet treat for that 4pm afternoon slump. For now, here’s what’s been ‘appening this April.

 

#1 Black patent trench coat, M&S

April showers. The saying has never rang truer. The past four weeks have included weather from all the seasons, sun, warmth, clouds, rain, hail, wind and snow. YEPP you read that right. It makes getting dressed in the morning incredibly difficult. A huge winter puffer coat isn’t really necessary (it’s still not packed away for winter yet…) but a light leather jacket is just too thin, and I don’t care about functionality there is no way I’m wearing a rain coat or pac-a-mac. Ok, it’s trench coat time. I bought this coat last year from M&S, before any mumsy thoughts pop into your mind your mum would have to be pretty sassy to wear this for the school pick up. A black patent trench coat, that squeaks when you move your arms. I just love it. Having been a fan of a classic trench coat for a few years, that beige colour that goes with EVERYTHING, this little black number is here to mix things up a bit.  And no you can never have too many shoes, coats and handbags. I will sit firmly on that mantra.

 

#2 Sunflower Seed Milk

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Have you ever made your own nut milk? If not and you need a little help, see this post, if you’re not a newbie perhaps it’s only almond you’ve attempted. Cashew maybe has been blitzed or you’ve even stretched as far as hazelnut (that in a chocolate milkshake would be utter heaven). I’m a bit obsessed with seeds lately, I’m trying to reduce my consumption of nuts as sometimes it becomes a bit excessive (particular when in the form of nut butter) so I seem to be turning towards their seedy friends for a dose of protein and healthy fats. I’ve been seeing many fellow bloggers making hemp seed milk recently, I reckon it would be lush and creamy, but alas I had ran out of hemp seeds. It’d been a good while since I last had a nut milk DIY sesh as I’m not entirely sure it works out any cheaper, it is a bit of a messy faff, it’s not fortified with vitamins and minerals we’re missing from not eating dairy but ignoring all of that the taste is miles miles better. I soaked some sunflower seeds for around four hours, drained and added 4 times the amount of water, a pinch of salt and blended it all up. A quick strain led to a subtle flavoured milk, lightly sweet which of course was drank up wayyyyy too quickly. Give it a try, pumpkin seed milk will turn out a lovely pastel green and sesame seeds will have that bitter toasty flavour we love so much about tahini. It’s not an everyday thing, but once in a while some proper nut and seed milk is called for.

 

#3 Masterchef

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Masterchef is back, and it doesn’t get tougher than this. Although it seems only moments ago when it was last on telly. I love a good TV competition and the fact that this one also includes food, well it’s a no-brainer. John Torode and Greg Wallace host the UK version of the show, I’m not sure if it’s me but has Greg been coming out with some ludicrous innuendos this time around, a bit much for the BBC I would have thought, and he’s definitely no Nigella. It’s the perfect week night show that you can lie on the sofa and let your mind wander, forget about the stressors of everyday life and get stressed instead at the contestants making yet ANOTHER chocolate fondant that isn’t cooked enough and instead serve a plate of molten goo. Find it on BBC 1 or catch up on iPlayer.

 

#4 The First Mess cookbook

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I’ve been a fan of Laura Wrights’ blog, The First Mess for some time now. A vegan plant-based centric delight to your eyes and your belly, using beautiful produce and no weird meat substitute business. Her cookbook came out earlier this year and with it being published in America and Canada and not here in the UK, I had to wait WEEKS for it to arrive. Oh but the wait was worth it.  I’ve already earmarked a number of recipes, particularly the miso turmeric chickpea scramble, fluffiest multigrain pancakes, sunshine crackers and a whipped chipotle lentil dip, all of which will be made ASAP. The photography is beautiful and everything looks doable with no need for fancy machines like dehydrators and sprouters which are a common feature in most vegan books. Take a look at her blog with the same name, The First Mess and follow her on Instagram @thefirstmess.

