The Allotment Vegan Restaurant – Review

The most unlikely of places for a vegan restaurant, it’s true. Fine dining vegan even more so! Manchester has the odd few places, V Rev for the times when you are in need of some serious junk food action and The Earth Centre for vegan comfort food like dahls, pies and soups. Then most places have some vegan options on the menu, but they never really stray much further than a bean burger or some fried tofu. Wander slightly further afield to Stockport however, a 20 minute drive, and there you will find what is starting to become a foodie mecca.

Down a steep declining hill from the market, on the corner of Vernon street you will find a bright, minimal but warm restaurant, stocked with hanging plants and succulents and a bustling open kitchen. We visited shortly before 7 on a Thursday night and it was almost full and by the time it hit 8:30 every table had guests, a good sign that they’re doing something right!!

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Starting with some water flavoured with cucumber, mint and orange as we browsed the menu, deciding between the 10 or 7 course taster menu, the a la carte or the early bird. The menu is short and concise, but even so I struggled making a decision on what to eat, everything sounded so tempting. The wine and beer list isn’t extended either, all the more easier to pick and choose, a few award winning wines and craft ales, also a wine pairing menu if you so wish. I would have walked out sloshed if that were the case.

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First out came an amuse bouche, aubergine, beetroot and cucumber, a perfect little tasty concoction whilst sipping on our chardonnay, just a little taster of what was to come. Don’t get me started on the plates, the temptation to lick the plate clean and stuff it into my handbag definitely ran through my mind.

Next along came the starters, one the courgette scallop with sea herb salsa verde. A pan-fried courgette scallop with a samphire salsa verde on a celeriac puree, tapioca pearl, apple and nori. A salty sea freshness and the smoothest celeriac puree that has ever graced my mouth. Alongside the allotments’ signature dish cauliflower hot wings with some roast garlic hummus. Addictive doesn’t even explain it. My mum is not a fan of cauliflower at all. No matter how much I try to disguise the flavours she will always shove it to the side of the plate for me to pick at. These went down pretty well though. How can they not really? They’re deep fried!! 😛

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I opted for the aubergine manchurian for main, an indo-chinese spiced confit aubergine, spring onion rice, chilli popcorn, lemon kale, pickled vegetables and fried enoki. Full of different textures and flavours, some spicy some sharp and the meaty aubergine to mop up all the lovely sauce. For my mum was the sweetcorn and pickled chilli. A fried sweetcorn and jalapeno fritter, lemon thyme and cumin potato puree, tomato marmalade glazed roasted romanesco, white bean, pine nut and avocado. All plants. Yep not a bit of meat, eggs or dairy in sight! And that’s coming from someone who when a dish isn’t feeling quiiiitteeee right, cheese is always the answer.

Another glass of wine down and out came an unexpected (and my favourite bit of the night). A PRE DESSERT. Can this be made obligatory at every restaurant. K thanks. A bottom layer of turmeric custard, topped with a pink fir apple compote and some toasted chopped hazelnuts. We could’ve eaten this by the bucket full. Only to be followed by the dessert, a sweet potato custard tart with meringue shards and lemon sorbet. Nicely spiced, in between an egg(less) custard and a pumpkin pie, a bit of crisp from the meringue, all cut with some zing in the lemon sorbet. We did share the dessert, I’m sure much to the dismay of some of you, but stuffed we were and it topped off a lovely meal.

Sorry that there’s no images of the pre-dessert and dessert, you’ll just have to picture it in your head. We just wanted to tuck straight in for once, it was my birthday, let me off!

I’d like to add that neither me nor my mum are vegan or even vegetarian for that matter. We tend to eat plant based meals the majority of the time, but still do enjoy some fish once or twice a week and the odd roast chicken or steak. That being said, dinner at the allotment was refreshing and inspiring, every plate full of varying textures and using ingredients together that you would not normally dream of. There is indeed a cheese course. Cultured nut cheeses served with seasonal nut cheeses and raw crackers, something that I am yet to try and anticipating it to be sooner rather than later!

Starters cost £6-£7, mains are between £17 and £18 and desserts are £7, it’s fine dining so don’t expect large portions, but that just means you can try more of what they have to offer. If you do visit though, please make sure to order the cauliflower hot wings. Just for me. Even if that’s all you go for, it’ll be completely worth it.

The Allotment Vegan, 6 Vernon St, Stockport, SK1 1TY

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BBQ pulled shrooms and beans

I am not one for fake meats, vegan versions of chicken nuggets and ‘vegan cheeze’. They just taste too funky and as someone who isn’t vegan (or vegetarian even) the concept of cheese which isn’t, when I would much happier delve into a chunk of cheddar, it just doesn’t register.

Saying that it seems these sorts of dishes are popping up on menus as the majority of the public are becoming aware of meat consumption and its effects on the environment. One in particular I’m spying on my Instagram feed is the jackfruit. Said to be the contender to pulled pork, the soft tooth-wielding and melting meat, with lashings of BBQ sauce, requires a certain hunch to make sure it ends up in your mouth rather than all down your front.

Out for lunch the other day with my mum, BBQ pulled jackfruit cropped up. Piled onto some toasted sourdough with lettuce and tomato, never had I eaten it before, plus the sight of BBQ sauce made me in deep need for some of that sweet and smoky sauce. Upon arrival, due to being hungry dived in pretty swiftly, but on eating my thoughts quickly dissipated. Not enough BBQ sauce, not enough of that smoky addictive lick-your-lips-smackingly good flavour and the jackfruit, well it was ok. It had the texture of a stringy fibrous fruit, perhaps if the BBQ sauce was better it would have been a more enjoyable experience overall. I’m sad it didn’t live up to expectations, but there’s still plenty of time to experience another one.

