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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Burnt courgette veggie chilli and all the fixings

Meat Free Monday. An initiative started up to encourage eating a vegetarian meal altogether as a family just one day per week, to improve your health as well as the health of the environment. Also there’s One Part Plant, started up by Jessica Murnane, with the idea to eat one plant based meal per day. Some use it as a chance for a healthy meal full of vegetables, others to reduce the impact of meat production on the environment. By vegetarian I’m talking vegetables, grains, legumes, a bit of dairy or eggs perhaps (I do love me a bit of cheese), but definitely not Quorn fish fingers and chips. Please can a vegetarian explain to me why you would want to eat something which resembles the taste and texture of a fish finger when you choose not to eat the real thing? I just don’t get it.

Now for many, a vegetarian meal completely devoid of meat, fish and sometimes eggs and dairy too if it’s vegan, well that’s not a meal. I’m from the North of England. The home of meat and two veg, bread and dripping, Lancashire hotpot and the legendary Pie Barm (google Wigan Kebab). If it contains, meat, potatoes and pastry, it’s probably Northern and the food that we were brought up on. It’s cold up here, we need the stodge to keep the warmth in our bones.

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The struggle here has to be the Dads. Happy with steak and chips every night I’m sure, the meal that always fits the bill, but not necessarily a happy one on the purse strings. A veggie meal for Meat Free Monday which isn’t too funky, not too many greens and no weird unpronounceable components like quinoa or edamame or tzatziki, that’s what we’re after. I always opt for a veggie chilli full of different beans, lentils and veggies for that texture and a lack of meat means we need to up the flavour for some oomph! Of course whenever the pan is set down at the table for dinner my dad has to ask ‘does this contain any meat’, well no it doesn’t. Nevertheless we all really enjoy it, and as soon as he has dug in the lack of beef isn’t mentioned again.

Chilli Con Carne is one of those meals I remember fondly from my childhood. Something which is quick and easy for busy families and makes everyone happy. One made from minced beef and tomatoes (basically Spag Bol minus the herbs with added spices and chilli) and a tin of kidney beans thrown in the mix. Probably the only meal we used to eat that contained beans or legumes (the chickpea was alien to me) and the beans I then picked out and left sucked of their chilli juices on the side of the plate. Oh how things have changed. Spooned on top of white rice and a side of garlic bread it was a regular on the meal rotation.

Perhaps traditional in the UK, but not so much a traditional recipe. Hailing from Mexico the Chilli Con Carne is a far cry away from what we are used to. Chunks of beef, like cheek, brisket or shin slowly simmered in a deeply rich sauce, no minced beef here, and technically kidney beans shouldn’t be seen either. A melange of spices, paprika and different chillies all balanced to give layers of smoky-sweet flavour which is finished off with some dark chocolate (it makes all the difference). Cooked up in one pot, cowboy style, that’s how a chilli should be.

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Well and truly burnt

For those Meat Free Mondays we want a veggie chilli which isn’t just a substitute or a side, but it’s even better than the real thing. So good that the vegetarians have to fight to get their fill before the carnivores tuck in. That’s when you know it’s good. Vegetarian food is no more difficult than cooking meat it just requires extra spices and flavouring tricks to pack in that flavour. Different pulses, grains and vegetables are used to provide varying texture and interest so every mouthful is different.

I like to serve this veggie chilli over a jacket or baked sweet potato, but brown or white rice, quinoa, cauliflower rice, in a wrap or just in a deep bowl with tortillas to scoop up the juices. All will suffice here. The toppings are a necessity. Whether you go basic with some guacamole or all out with sour cream, coriander, lime to squeeze, feta or grated cheddar cheese, tortilla chips, pickled jalapenos, chilli sauce (Cholula Hot Sauce always is a winner), spiced up salsa and some sauerkraut. This is the pot that will suit all, just make sure to fill the table so everyone can DIY.

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This recipe I found in the January edition of Good Food magazine, from Izy Hossack (of Top with Cinnamon). It was a recipe for a burnt aubergine veggie chilli, and, not like me at all, we didn’t have any aubergines in and I couldn’t be bothered to walk down to the shops in the rain to get some. So courgettes had to do. If you’re familiar with making Baba Ghanoush, the courgettes need to be charred under a grill or directly on your gas ring until blackened and starting to collapse. The skins are then peeled away to leave a silky smooth interior with some smokiness that is to be folded through the chilli. If you’d prefer, here is the original recipe using the aubergines, but at this time of year I’m sure you avid gardeners are growing courgettes out of your ears. So for a respite from courgette chutney and fritters, add this into your courgette cooking repertoire.

Below are also the recipes for the sweetcorn and tomato salsa and guacamole with which I served the chilli. Super simple and quick and only require a few extra ingredients. But it’s the extras that make this dish shine!!