 

#5 Asparagus

What? It’s asparagus season? Perhaps my favourite of the vegetable family that I wait around allllllll year for, then fit it into as many meals possible between the months of April and June. Breakfast, lunch and dinner it will be sneaking onto my plate. FUN FACT: ever noticed that your wee smells after eating asparagus? It seems only 40% of us, more likely in women, have this ability to smell the particular whiff, all due to having a certain gene. I’m of the more dominant 60% of the population and don’t understand what all the fuss is about, but if you can smell it or not, it is definitely not going to affect my consumption. Green asparagus is most common here, but in the Mediterranean countries white asparagus tends to be a speciality and if you’re very lucky you might even come across the purple variety. Make sure to use it before we lose it again for another year!

 

For us in the UK it is the time of many bank holidays, the very beginning and very end of the month, time to spend picnicking, playing in parks, cooking up feasts and an extra day to relax (or party hard and spend the day in bed recovering). However you wish to spend yours, enjoy it fully with all of your heart doing what truly nourishes your soul.

Until then.

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Asparagus and Jersey Royal Spring Salad

A month or so ago the first of the British asparagus hit my local greengrocers. Little bundles of the tufty spears piled high, all in need of a quick steam and toss with golden salted butter. All for the reasonable price of £4.20. I think not.

It’s something I’m yet to get my head around, paying such a premium for produce from our own country, when you can buy a pack from Peru or Mexico for a mere £2.

Where’s the logic in that?

I just had to practice my patience for a little longer, only a week or two, and now of course it will feature in every meal possible up until the end of June. I know it’s available to us year round, but when trying to eat seasonally there’s nothing more exciting than the first encounters of our British grown produce. It marks the new season, along with the newborn tiddly lambs and daffodils sprouting everywhere, asparagus means spring really does feel official.

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It’s such a versatile veg too, and if you’ve never tried it, you’re missing out. Along with your buttered soldiers try some asparagus to dive in your dippy egg. The nooks and crannies in the spear grips onto that golden yolk, and not forgetting it’s one of your five-a-day already in the bag. The first arrivals tend to be thinner, perfect for serving simply with a crack of black pepper and sea salt. Shave with a speed peeler or mandolin (watch those digits!!!) and serve as a tangle in a salad. Towards the latter end of the season it starts to become woodier, so lends itself to being grilled or roasted for some charred tips and smoky edges sitting perfectly beside some protein like salmon, steak or chicken or in a big veggie bowl with a dip.

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The week following Easter I spent some quality time with my mum, doing what we do best – coffee shop crawls and a bit of clothes shop perusing (the big venture for a dress for my mum for a wedding). The weather was a bit grim and grey but to make the most of a bad thing off we went out for a scone with clotted cream and raspberry jam and a pot of chamomile tea. The tea rooms we visited are set deep in the countryside, surrounded by rolling green hills, I cannot imagine how beautiful it would be on a bright sunny day. To kill two birds with one stone (so they say) we also went to a nearby farm where they have a shop selling all homemade produce which I’ve been meaning to visit for a good while (in the past I just sent my dad). A haven for homemade sausages, bacon and black pudding all using local, free range, rare-breed pork, smoked fish (all smoked themselves), eggs, jams, chutneys and smoked cheese. It really is in an old cow shed – as the name suggests – but there’s so many magical products nestled inside. I managed to bag a couple of boxes of eggs, all of which are mixed colours and sizes coming from the different breeds of chicken (and of course the yolks are golden), a couple of packets of sausages and some smoked peanut butter (I’m thinking sticky satay chicken wings or aubergines!). Sadly I missed out on the wild garlic pesto. I know, I’m annoyed too. I had dreams of smothering it over pasta with some roasted tomatoes, rocket and Parmesan. But it only means I have to go back soon. Not really sad about that. Not. At. All.

I had plans that night for a super chill meal for my mum and I. Ideas of a salad, but warm, hearty and full of veggies, felt necessary. Also I fancied a bit of stodge, so new season Jersey Royals were a no-brainer. The asparagus was roasted, and the potatoes boiled whole then both tossed in a nutty herby dressing whilst still warm to absorb the oils and flavour. The dressing was a kind of pesto/salsa verde mash up, loads of watercress, parsley, mint and dill, capers, lemon and toasted pistachios because you can’t have enough green. I reserved two of the asparagus spears and shaved them into thin ribbons, mixed with cress, watercress and some jammy yolked eggies, this truly was the ultimate spring salad.