Anyone have any tips for a good pulled jackfruit burger, and by good I mean even better than a pulled pork (I’m sure it’s highly possible) Manchester or northern England preferred, pictures of proof is good enough though!!

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One day last week I was wondering what to cook for my mum and I for dinner. Fancying a baked potato because STODGE=LIFE and beans were on my mind. It’s a classic British combination baked beans on a jacket potato. You feeling the need to be truly British? try baked beans on toast with grated cheese, oh you’ve hit the jack pot. I had a quick flick through Laura Wright’s cookbook, The First Mess for some inspiration, to come across BBQ mushrooms on toast. Well I had loads of mushrooms in the fridge that needed eating, I could add some kidney beans for that baked bean vibe, and BBQ sauce. That’s what I’m looking for to satisfy that craving.

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The sauce is really simple to make just a few store cupboard ingredients needed, to be left with a deeply flavoured BBQ with heaps of oomph and a little tingly spice. Feel free to stick close to the original recipe and keep it solely mushroom based just double the amount used, or skip the mushrooms entirely and use an extra tin of beans.

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We have a baked bean/pulled pork hybrid going here, may as well have both if you can! For a vegetarian, or plant based eater, the mushroom is the meatiest of textures you can get without straying anywhere near to the meat substitutes. By slicing them thinly and cooking them over a high heat first so they lose their excess water and shrink down, this resembled the ‘pulled pork’ element. I served it on a baked jacket potato the first time and brown rice the second but a sweet potato, also piled onto a burger bun would be more than marvellous, just make sure to add all the fixings. Pickles, extra sauce and mustard are all necessary!

 

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BBQ pulled shrooms and beans

Ingredients

  • 300g mushrooms (I used large flat mushrooms), sliced very thinly
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 1 clove of garlic, grated
  • 1/2 tsp sweet smoked (dulce) paprika, use a little more if using a paprika from the supermarket
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp chilli flakes
  • 1 tin plum tomatoes, blitzed up in a blender till smooth, failing that use 400g passata
  • 25 ml maple syrup
  • 1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp tamari or soy sauce
  • 1 tin kidney beans, drained and rinsed

Directions

  1. Heat some oil in a large frying on a medium high heat. When hot add the mushrooms and leave for a minute or two. Once the water starts evaporating stir them gently to move around the pan, you want to let all the water escape and make sure they don’t stew. Once the mushrooms start to sizzle and have shrunk down in size, this will take up to 5 minutes, transfer them to a plate and set aside.
  2. Turn the heat down to low and add a little more oil to the pan along with the onion and garlic. Cook gently until the onion is soft and translucent, if it starts to stick add a little water.
  3. Once soft add the paprika, mustard and chilli flakes stir until they start to smell fragrant and quickly add the blitzed tinned tomatoes, maple syrup, apple cider vinegar and tamari. Bring to the boil and then turn down low and leave to simmer gently.
  4. After around 5 minutes and once the sauce has thickened and reduced slightly add the mushrooms, stir to coat and leave to reduce for a further 5-10 minutes. Add the beans for the final few minutes.
  5. You want a sauce that coats the beans and mushrooms, with enough extra to mop up with some carbzzzz. Taste for seasoning, there should be a balance of sweet, spice, salty with a little acidic kick at the end. Add extra salt, pepper, mustard or chilli if you so wish.
  6. Serve over your carb of choice, a slaw on the side, some avo and extra hot sauce for shaking over liberally.

I have a feeling this recipe is going to be on repeat this autumn and winter. Today being the autumn equinox the days are slowly turning into longer, darker and cooler ones. For me that means deep bowls of soul soothing warm dishes. Preferably with some spice, hot sauce always on the side and a good bit of stodge to keep those chills at bay. I hope you enjoy this recipe a much as I did!

On a side note, it was my birthday yesterday, and this weekend I will be celebrating with all my family and friends. Of course that means lots of cake and sweet treats (brownies, blondies and bakewell tarts in my case!!), bubbles and dancing it all off till my little toes can’t stand it no more. I’ll report back next week, once I have recovered!

Till then my loves

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August Antics

I’m way too hot right now. Taking a respite from the blazing Cretan sunshine, I’m sat under the umbrella writing this post, also the only place I can see the screen. Is there such a thing as a laptop screen that you can still see in the sun? No matter how much I turn up the brightness I’m still staring into a black void, which isn’t so ideal for editing photos, and god knows what I’m actually typing here.

So yes, I’m spending my last week of August in Crete, near to the city of Rethymno. We have a beautiful villa here, surrounded by olive groves and pomegranate trees and the mountains in the distance. Did you know that Greece is approximately 80% mountain?? I didn’t!! It’s so peaceful here too, except for the sound of crickets, birds (not forgetting the bloody barking dogs, they’re not so peaceful but we can forget about them) and the swilling of the pool, well that’s about it.

The so-called British summer has been pretty poor this year. All those who don’t believe in global warming, well surely it’s proof enough when our summer’s have been getting wetter and cooler year on year. The boots and puffer coats never get put away and the sandals and bikinis are too shy to come out. I’m very grateful to be here and to end August on a good note in a beautiful setting. I’m sick of the rain, so when I get back home to England can you please have gone away? Thanks.

With next coming September (my birthday month, annnnddddd it’s a big’un!) I’m very much looking forward to it, celebrating with a bang. Also what’s not to love about Autumn, the last of the seasonal fruit and vegetables, foraging for blackberries, low and golden sunshine beams and walks through the falling leaves. But that’s next month it’s a while to go yet, so back to now! Here’s what I’ve been loving this August, just a couple of things, mainly with a sunny theme of course!

