Squidgy Pumpkin Spice Cookies

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Pumpkin pumpkin pumpkin. Just perfect pumpkin. Bulbous and bright and carroty orange, the emblem of autumn and the vegetable you Americans have a somewhat obsessive yet endearing affection for. They are pretty amazing – the archetypal seasonal food – so I just had to create something with their tangerine tissue. And these delightfully spongy pumpkin spice cookies deserve a place amongst all those pumpkin pies and pumpkin breads and pumpkin cakes, if I’m allowed to make such a self-promoting claim.

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There’s something of an incongruity surrounding pumpkins – on the one hand they’re a wonderful symbol of seasonal produce promoted by a worldwide Hallows’ eve tradition, and yet they’re also (as a direct result of this quirky age-old tradition) one of the most wasted vegetables on the planet. This just doesn’t seem right at all, so what better way to remedy the injustice than to encourage people to eat pumpkins? By all means carve out your scary faces for some spooky fun, but eat pumpkins and squashes too. Eat and gobble and swallow to your stomach’s content. They’re too delicious to chuck into landfill and they’re growing in abundance right now – guaranteed somewhere nearby, so get on out there and source a glowing orange globe in some local soil.

And here’s some inspiration for you – simple, spicy and sweet. With no trace of refined sugar, gluten or dairy. In short; local, seasonal, sustainable wee beauties. These cookies will be all the tastier if you chop up a Hokkaido pumpkin (or butternut or any member of the pumpkin/squash family!) and give it a steam or roast, but canned pumpkin puree works a (trick-or)treat too.

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Makes about 20 cookies:

  • 425g/1 can of pumpkin puree (unsweetened)
  • 120g/1 cup oats
  • 100g/½ cup chestnut flour (if you don’t have any use brown rice flour)
  • 60g/½ cup ground almonds
  • 3 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 4-6 tablespoons agave syrup (or maple syrup or raw local honey), depending on how sweet you like it
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon mixed spice
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • A pinch of sea salt

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If using a pumpkin or squash from scratch; peel it, scoop out the seeds and chop up the flesh into chunks. Place these in a steamer and steam for about 20 minutes, or until they’re really tender and mushy.

Preheat your oven to 180°C. Place the oats in a blender or food processor and whizz up into a flour. Pour this into a large mixing bowl along with the chestnut flour, ground almonds, all the spices, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and sea salt. Mix well and set aside.

Measure out 425g/1 cup of pumpkin puree and place this in a food processor. Melt the coconut oil in a pan on a medium heat then pour this into the pumpkin puree along with the agave syrup. Blend until they’re all well combined.

Add a third of the wet pumpkin mixture to the dry ingredients and stir to combine, repeating twice more until all the pumpkin’s stirred in to form a dough. Line a large baking tray with parchment and lightly grease with a little coconut oil. Scoop out about a tablespoon’s worth of dough and place on the parchment, repeating until you’ve used it all up. Then, using your fingers, gently squash and smooth the balls of dough into round or oval cookie shapes.

Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes or until the edges are firm and they’ve turned a lovely orangey golden brown. Remove from the oven and let them cool for 2 minutes on the baking tray before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Then munch away!

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Cucumber Noodles with Peas, Hemp Seeds & Creamy Avocado Dressing

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When the word cucumber is mentioned people often wrinkle their nose and mutter something about watery tastelessness. Pieces of chopped cucumber are one of the main elements of a classic flaccid ‘side salad’, sitting amongst sad shreds of iceberg lettuce and under-ripe tomatoes. But I feel that cucumbers are unfairly thought of and dismissed. They can actually be quite exciting, and what’s more they’re really amazing for a boost of natural hydration in the body (they’re 95% water!) as well as helping to eliminate toxins. In addition, they help to cool inflammation and are a great source of vitamins C and K and potassium.