Burnt courgette veggie chilli

Ingredients

  • 2 courgettes
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 2 carrots, finely diced
  • 1 stick celery, finely diced
  • 30g red lentils, rinsed until the water runs clear
  • 1 tin kidney beans
  • 1 tin black beans
  • 3 tbsp dark soy sauce/tamari
  • 1 heaped tsp chipotle paste
  • 1 tin plum tomatoes
  • 20g dark chocolate (70% plus, the darker the better)
  • 1/2 tsp chilli flakes (or more/less to taste)
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp sweet smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 heaped tsp vegetable stock powder (I use Bouillon)
  • 400ml water

Directions

  1. Turn your grill up to high and place the courgettes under for around 30 mins to 45 mins, turning occasionally until well blackened and charred all over. If you have a gas hob place the courgettes directly on the ring and char until completely blackened. Set aside until cool enough to handle.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large pan then add the onion, carrots and celery and cook gently for around 20 minutes until softened. Stir often to make sure they don’t burn.
  3. Go back to the courgettes and peel away the burnt skin to reveal the soft inner flesh. Throw away all the burnt bits, making sure to scrape every little bit of the insides away and set aside.
  4. Once the carrots, celery and onions have softened add the red lentils and the two tins of beans along with the water in the cans. Add in the courgette flesh, soy sauce, tinned tomatoes, chipotle paste, all the herbs and spices, chocolate, vegetable stock and 400 ml of water. Stir everything together, bring to the boil, then turn down to a very low simmer.
  5. Put the lid on ajar, and leave to cook for 1 1/2 hrs, stirring very often, as it thickens it will stick to the bottom. If it starts to look a bit thick add a bit more water.
  6. After the time, take off the lid and check the consistency, if it seems a little thin leave to reduce for another 15 minutes or so longer. You want a thick sauce.
  7. Check the seasoning, adding more salt or chilli if you think necessary, then squeeze in the juice of half a lime, sprinkle with some coriander and take to the table to serve.

Sweetcorn and tomato salsa

Ingredients

  • 1 tin sweetcorn
  • 4 medium tomatoes
  • Handful of coriander leaves and stalks
  • 1/2 lime
  • 1 green chilli, deseeded

Directions

  1. Drain the sweetcorn and put into a bowl.
  2. Finely dice the tomatoes, slice the coriander leaves and stalks finely along with the deseeded chilli and add all to the sweetcorn.
  3. Squeeze in the juice of some lime, a big pinch of salt and pepper then taste for seasoning. Add more chilli, lime or salt if you like and serve spooned on top of the veggie chilli.

Guacamole

Ingredients

  • 2 ripe avocados
  • 1 lime

Directions

  1. Slice the avocados in half and scoop out the flesh into a bowl.
  2. Add the juice of the lime and a large pinch of salt and mash well with a fork. Leave chunkier if you like or mash until smooth and creamy if that’s what you prefer. Taste for seasoning.

 

Let me know what you think if you cook this recipe. It doesn’t have to be on a Monday either, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, any day it will be good. And the leftovers even better. If you’re making this for a solo dinner or two people, make the full amount. Eat leftovers for dinner or lunch later in the week or freeze for a rainy day.

Snuggly warming hugs

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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)
  • Print

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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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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June Joys

Hello my friends. Yet again it is the end of another month, we’re half way through 2017 too. Gosh it sure has sped by these past six months. Here in the UK we’ve had a tumultuous first half to the year. First getting our heads around Brexit, then yet ANOTHER general election, the Manchester attacks, the Borough attacks, the Grenfell fire, that’s just to name a few, but of course there has been some happy times. Too many of those to recall! And i’ts those moments that we have to be grateful for everyday, just to keep everything in perspective.

With the scorchio summer weather we experienced for the grand total of one week (the hottest in 40 years!!!), that meant BBQs galore, picnics, not turning the oven on because it was just too hot to cook inside and everything over ice to cool us down. Nevertheless it has been a food filled month, grilled corn slathered in butter, salad-ing everyday, British berries all permeated by the smell of smoking coals, a few of the things i have been enjoying. Birthdays too, there always seems to be loads in June so that meant the odd meal eaten out and lots of cake and birthday treats. I wasn’t complaining!

Also I’ve been back at home these most recent weeks, as usually I’m based in London. I feel like I thrive when back in greenery, fresh air and hills and my own bed helps towards a more restful sleep which is definitely beneficial. On another plus point, my own kitchen means lots of cooking and experimenting, the chance to shoot things for my blog (hiiiiii you guys) and do the thing that truly nourishes my soul. I can’t even explain how not having my food processor and condiments like miso, sauerkraut, hot sauce and all my pretty bowls, it’s a struggle. REAL LIFE STRUGGLE. Ok I do cope, it just means instead of homemade hummus we have to cope with shop bought for a while. It’s fine. Really it is.