#1 Daily morning swim

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There’s no way that I could go on holiday without having a pool nearby, just a few steps away is ideal. I’m not a huge fan of the beach, sand gets everywhere in every single crack and crevice, you can’t eat or you’ll end up chewing on the stuff and swimming in the sea gives me the heebie jeebies. The pool is a must. On holiday I like to have a little routine of waking up putting my swimsuit on and swim a few lengths. It’s just me and the pool, some time for myself to reflect on things in my mind and get my body moving before a hard days’ work of lying down, reading books, doing crosswords and eating. The pool isn’t so big where I am right now, maybe only four or five strokes per length, but hey that only means more lengths. I’m currently on eighty, let’s see by the end of the week if I’ll make it to one hundred. I highly doubt that! NOTE: One day I did manage one hundred, pretty chuffed with myself I must admit, also pretty ravenous the rest of the day. Can’t complain about that just means more cheese for me!

 

#2  This dress from & Other Stories

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The love affair all began way way back on a shopping day with my mum to Manchester, let’s say around May. I spotted this dress in & Other Stories, the skirt with the same print too, and just fell in love. I knew I had to own it. Unnnntttil spying the price tag of a lofty £79, well that idea was swiftly put aside. A week or so later I did a shoot on Formby Beach (which is absolutely beautiful on a sunny day by the way) and what was to be one of the looks? Of course that dress. It’s was as if it was fate. So again on another shopping trip in the summer months, I spied this beauty. ON THE SALE RAIL. I felt like all my stars had aligned and karma was on my side (something which doesn’t happen very often). It was meant to be after all! So finally last night I had the chance to wear said dress for a meal by the sea. It was a little breezier that anticipated and the waves were definitely crashing on the rocks, and the waistband perhaps was a little too tight so I had to undo the zip (too much feta maybe?). But it got its first outing and that’s all that matters!

 

#3 Greek Tea – particularly this brand Krocus Kozanis

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There’s a theme this month if you haven’t already noticed, I am pretty in love with Greece. They like tea, as do I, meaning we get along well together. They do something called mountain tea which is made from the dried leaves, stems and flowers of the sideritis plant. But many other herbal teas are popular including the likes of sage and oregano all with supposed individual health benefits but a delicious flavour too. I’ve found this brand Krocus Kozanis, who sell a small range of organic greek teas, it is available in the uk but not the easiest to get hold of. The best of the lot are the herbal tea with sage, lemon verbena and saffron and the herbal tea with rosemary, thyme and saffron. I will be stocking up whilst we’re here and packing my suitcase with teabags. If we’re overweight on the baggage allowance – I’ll sure know why!

 

#4 Pistachio and dark chocolate cookies with sea salt from Joy The Baker

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This is one of my go-to’s. Whenever my family is pining for something sweet or I need a present to take to someones’ house, I know it’s a pleaser. A mixture of finely chopped almost ground pistachios with chunkier ones for some bite, dark chocolate chips (the darker the better to contrast with the sweetness) and a good sprinkling of sea salt on each one which is totally obligatory. They’re a little more adult than your regular chocolate chip, and just that little bit better. Joy the Baker has some brilliant finds on her blog, I’m a repeat visitor for her cookie recipes and also her chats about cats, I’m always into that. Cats are life. As are cookies.

 

#5 Organic cold-pressed rose hip seed oil from The Ordinary

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Rosehip oil is something I’ve intergrated into my beauty routine for some time now. A few drops on slightly damp skin (nothing which a good spritz of rosewater can’t solve) massaged in then left to absorb before applying my moisturiser. It’s highly hydrating, full of Vitamin A and Fatty acids which are beneficial for our skin, is lighter than many other oils such as coconut oil so won’t clog your pores and it gives you a natural glow due to its orange colour (I’m not talking oopma loompa, but just eough of a tint). I’ve been faithful to this rosehip oil from Pai, it has a lovely scent but also a bit costy too. A friend suggested the company The Ordinary to me, a new beauty brand which aims to bring trustworthy products to the market, dispose of false advertsing and to sell everything at a reasonable price. Well at £9 a pop I can’t really argue with that.

 

#6 Swiss cheese plant or Monstera (or as I like to call it Grilled Cheese Plant) from Ikeamonstera-potted-plant-swiss-cheese-plant__0507893_pe636086_s4

Oh Ikea, you walk in with intentions of tracking down the one wardrobe, to walk the wrong way down the aisles, get hungry halfway round so stop for meatbealls and a cinnamon bun, buy way more unnecessary things than you intended to and then struggle with the trolley on the way to the car as the flat pack is way heavier than you anticipated and the trolley has a Dickie wheel. We’ve all been there! HOWEVER they do sell everything at a reasonable price and you can get some pretty snazzy finds. Even though I have just bought this mirror for my room (which I love to pieces may I add) but every other man and his goat has the same one, which is rather annoying. They also have a really good plant section. I bought two plants from there, a Calathea (obviously purchased entirely on the basis of the name) and the Montera (or swiss cheese). Perhaps plants have become that indie ‘staple’ to be seen in every coffee shop and young persons apartment. It’s true I also have a pinterest board full of plant inspiration for my bedroom, I’m talking planters, macramé and succulents. Buutttttt it’s also true that plants are really beneficial to our health when kept inside. They increase the quality of the air by removing pollutents, keep the air more humid and less dry and supposedly encourage an increase in mood and lower stress levels. Well I’ll be having some of that please. Also they just look really nice. The swiss cheese plant, has holes in its leaves, similar to an edam or gouda (d’ya get it now?), and a hell of a lot easier upkeep than a dog or cat. I’m just praying that after a 1 week holiday it hasn’t given up on me!