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Asparagus and Jersey Royal Spring salad

If you don’t have all the herbs for the dressing just use extra watercress and up the amounts of the ones you do have. Some wild garlic would be an excellent addition, some basil too – if it’s looking a bit sad. If you’re struggling to get hold of some asparagus, purple sprouting broccoli (broccoli rabe I think it’s called in America), tenderstem or your bog-standard broccoli would even do the trick at a push.

Ingredients

Serves 2

  • Jersey royals – around 8 or 10 depending how hungry you are
  • Bunch of asparagus
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 packet of cress
  • 1/2 bag of watercress

Dressing

  • 1/2 bag of watercress
  • Small handful dill
  • Small handful parsley
  • Small handful mint
  • Fennel fronds (optional)
  • 2 tbsp capers (in brine, rinse if in salt)
  • Handful pistachios (without shells
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 Lemon
  • Extra virgin olive oil

Method

  1. Turn the oven to 180 C
  2. Wash the Jersey Royals and place in a pan of cold water with a big pinch of salt. Bring to the boil then turn down to bubble for around 20 to 30 mins until tender.
  3. Meanwhile boil the eggs. Bring a pan of water to a vigorous boil, add some salt, then dip the eggs in the water briefly, remove and then fully submerge and leave to cook for 7 minutes. When the timer is up, stick the eggs in ice cold water to stop them cooking further.
  4. Reserve two asparagus spears for later, and with the rest snap off any woody ends and put in a roasting tin with a drizzle of oil and some salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for around 10 to 15 minutes until tender and crisp on the edges.
  5. To make the dressing, finely chop the watercress and the herbs and place in a bowl. Next chop the capers and mix in with the herbs. Squeeze in the juice of half a lemon, add 2 tbsp of olive oil, the mustard and red wine vinegar and a little water to make a thick dressing, the same consistency of a pesto. Check for seasoning and add more lemon or vinegar if you think necessary.
  6. When the potatoes have cooked, drain the water and leave to steam dry for a minute or so. Slice them in half and place on a platter with the roast asparagus and half the dressing. Toss together until everything is coated.
  7. With the reserved asparagus get a speed peeler or mandolin and shave thinly, put on the platter along with the watercress and cress. Toss again and dot the remaining dressing all over.
  8. Crack the eggs and peel them, they should be cool enough to handle. Slice into quarters and place on top of the salad.
  9. Serve and enjoy!

If you’re ever in the Peak District area do make a visit to The Old Cow Shed in Chisworth and The Woodlands Tea Rooms in Charlesworth for a traditional afternoon tea or lunch using locally sourced produce.

I’d love to hear if you’ve managed to get your hands on some wild garlic or how you make the most of asparagus when it’s back in for the ever so short season.

All the love

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Gluten free is a no-go for me

Gluten free. Saying “bye bye” to bread and cakes and everything in between – been there, done that, bought the Tshirt, ripped it up and now it is in the bin.

Nothing as drastic as that in reality, but in my mind that’s the relief I now feel.

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Being ‘gluten free’ in the UK is a common phrase. You could say, ‘it’s having a moment’. We overhear conversations in the street, see it on menus in restaurants, aisles dedicated to products of the kind are growing bigger and bigger in the supermarkets, and companies are using it on their packaging as a marketing ploy for people to buy it, as gluten free means it’s healthier….

HOWEVER if you are coeliac or have Crohn’s Disease, gluten most definitely should be steered well clear of. Thankfully for those of you unfortunate enough to be diagnosed with coeliacs diease the quality of gluten free products has improved drastically over the past few years, people are more aware of what it entails and being actually able to eat something other than lettuce leaves is proving easier than ever.