So. June. Lots of fun things this month. Products I really think you should try and get your hands on. ASAP! Here’s to more sun (keeping all my fingers toes and limbs crossed), less rain and a joyful summer full of new experiences and memories. It’s begun so lets see where it takes us all!

Happy summer my loves!

 

#1 Califia Farms, Unsweetened Black and White Cold Brew Coffee with almond (Find it in Sainsburys)

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All my USA readers will be well aware of this brand of milk. I’ve seen post after post about it on all my favourite food blogs, only to be disappointed that it wasn’t available in the UK. A carageenan-free range of plant based milks, almond unsweetened, unsweetened vanilla, espresso and almond, black and white cold brew, cold brew with cacao, coconut, and toasted oats and almonds. All I can tell you is how mind-blowing delish they are. I’m not usually a coffee drinker, and when I do I tend to stick to a flat white with whole milk, but this cold brew is LIFE CHANGING. The coffee has a nice little kick and the almond milk is delicate and nutty. Ever tried making a coffee or tea with plant based milk before and it separates? Yep looks pretty disgusting. But there’s no separation here. None at all my friends. Plus it’s unsweetened, even better. Just what’s needed for the 11am dip. Try it. Try them them all!!!

 

#2 Coconut Collaborative Yogurt

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If you’ve read my blog in the past, you will know that I don’t restrict myself to anything. I eat dairy/gluten/wheat, I’m not paleo, vegetarian or vegan and I try not to use many unearthly powders and things that resemble frog spawn. Sometimes it’s just too expensive and you know what…they don’t taste that great. BUT, one thing I like to mix up is my yogurts. I LOVE YOGURT. Whether it be cow, goat, sheep, coconut, almond, you name it, I will have consumed it. Apart from soya, not down with that one. In the supermarkets the range of yogurts has expanded exponentially, extending way past one aisle, yogurt now lines both sides and the ends. Coconut collaborative is one of those new brands. Available in natural, mango and passion fruit, blueberry, vanilla and strawberry, with natural being my favourite. It’s fresher and not as thick and rich as other coconut yogurts. Of this one, I can manage a whole pot, perhaps that’s a bit more dangerous on your purse, but it’s so lovely do you even care!? Find it in Sainsburys, Tesco, Co-op, Morrisons, Wholefoods and Planet Organic. Basicallly. EVERYWHERE!

 

#3 Montezumas Absolute Black 100% Cocoa 

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Hi I’m Thea, and I’m addicted to chocolate. I don’t know what’s happened lately, but I just can’t get the stuff off my mind. There’s a few rules, it must be dark, like 85% plus. Actually that’s about it. I tend to stick to Co-op Truly Irresistible Fairtrade 85% as in the past I’ve only ever found one 100% chocolate that I really loved. Every other one was always too bitter, in a cocoa powder way, all in all not that great. I came across Montezumas 100% on a hungry snack search late one night at the train station. Their darkest chocolate they sold previously was only 73% which doesn’t quite cut it for me, really really good (so good i could easily eat the whole bar), but it doesn’t have that kick. This however does. Deep and dark in cocoa notes, but still creamy, minus any of the sugar to fit my after-dinner-snack-situation brief. Perfect.

Try dipping it in peanut butter, with a pinch of flaky sea salt. You will never look back.

 

#4 Cowherds Popeye Juice

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A juice company based in Salford in Manchester, Cowherds are providing juice for the northern masses. They contacted me and sent some of their juices to try (post on this coming soon!!!!) and the Popeye juice was my favourite of the lot. A mix of spinach, celery, cucumber, lemon and hemp protein, no fruit, just how I like it. I’m not a big juice drinker but when i do I enjoy a green juice, a proper one. I sipped on this after my workouts alongside some brazil nuts and some strawberries or over ice basking in the sunshine. You can follow Cowherds on Instagram @cowherds_cafe or see their website here. you can also find all their juices stocked in many independent cafes and shops across Manchester.

 

#5 Iced Tea, using Green tea pomegranate from the English Tea Shop

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Have I mentioned it’s been hot. I’m talking 30ºC PLUS. You lot in the southern hemisphere may think noting of this, as ‘it’s the norm’. However for those of us who live in the arctic, temperatures in that range become a bit unbearable. So in order to cope, hot tea was off the menu and in came homemade iced tea. When I was younger, a certain Liptons Iced Tea used to be my drink of choice. In either the peach or mango flavor, give me a bottle chilled and I would drink it all up. Nowadays I prefer my iced tea to live up to its title and actually contain some tea, in the form of green tea is preferable. So I now make it myself. Using my favourite green tea and pomegranate, brewed strong then poured over ice and topped up with water. Kept in the fridge for whenever the need to hydrate arises. You can add sweetener if you like, but it doesn’t need it, mix in chunks of orange, mint, berries which will all add a natural sweetness.