 

August it’s been a fun ride but here we are on the other side. I’ll be chatting here this time next month when I’m another year older. 21. Pretty excited I must admit, but do I feel like I can officially call myself an adult and I have my life in check. Hell NO. Am I looking forward to eating my weight in birthday cake, drinking way too much prosecco and seeing all my family and friends (ooh not forgetting the new outfit)? Why OF COURSE!!

Ta ta

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Courgette, dill and ricotta quiche with a rapeseed oil crust

I have a very large plastic tub in my lounge. One of those tubs that parents keep their kids’ toys in perhaps to prevent the inevitable and very painful Lego brick stuck between your toes and the plastic farm set from being sucked up the hoover. Yes one of those 2L ones. It has my stash of magazines in, Good Food magazines, and I cherish them all. Ever since my first, December 2012 to be exact, I’ve had a monthly subscription and my Good Food magazine delivered to the door at the end of the month as it’s just rolling into the next one.

Rummaging through you will notice which ones enclose the beloved recipes. Dog eared pages splattered with tinned tomatoes or oil drips and the front cover slowly slipping away from its hinges. Typically these recipes are family favourites, a one-pot tagine, a riff on a shepherds pie, curries and sides to roast dinners to keep things interesting. Come Christmas time every single one of the December issues become my bibles when I’m on the search for the ultimate roast potatoes, and what on earth to do with all that leftover turkey. Turns out there’s way more meal ideas than a turkey and stuffing sandwich or eaten cold with chips, pickled onions and gravy.

Always up to date with the latest food trends, in the most recent issue (August 2017) there’s talk of charcoal in food, alcopops (the frozen ones and a hella better than the tween faves of WKD and Bacardi Breezers), recipes for those health nuts who can’t cook a meal without using a spiralizer and ones for those who don’t even know what a spiralizer is. They cover alllll the bases that’s for sure.

One thing I always look forward to are the recipes coming from Rosie Birkett. Those you of you who aren’t aware of Rosie, she is a food stylist, food journalist and recipe creator hailing from London (find her on Instagram here). She has written a number of books, A Lot on Her Plate, being one of them and writes for newspapers and magazines across the UK. Her food ethos centres around seasonality, nothing chosen for their certain health properties or current trends, just things picked when they’re at their best, most sweetest, succulent and delicious.

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So in a flick through the July issue I came across this quiche recipe. For a while now I had been in the mood for a quiche. It’s pastry, I would eat it every day if I could, until my body mainly comprised of the flaky stuff. How can you go wrong really? Served at room temperature with a lemony dressed green salad, that’s all you need. Ok perhaps I did do a little faffing and roasted some spiced squash and carrots for on the side also, for me that’s keeping things simple, one pots aren’t in my repertoire. Plus the leftovers to look forward to for #notasaddesklunch or pack up and go on a picnic in the sunshine (oh how hard I wish for that this summer).

So I had courgettes in the fridge, some feta, an out of date tub of ricotta (sealed may I add, it was still fine), a bulb of fennel and loads of herbs. Perfect, no need to go shopping and using up all the odds and ends! That’s my favourite part. My heart sinks when I have to throw some forgotten item from the back of the fridge away. #wastefreeissexy

The original recipe calls for a spelt pastry flecked with pumpkin seeds. I love spelt pastry it’s so much shorter and crumbly than your typical shortcrust due to the lower gluten content, but I was wanting to attempt an oil based crust, substituting rapeseed oil for the butter. Cutting the quantity of fat by over half and substituting it for an unsaturated fat too which is proven to be more beneficial to our hearts than the saturated kind. Pastry that’s good for me? Well kinda…

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Half wholemeal to white flour brings the best texture, I used half wholemeal wheat flour and half plain flour, but any spelt or rye or even a bit of buckwheat would do here. We want something heavier than a white shortcrust and the nuttiness from the wholemeal flours pairs beautifully with the cheese. Don’t forget about the much needed fibre from wholegrains, got to sneak that extra bit in at every opportunity!!

If you’re scared about making quiche, don’t be! It’s far from difficult just requiring a little resting time for the pastry, pre-baking, and cooking and cooling of the filling before mixing it all together. If pastry really does give you the heeby jeebies, buying a good quality one from the shop is fine too, try to get an all butter shortcrust, or failing that call up your Nan!

Courgette, dill and ricotta quiche with a rapeseed oil crust

Loosely adapted from Rosie Birkett’s recipe in the July 2017 edition of Good Food magazine

Pastry Ingredients

  • 20g pumpkin seeds
  • 100g wholemeal flour
  • 100g plain flour (or a white spelt or rye)
  • pinch of salt
  • 50ml rapeseed oil (or olive oil)
  • 75 ml cold water

Filling Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 2 courgettes, halved lengthways then slice on the diagonal
  • 1/2 fennel, sliced thinly
  • 1 lemon
  • Big handful watercress, roughly chopped
  • Big handful dill, chopped
  • Big handfull parsley, chopped
  • 150g ricotta
  • 4 eggs
  • Good sized chunk of feta