Back to the gluten free tribe. We seem to have had this idea hammered into our minds that a food with the gluten removed is virtuous. Gluten is the devil that is causing all of our ailments in this modern day. Bloating, constipation, leaky gut, headaches, weight gain, depression, you name it gluten will the reason and once removed you will be healthy and this aura of wellness will surround you forevermore. Scrolling through Instagram you see bloggers saying how they’re gluten, dairy and wheat free excluding it completely from their diets and vowing to never eat some sliced white again. In the news, guaranteed there is a headline at least once a week stating that cutting gluten from your diet will be the magic cure supposedly to cancer and Alzheimer’s (?!?!?). I used to believe, wandering down the free from aisle in Tesco, that I was doing myself some good. Picking up that gluten free bread, perhaps some bakewell tarts and a box of gluten free granola (all gluten and dairy free of course), that I was being healthy. Still eating toast with jam (more, jam with toast in my case), snacking on sweet pastries and cakes and baking with gluten free flours convinced that what I was doing was the right thing. As I’m sure many still do.

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In cafes we see cakes, cookies and brownies – without the gluten – appearing more and more frequently. I’d assume the thought passes through most peoples’ minds, that they wouldn’t dream of having a piece of normal cake, but that gluten free brownie is a no brainier. Compare the ingredients of your usual bread and its gluten free counterpart. First thing you will surely notice is the huge markup in price for something which is at least half the size, it feels like a dense rock and there will be so many unknown ingredients and added things you wouldn’t expect to see in bread to just keep it all stuck together. Next try the gluten free brownie, I’m reckoning the sugar content will be much higher as when you remove one thing it has to be replaced with something else to keep the flavour. And what’s cheaper than white sugar and vegetable fats?

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So what even is gluten? Well, it’s a protein. Gluten is not bread. Found naturally in wheat, spelt, rye and barley and added to convenience foods and sauces where it is used as a thickener. It’s what gives bread that good bounce and chew, and ensures your cake isn’t a pile of crumbs. So it is not the maker of all evil or spawn of the devil it is in fact protein. Perhaps by removing gluten from our diets we are missing out on a source of protein, which is something we all seem to be striving for more of nowadays?

If you’ve ever tried excluding something from your diet you will know how much of a shadow it casts over your life. You see the evictee everywhere you look, bread rolls shopping for milk, toast running for the bus, and croissants playing football in the street. You want it more and more, crave bread at every meal, spend hours in your day searching for where to eat with gluten free options, worrying about that pizza night your friends are planning and what you are going to eat and in the end probably end up crying into half a loaf of bread and butter.

Sucks to be gluten free.

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So, yes, of course if you feel like you have some digestive issues go and see your doctor or a nutritionist or dietitian to get that thing checked out. Don’t cut things out of your diet ‘cos your best friend told you to’, or you want to be as skinny as that blogger on Instagram and she doesn’t eat gluten. Think about the poor people who are coeliac and have to avoid gluten for the rest of their lives. It isn’t a choice for them. Don’t go on a ‘gluten free diet’ to lose weight, if the bread basket is placed in front of you and you fancy some, have some bread, it’s NOT going to kill you!

I have most definitely stopped that gluten free escapade well in its tracks. I now struggle to get through a weekend without a visit to our local baker for a loaf of sourdough, and if that’s not accessible there’s always a stash of rye bread in my freezer. At work if there’s some Danish pastry going free, no way on earth am I going to pass that up, and I am never going to a pay a premium for gluten free oats when oats naturally are gluten free in the first place!! On the sourdough note, due to the grains being fermented it is far more digestible than breads using commercial yeast, never mind tasting better due to a longer prove, so sourdough sure is the way to go.

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When you switch to a wholefoods based diet, or even increase the amount of fruits, veggies, wholegrains and legumes on your plate, you will notice that as a result you are eating less gluten. I’m not preaching here, if you want to go by that label then please do, but for me I find it better to not put up any fences between me and bread. No I don’t eat it everyday, I don’t eat white pasta, or pizza on a regular basis, not for the reason that they contain gluten, more for the fact that I base my diet on lovely veggies, beans, nuts and wholegrains. When I have pasta it’s either wholemeal or spelt and if I go out for a pizza it will be a bloody good one (not one rummaed from the freezer).