 

#6 Butterscotch Blondies, The Violet Bakery Cookbook (or visit the cafe to try them there!)

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I mentioned birthdays earlier. One of those was my Dads. I always like to bake something for birthdays and this year was no different. As a family we’re not the biggest cake fans, and my dad swears blind that he ‘doesn’t do sweets’. But give him a chocolate brownie and he’ll polish off the whole batch. I wasn’t feeling the brownies, the number of times I’ve made that recipe I know it off by heart (see Lorraine Pascales recipe, I just emit the Oreos). So I flicked through one of my favourite baking books at the moment, The Violet Bakery Cookbook by Claire Ptak to find her recipe for Butterscotch Blondies. Famous from the bakery of the same name, surely you can’t go wrong? Shards of almost-turned-burnt caramel, chunks of dark chocolate all set in a cookie-brownie hybrid with that generous sprinkle of flaky sea salt. In the words of my father, ‘these are the best things you’ve ever baked’, well surely that says it all? Or the fact that after we had eaten them all I was quite upset, persuaded yet? Go on, be a devil, here’s the recipe.

So that’s that again for this month. I have a few exciting posts coming up, a certain cookie that you should make. MUST make. It’s family approved and polished off within a day or two. Stay tuned!

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Mexican Black Bean Dip

Hummus is my GO-TO thing. Lunch or dinner looking a bit dull? HUMMUS. Need a healthy snack full of protein and fibre? HUMMUS. Need a dish to take along to a friend’s party or gathering? HUMMUS. Ran out of the last lot of hummus? Time to make some HUMMUS.

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I understand how easy and accessible hummus is nowadays, your local Tesco Express probably stocks at least 4 or 5 different varieties, and it is a good way of adding some healthy fats and protein into your diet. Looking at the label, the ingredients are pretty familiar but the levels of fat and salt can be pretty high, so the serving size is limited to 1/4 of a pot. Seriously, does anyone stick to that guideline? It takes some stroonggggg will power, one of which, I don’t have.

I’m totally ok with that.

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I do prefer home made though. It leaves space to mix up the beans and pulses, as we all know eating a predominantly plant based diet requires lots of variety, so rotate those legumes. Chickpea is the classic, but try Butter bean or Cannellini bean for some smoooooth dipping. I always try to buy the best tinned beans I can afford, in the supermarkets they do an organic range which is in a carton with no added salt. I would soak and cook them myself but always end up forgetting, and this girl is not waiting for beans to soak to get her hummus fix. If you’re much more organised than me, than by all means using dried beans is a thriftier (and usually tastier) option.

 

Most of my recipes and creations tend to involve using up a glut of things in my fridge. This time it happened to be coriander, which always wilts quicker than I can use it up. And the Saturday curry night never uses the entire bunch – I do love my coriander it gets sprinkled on everything – but still there will be some left. I also wanted to make a black bean dip to change things up a bit. Refried beans has to be up there in one of my favourite things to eat. Just give me a bowl of refried beans, guacamole and salsa. That’s one happy Thea, just leave me be.

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So the general elements of hummus, chickpeas, lemon, garlic, cumin, olive oil, tahini and salt all get a little switch around. Here we have black beans (but feel free to use kidney beans if you can’t get hold of them), lime, garlic, ground cumin and coriander, chilli, pumpkin seeds, fresh coriander and salt. Rather simple, takes only a few minutes in the trusty food processor (mine is older than me, it’s vintage!) and is ready to dollop at your hearts desire. Carrot sticks at the ready!

Mexican Black Bean Dip

Ingredients

  • 1 tin of black beans, drained
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 small bunch of coriander
  • 1 small handful pumpkin seeds
  • 1 green chilli, de-seeded
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • Lime
  • 2 tbsp Extra virgin olive oil/rapeseed oil

Method

  1. Put the drained black beans into a food processor along with the peeled garlic clove, pumpkin seeds and ground spices
  2. Chop the stalks of the coriander roughly and add it all into the food processor along with the zest and juice of 1/2 the lime.
  3. Chop the chilli and add along with a big pinch of salt and the oil and blitz.
  4. Leave the motor running for a minute or two, you may need to scrape down the sides until smooth, then taste. Add any extra salt, lime or chilli you feel necessary.
  5. Scrape into a serving dish or Tupperware where it will keep for 5 days.

Enjoy you lovely lot!

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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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