Directions

  1. First make the pastry. Put the pumpkin seeds in a food processor and blitz until they are coarsely chopped. Then add the flours and salt, pulse until combined and pour in the oil blending until a breadcrumb consistency is formed.
  2. Add the water in a slow stream until it starts to clump together in a ball. Tip out onto a floured surface and squidge together into a ball (try not to be too heavy handed).
  3. Wrap in clingfilm and leave to rest in the fridge for a minimum of 30 mins. Can be made 1-2 days ahead.
  4. Preheat the oven to 160C/140 fan. Get a 22cm tart tin (a metal one with a removable base will make life easier). Once the pastry has rested, roll out on a floured surface into a circle, bigger than your tart tin and around the thickness of a £1 coin.
  5. Transfer to the tin, not worrying too much if it splits as you can patch it up later, and ease it in gently, pressing in the fluted sides with your finger. Roll a rolling pin over the top edge to make a nice finish and prevent it from shrinking inwards.
  6. Scrunch up some baking paper and line the pastry case, fill with baking beans or rice or dried beans. Place on a baking sheet and pop in the oven for 15 minutes. Remove the beans and bake for another 5 minutes until biscuity and the base is dry.
  7. To make the filling, heat the oil in a large frying pan then add the fennel seeds, cook for a few minutes until they smell fragrant. Add the garlic, courgettes and fennel and cook on a low-medium heat, stirring often, until starting to caramelise and turn slightly golden and the courgette and fennel have softened. This will take between 15 – 20 mins.
  8. Remove from the heat and stir in the chopped herbs and the watercress, alongside the zest of the lemon and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Leave aside until cool.
  9. In a bowl whisk the ricotta and eggs until smooth and season well with salt and pepper.
  10. Pour a thin layer of custard over the pastry base, fold half of the courgette filling with the rest of the custard in the bowl and spoon into the case.
  11. Dot the rest of the courgette mix over the top, pressing it down lightly. Sprinkle the feta over the top.
  12. Place in the oven (still on the baking sheet) for around 35 minutes until the edges are set and there is a slight wobble in the middle. Leave to cool slightly before eating, it tastes best at room temperature.

I’m jetting off soon for some much needed time in the sun, Rethymno in Crete being my destination. Obviously I’m super buzzed about sampling all of the Cretan food (particualrly some of those Cretan pies – one a day being an obligatory thing and will be scheduled into my itinerary), the seafood is meant to be some of the best and I’ve read Rethymno is a real stunner too. If anyone has any Crete, Rethymno ideally, suggestions and recommendations send them my way, whether it be food, drink, sight seeing and must-dos all is much welcomed.

So there should be another post hitting here before I’m far and away, another to add to the dip devotion series. Stay tuned!!

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Chocolate and banana granola clumps

Let’s start this post with a quiz. Name for me a breakfast food that one might consider ‘healthy’?

I’ll give you a few seconds to think about it…

Was granola one of the first ideas to come to mind? A deep bowl of fat free yogurt, chopped fresh fruit, and a generous smattering of granola. Not forgetting the drizzle of runny honey.

I’m not going to get into the debate here of clean vs dirty. Healthy v unhealthy. As is there really an unhealthy food? A slice of cake someone may think of as unhealthy however when you take a look at your diet as a whole if it’s sandwiched in between lots of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes, surely that constitutes as a balanced diet? Kale and quinoa may be ‘healthy’ but if they don’t make you happy, are we living as well as we think. Cake, cookies, brownies and the sweeter things in life are as necessary as kale. That is fact.

Back to the granola, I’m sure there are many brands we grew up eating or still tip into our bowls each and every morning. Maybe you only bought some boxes believing they were healthy, perhaps better than your favourite Cornflakes, but didn’t really take any pleasure from eating them. Words such as natural, free from refined sugars, organic, low fat, whole, all suck us in to the belief that we are making the right choices. Go and take a closer look at almost any box of granola on the supermarket shelves. Take a real close look. HINT, look at the sugar content.

I know I’ve mentioned before about my thoughts on sugar. I’m not a nutritionist, a dietitian or anyone who has the scientific plain facts, so I suppose what I say should be taken with a pinch of salt. Nonetheless, it’s evident that as a nation we consume far too much of the sweet stuff. I’m not just talking caster sugar. Maple syrup, honey and agave I’m looking at you too.  Our recommended daily allowance currently stands at 30g per day, that’s 6 tsp. Take a regular can of coke for example, when that contains 35g (7 tsp) you can see how the numbers stack up.

Anything which contains more than 5g of sugar per 100g is said to be high. As sugar or a syrup is the ingredient in granola which brings the crunch, it is going to be higher than say a box of muesli or shredded wheat. There are granolas on the market which have much lower sugar content and are GL (glycemic load) tested, so won’t cause as much of a spike in your sugar levels. That being said, if like me you have tried this one in particular, will know that it resembles a certain food for our feathery friends. Bird food. Dry, floury, not much crunch and rather bland, food for fuel not for enjoyment.

No one needs that. Life isn’t made for boring breakfasts.

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I’m sure many of you have seen this recipe before from one of my favourites, Green Kitchen Stories. Their banana granola is a bit of a worldwide phenomenon. My New Roots has a recipe also. In fact it’s far from a new concept. Google banana granola and the posts are numerous. Hundreds and thousands of them. Hello innovative blogger over here! But you can never have enough granola recipes.

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Yet again I had a few bananas, well past their best, festering in the fruit bowl. Usually that always means banana bread, but no eggs and so far no success with a vegan version of said bread, I just wasn’t going to take the risk. Banana granola was on my mind. Sweetened with fruit and just a little maple syrup to bring the crunch. Thoughts of baking low and slow to ensure no burnt bitter ends and using up some brown rice puffs hiding in the back of the cupboard, well obviously my brain on that particular day was fully functioning. Clumpy granola, lightly sweetened, boulders of crunch to munch whether it be for breakfast or as a snack. It was a result.