This is one of the latest trendy diets, but just don’t fall for it. Save your money for an occasional treat, that coffee from your favourite café, a massage, a dinner out with a loved one, or visit your local shops to buy some local produce and cook up a mega meal. Lots of plants is where it seems to be at, and I reckon it will be sticking around for a long time. And this diet sure ain’t a fad, this one’s a keeper!

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Carrot and lentil patties

If you know me fairly well, then you will know of the huge pile of cookbooks I own. Let’s say two huge piles. It’s become a bit of an addiction of mine. I’m that person who reads cookbooks from front to back and whenever I have a spare moment will happily flick through. Each birthday and Christmas I will, rest assured, add one or two new additions to my collection and swiftly forget about the others. Brutal, I know. I do have my absolute favourites though, that I return to time and time again, the tried and tested which are guaranteed to please. But even those recipes are few and far between, saved for when we are feeding guests or want a dish that I know will be a knockout, no stressin’! The rest of the time is dictated by what I’ve seen on blogs, TV, Instagram and most importantly the contents of my fridge.

That’s where the magic is!

 

At lunch I always feel the need for a falafel or patty, whatever you name it, something to finish off my bowl of veggies and grains and that will sit nicely with that obligatory hummus dollop. I always have the intention of making some but then get too hungry so end up going without or I don’t have any beans or grains already cooked (the whole point of a recipe like this is for making something out of the leftovers). Often too, I’ve had the intention of making a big batch to freeze but they end up dry, only palatable if smothered in a TONNE of dressing (make it a tahini one and its not a bad thing). I suppose given that I don’t follow recipes and add a little bit of this, take out that as we don’t have any in the cupboard, it’s guaranteed that many of my attempts will end up in the bin. It’s all a process of learning, except for those times when you don’t remember your mistakes and make them numerous times. The EXACT SAME ONES. Been there.

 

 

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Pre-bake, with a dusting of polenta for that much needed CRUNCH

 

This occasion however was a day for success. Thank the food gods. 

These carrot and lentil patties, came out unscathed, crunchy on the outside, and just what my lunch bowl was needing. Here I used some french lentils that I had overcooked, but any other beans or lentils would suffice just make sure to give them a bit of a mash first. The grated carrot could be changed to courgette or beetroot, any fresh herbs, omit the cheese all together or use more or less (I would’ve added more but it was the end of the block) feta would be nice, as would cheddar or some Parmesan. I haven’t tried making something like this without egg, it’s a great binding agent, but I’d assume a flax egg would work in the same way. And if they don’t hold together, well it just won’t be a plate to photo for Instagram I suppose. Sandwich in between your favourite bread or in a wrap, these would also be brilliant bites for a savoury energy ball. I find snacks rely too heavily upon dates and nuts, so one or two of these would be a great alternative.

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Carrot and lentil patties

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of lentils
  • 1 cup grated carrot
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup grated/crumbled cheese
  • Handful of fresh herbs, any mixture of basil, parsley, coriander, mint
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 2 tbsp oats
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 egg
  • Polenta for coating
  • Oil

Method

  1. Put the lentils in a large bowl and mash slightly so half are crushed and half are still left whole.
  2. On a box grater grate the carrot and add to the bowl along with the cheese.
  3. Finely chop the herbs and add to the lentil mixture along with the spices, oats and some seasoning and mix well.
  4. Crack in the egg and mix again to form quite a wet mixture.
  5. Leave in the fridge for at least 30 mins to firm up slightly.
  6. Heat the oven to 200/180C fan and line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper or a silicone sheet.
  7. With damp hands form the lentil mixture into 8 patties and place on the baking sheet.
  8. Brush with some oil and sprinkle over the polenta, this is what will give the crunch.
  9. Bake in the oven for 15 mins until firm and slightly golden.
  10. Will keep in the fridge for up to 1 week or freeze for a few months.

Side note: if you plan on freezing the patties, bake for a little less time, around 10-12 mins then leave to cool before freezing. Place back in the oven when you want some from frozen until crispy and piping hot in the middle, this will ensure that they won’t dry out.

 

So here’s to happier lunchtimes and turning those droopy leftovers into something new.

Get rolling those patties!!

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