This one. A heavy dousing of raw cacao, a big pinch of salt is essential, and some peanut butter too. Cos’ why not! Chopped nuts, coconut flakes, oats, raw buckwheat and puffed rice mixed well with some cinnamon for that sweet spice. It’s simple as you like, low in added sugar and one to use up whatever is going in your cupboards.

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I can’t forget to mention that it’s dad approved. From a dad who likes his breakfasts of Crunchy Nut Cornflakes, granola, Shreddies and Weetabix on rotation, and that is that. But this stuff by the handful, he was more than happy. Take it as you like. In a bowl drowned with your milk of choice, ice cold. Or some yogurt, whether it’s coconut, cows or almond topped with a big handful and some fruit. That açai bowl or smoothie that was begging for a bit of crunch, here’s your answer. As a topper for porridge, toast, overnight oats, a vessel for scooping up nut butter or just popping into your mouth… You got it!

Plus it’s chocolate flavoured. How can you go wrong?!?!

Chocolate and banana granola clumps

  • Servings: Makes a small serving which can be doubled easily ( just divide between two trays and rotate them halfway through baking)
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Ingredients

Dry ingredients:

  • 40g almonds
  • 40g walnuts
  • 40g flaked coconut
  • 50g puffed brown rice
  • 25g raw buckwheat
  • 75g rolled oats
  • 1 1/2 tbsp cacao powder
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 big pinch of salt

Wet ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 tbsp rapeseed oil (olive oil or coconut oil will work too)
  • 1 tbsp peanut butter
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 1/2 tbsp water
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 very ripe banana

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 160°C/140°C fan. Line a baking tray with baking paper or a silicone baking sheet.
  2. Chop the almonds and walnuts roughly and add to a bowl along with all the other dry ingredients and stir together.
  3. In a saucepan mash the banana to a purée then add all the other wet ingredients and heat gently until everything has melted and combined.
  4. Pour the banana mixture into the oat mixture and give it a good stir until there are no dry bits left and everything is mixed well.
  5. Transfer to the baking sheet, pat into a thick layer and put in the oven for 20 minutes.
  6. After that time, give the granola a stir by folding it over trying not to break the clumps up too much. Rotate the tray and place back in the oven for another 15-20 minutes. Checking the granola every 5 minutes, stirring the outside edges into the middle to ensure they are not burning.
  7. Take out of the oven when deep brown and smelling delicious. It will firm up even more as it cools.
  8. Leave the tray to cool on a wire rack, whilst the scent of chocolatey banana bread wafts through the house, so hide away from wandering hands! Store in a Tupperware at room temperature where it will keep for around 1 month.

Hope you enjoy this one. It sure is a winner. I’ll be off now, I’ve just eaten a mouthful of granola and I want some more!

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What’s the dealio with dairy?

We pour it on our cereal, splash it in our tea, our coffee, eat it as an after dinner dessert or slice onto crackers with chutney for a mid-afternoon snack. Dairy in all its forms is something we have been brought up on. In the western world we are told as soon as we stop breast feeding to drink our milk, so much so that is an integral part of most peoples’ diets.

Memories of a glass of warm milk before bed as it helps to send you to sleep, that minuscule red wheel of Babybel cheese you fished out of your lunchbox daily, and squeezy yogurts that you stuck in the freezer to make into ice lollies on those (more frequent back then) days of stuffy summer. Frubes I’m looking at you! Dairy, seemed to be a fundamental part of the diet.

Marketing campaigns encourage parents to feed their children dairy products, enforcing the fact that without it they won’t get enough calcium to grow and have strong bones, ‘it will make you strongerer’. The fear of rickets is probably on most parents minds, so if the guidelines say to eat dairy, the children will eat it. What if they were lactose intolerant though? Around 10-20 years ago the only option you had as a dairy alternative was fortified soya milk. Probably sweetened. Most likely a bit gross. There wasn’t really much development in terms of dairy free milks, yogurts and cheeses, and the free from aisle…what free from aisle? If you were lactose intolerant you either gave it up cold turkey, or suffered the consequences.

I can’t pinpoint when exactly, but here in the UK, let’s say 5 years ago? Something triggered a small amount of the population to go dairy free. We also became more aware of the effects of soya on the environment and how it disrupts hormone levels (particularly for us women). The dairy free market was steadily growing, the occasional almond and coconut milks were accessible, still didn’t taste that good- mainly water and emulsifiers – so the need for creamy dairy wasn’t ever satisfied. You know it’s become a thing when Starbucks catch onto the trend and almond and coconut milk become an optional extra, with a 30p charge of course. Soon the media channelled into it spreading the word that dairy is the devil, it leads to cancer and causes osteoporosis, and every other ailment under the sun.

Around the same time, another tribe of people were touting that low fat dairy should be avoided at all costs. You can still eat your cheese, yogurts, milk and butter, but ensure that it is full fat. The higher the better for some, swearing off high fat – low carb diets. Bulletproof coffee (that is indeed coffee blitzed with butter to supposedly give a creamy drink without the crash from the caffeine), full fat yogurt, choosing cheese over dessert and searching out raw milk if possible. Totally contrasting to the dairy free crowd, making it utterly confusing to us consumers.

There doesn’t seem to be a definitive answer to this problem for the time being. The government guidelines include dairy as part of a healthy balanced diet, it’s a good source of protein and calcium ensuring that you stick to lower fat varieties as the amount of saturated fat can be high. Personally, I find a happy ground in between all this conflict. I eat full fat yogurt (organic if I can, Yeo Valley is my go to), spread salted butter liberally on my toast and eat cheese when I want. I enjoy dairy. Cutting it out from my life would make me miserable and being unhappy doesn’t contribute to a healthy lifestyle. If you’ve ever experimented with removing or reducing your consumption of something, you will have realised that it penultimately ends up in being substituted with something else. The best dairy substitute by far is nuts, healthy though they are, you can always over do it. Need some cream, use cashews, spread nut butter instead of butter on toast, make cheese from cashews herbs and garlic, and milk from, yet again, more nuts.

Nuts aren’t the only culprits in the dairy free gang. Rice milk has been a favourite for many for years as it’s naturally very sweet, and coconut milk too for something a bit creamier and richer. Oat milk hailing from Sweden and even hemp, quinoa and tiger nut milk can all be spotted. If you’re wanting to switch up your milk routine and try something new here’s a list of dairy free milks that I would always choose. They are tried and tested, all of them with a different flavour which lends themselves to different things.

  • Oatly – Oat Milk

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A personal favourite, creamy milk which tastes as delicious chilled from the fridge as it does on your morning muesli or stirred into your porridge. Also note that it is one of the best dairy free milks for using in tea and coffee as its foams well and doesn’t separate. I tend to choose the blue Oatly carton as it is fortified with calcium, vitamin D, B12 and riboflavin and it is also cheaper than the organic version.

  • Rude Health

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I’m a huge fan of the company Rude Health, having sampled all of their range of milks (many times I may add) they still are a firm staple on my shopping list. Their almond, hazelnut and coconut milks all are made with a base of brown rice so are delicately sweet, perfect for those of you wanting some sweetness without adding sugar, and when blended into smoothies or lattes have a nice subtle flavour. Then there’s the ultimate almond for the purists – with a heftier price tag – and a higher percentage of nuts and none of the rice. The cashew milk too, which I’m highly fond of, purely made from cashews and water, it is the creamiest of the lot and makes a mean turmeric or matcha latte. All of the Rude Health milks have the added bonus that there are no emulsifiers or stabilisers so they do require a good shake before pouring. However if you’re worried about missing out on certain nutrients when you cut out milk, none of these are fortified so you may want to opt for another brand for the everyday use.

  • Alpro – Unsweetened roasted almond milk

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Alpro is well known by the masses notably for soya products, which has a bit of a bad rap. This almond milk though is the best of the lot they offer. Unsweetened and fresh, it’s the sort of milk that fits into your everyday life. More cost-effective too at the cheapest on offer, but with a very low content of almonds and quite a neutral flavour it may not be the most exciting for your tastebuds.

  • Califia farms – Unsweetened almond milk

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New to the UK and currently found in Sainsburys, Califia Farms is a bit of a game changer in terms of almond milk. Carageenan free, no added sugars and utterly delicious I have to add, this one is something to hunt down. It’s so good I enjoy drinking it as is, from a glass (and when I’m that desperate straight from the bottle) and that’s that. Also brilliant for use in hot drinks as there is no curdling and it isn’t thin so you won’t require half a carton to get your tea how you like.

Now what’s my stance on dairy? I love the stuff and have tried (vow to never again) giving it up, and believe that if you aren’t allergic or intolerant and most importantly you enjoy it, don’t deprive yourself. Dairy is high in saturated fat but as long as you don’t overdo it, there will absolutely be no problems. Here’s some of the dairy products that I like to eat, I always try to stick to organic if possible and mix it up by consuming not only cows milk, but sheeps, goats and buffalo too. You will be surprised how many of your favourite cheeses aren’t actually made from cows milk.

 

  • Yeo Valley – Natural yogurt, Greek style yogurt and salted butter

 

I love this brand as all of their products are organic the cows are fed on luscious grass and made in Somerset . I always return back to their natural yogurt, or the greek style if I want something richer, as it has a good tang and you can find it in most supermarkets and even corner shops. The butter too is lovely, a bright marigold yellow with a little salt, spread it on sourdough. That’s what you call heaven.

  • St. Helen’s farm – Goats yogurt

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This may be a dividing option. It’s rich, but with a salty savouriness that balances all out. The flavour too is much stronger than a cows milk yogurt so a little goes much further. Dolloped on a crumble, topped with strawberries or strained to make a labneh. Perhaps keep it real simple with just a drizzle of local honey and a little pinch of salt, bloomin’ marvellous!

  • Feta cheese

The most famous of offerings from Greece. That salty crumbly cheese that none of us can get enough of. It makes every meal better, whether that be avo on toast, a mundane salad, a sandwich or a pile of broccoli. Add feta and automatically it is elevated. Traditionally feta is made only from goats milk so try to opt for one of those, searching in your local Aldi or Lidl should do the trick.

  • Halloumi

Halloumi tends to be the vegetarians’ choice (and eaten by all the carnivores too) particularly when BBQ weather rolls along. You Nando’s aficionados will know the drill. Squeaky cheese, as my mum refers to it, takes on flavours well so when marinaded and griddled to leave blackened scorch marks, that rivals any sausage or chicken drumstick. Another cheese which traditionally is made from goats or ewes milk and found in the Mediterranean sunnier climes of Cyprus.

  • Longley Farm – Crème Fraîche

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From a dairy local to me comes this crème fraîche. Alongside many yogurts, butters, milk and creams they produce, this is the better than any supermarket version. If anyone knows in more detail, please back me up on this, but supposedly this is the only variety of cream available to buy in France. Crème fraîche goes through a fermenting process to give it that tang, meaning it lasts longer in the fridge and is better for our digestion than cream.

  • Godminster – Organic Cheddar cheese

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Having worked a stint in a farm shop and on a cheese counter, a good few chunks of cheese came my way. Blue, Cheddar, Lancashire, Cheshire, Brie, goats cheese, I like them all, but when it comes to making a cheese board I know that a good cheddar will always be the first to disappear and everyone fights for the last slither. This Cheddar cheese from Somerset is mature and punchy enough to stand up to any chutney, but still creamy and lingers on your palate…until the next piece. Available to buy in the UK at many delis by the slice or in individual truckles. Grated into a cauliflower cheese or sliced in a cheese sandwich, guaranteed it will be the best you have ever made.

To wrap it all up, I still don’t think there’s an outright decision on whether we should be eating dairy or not. Do what works for you. I do try to limit my dairy consumption, so that means substituting dairy milk for a plant based milk instead, for environmental reasons mainly as methane production is one of the main causes of global warming. Milk is something in the western diet that is consumed at least once a day, particularly for us Brits – we’re all rather partial to a cuppa – very swiftly by switching that up you’ll be eating and drinking much less. Yogurts, cheeses, butter and cream don’t tend to be an everyday thing. Also yogurt and crème fraîche (and some butters if they’re french) are all fermented or cultured. They’re beneficial to our guts and if you’re not a huge fan of other fermented products such as sauerkraut, kombucha and kimchi they are a good way of getting those good bacteria into your diet.

Do what’s right for you, your lifestyle and your budget. As long as we’re all ensuring to eat as many vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains, mainly plant based, then that cheeseboard and a glass of vino, it’s there to ENJOY!

Until next time

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Cowherds. A juice company based in Manchester

Juice. A favourite found on the breakfast table, nothing beats a freshly squeezed orange juice, bits ‘n all. Wandering down the aisles at the supermarkets the range of juices on offer is rather significant. From concentrate or not, with bits or without, not to mention the price range from your budget carton to the bestselling brand. You may also see words spring up like cold-pressed, the odd vegetable here and there and the term ‘no added sugar’ I’m sure is often labelled loud and clear.

In terms of governmental guidelines, fruit juice, a 150ml glass counts as 1 of your 5 a day. Thought to be a healthy option by some and something to steer well clear of by others, it seems to be dividing the crowd. Unless there are bits in it, all the juice has been squeeezzzeddddd out leaving the cellulose and tough fibre behind, but producing a juice still with the vitamins and minerals you would find in the whole fruit. As a lot of people here in the UK struggle to meet all of their 5 a day, a glass of juice is sometimes their only chance of obtaining much needed vitamin C. However it also contains a high dose of sugar and with none of the fibre to slow the release, ultimately the blood sugar levels will be raised. Juice has also been linked to tooth decay and in some studies with obesity and type-2 diabetes

Pushing the not-so-good deets aside, putting vegetables into juices and reducing the fruit to an absolute minimum is the ideal way to enjoy them. You could err on the side of the hard-core green juice fans, adding tons of leafy green vegetables, a zippy hit of lemon and ginger, but absolutely no fruit. Or opt for the sweeter side, mixing carrots and beetroots with apples, pineapple or pear.

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Searching out juices, more vegetable based ones, isn’t a hard task. In London a juice bar seems to frequent every street corner (more often than Pret a Manger I kid you not!), up in Manchester we’re not following far behind. One juice which us northerners may have spotted the odd time in cafes and health food shops is from a little company called Cowherds, based in Salford. Supplying Greater Manchester with non-pasteurised, raw and cold pressed juices.

They contacted me and sent some juices to try. I’m not one who is ever going to go on a juice detox, I don’t believe in that, also I want to eat, there’s nothing better than a good chew ;). However adding juices into a healthy diet is a great way to add even more nutritious goodness, just try to stick to vegetable based ones to keep down the free sugars.

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I sampled four of their flavours, Popeye, The Breakfast Smoothie, Phat Beets and Turbo Charger. All utterly delicious, with a bonus of the beautiful glass bottles they arrive in. I will be making sure to reuse them…water bottles, vases for flowers, pencil holders, throw some other ideas at me!

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Popeye. My personal favourite. A hard-core green juice with no fruit added at all, just that hit of lemon to perk it all up. Spinach, Celery, Cucumber, Lemon and Hemp protein, I drank this after my workouts for a refreshing sip and a bit of plant-based protein to fuel my (pretty exhausted, I did this Jane Fonda workout, my god it’s good) muscles.

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The Breakfast Smoothie is made up of pineapple, banana, cinnamon, oats and lemon, which my dad enjoyed for his breakfast when he was running out of the house. A sweet little treat for the morning when you don’t have time to sit down and enjoy your food.

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Phat Beets. A glorious deep purple colour from the beetroot alongside carrot, apple, lemon and cucumber. Drinking beetroot juice before a workout has been proven to increase exercise performance and the blood flow to the brain due to nitric oxide. Is there any better excuse to get drinking your purples as well as your greens!?

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Turbo Charger. One of the sweeter juices containing apple, carrot, ginger and lemon it has a real zing from the ginger to wake you and your taste buds up. A lovely golden hue that will make you glow inside and out (don’t eat tooooo many orange things folks, you will turn orange, I’ve been there AND done that!), but in moderation it’s high in vitamin A which is brilliant for the skin.

Give them a follow on Instagram @cowherds_cafe and twitter @CowherdsVegCafe where you can see the full list of stockists, and head on over to their website for more info.

Big thank you again to Cowherds for sending me your juices, I love to spread the word about products and brands that I believe in, so here’s to big things in your future!!

Much love to you all

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