So what’s not to love about cucumbers? Especially if you spice things up and get a bit creative, which is what I’ve done here. Everyone’s going a bit bonkers for courgetti/zoodles at the moment, but what about cucumber noodles? If you haven’t got a spiralizer then grab yourself one – they are so useful and somehow make vegetables taste better. The avocado dressing is oh-so-simple and gives the cucumber strands a zingy creaminess which complements each soft crunch of fresh cucumber. Hemp seeds add a great source of protein and a nutty flavour, and peas a delicate sweetness. Altogether, this creates a lovely light lunch which will refresh you for the afternoon.

Sadly the summer is coming to its end here in Britain, so we need to make the most of the last of its delicious fare. Peas are still just in season – try to find some in their pods as the taste is so much greater compared to those little frozen ones. And the cucumber season may not quite be at its height in September but go and grab one before the autumn chilliness sets in and the last of the summer sunshine dwindles.

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Serves 1

  • ½ a whole cucumber
  • 60g petit pois
  • 4 teaspoons hemp seeds

For the avocado dressing:

  • ½ an avocado
  • ½ a lime
  • 1 teaspoon tahini
  • 1 teaspoon avocado oil
  • 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • A pinch of sea salt

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Start by making the dressing. Squash the avocado with a fork until all lumps have disappeared and squeeze the juice out of the lime. Add both of these to a jug or cup along with the tahini, avocado oil, olive oil, apple cider vinegar, water and salt. Whisk this all up together until it’s combined into a creamy dressing.

At this point, put a small amount of water in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Add the petit pois (or garden peas) and simmer for approximately 4 minutes until tender. Spiralize the cucumber onto a plate. When the peas are cooked drain them and mix them up with the cucumber noodles. Sprinkle over the hemp seeds and then stir it all up with the dressing before serving and enjoying!

Melon, Peach & Nutmeg Smoothie

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Peaches are fruity heaven. They are the juiciest most wonderful thing and I literally crave them all through autumn, winter and spring – come summer I devour them with an enthusiasm which you might say verges on fanatical.  A seasonal summer goody, there really is no point in trying to eat them in December – they are simply not the same. Flavour, succulence and quality are all deficient and essentially missing. The same is true of melon, which again has a sensational sweetness that is dreamy and utterly refreshing when eaten at this time of year. And they’re both just perfect on a summery day, so as warm sunshine is now beaming down upon us I thought I’d whiz them up together and create the juiciest super-smoothie you’ll ever taste.

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Adding a few golden linseeds gives this drink a protein boost, along with a hit of healthy fats. Ground down they are more easily digested and so your body will be getting even more nutrients out of them. Nutmeg is a wonderful bark-like spice which adds a faint peppery zing to any dish, and it really gives this smoothie that extra something, vivifying the sweetness of the melon and peach. Smoothies are almost too easy to make and this is perfect for a light breakfast or if you need a thirst-quenching lift on hot summer afternoons.

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Serves 1:

  • 1 peach
  • ¼ of a cantaloupe melon
  • ⅓ of a cup of almond milk or oat milk
  • 1 tablespoon of ground golden linseeds
  • 1 tablespoon of buckwheat flakes or oats
  • A pinch of grated nutmeg

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Simply slice up the peach and melon, then add all of the ingredients to a blender and push the button until it’s all mixed together to form a thick, juicy delight.

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Wild Garlic Pesto & Asparagus Pasta

IMG_1950 smaller adjusted 2 Wild garlic is one of the most amazing examples of nature’s gifts to us. Come spring it sprouts out of the ground in abundance with sleek leaves and beautiful white-star flowers, and it’s just there for the taking! It’s the easiest wild food to harvest in the world – you simply pick the leaves and bam you’ve got a bundle of flavoursome garlicky goodness which can be added to any salad or dish to enhance both its nutrition and taste. No prickly thorns to outmanoeuvre or having to peel anything or discard lots of outer layers or worry that it might be poisonous. It’s almost as if the plant wants other creatures to eat it. And personally I think it’s crazy not to take advantage of such a local, seasonal wonder, especially when it’s free and there’s almost no effort involved. It’s so simple to find – just follow your nose! I picked my leaves less than two minutes’ walk from my house. How great is that? IMG_1886 smaller Wild garlic’s health benefits are numerous – it’s antibacterial, antimicrobial and antiseptic, and it can be effective at lowering blood pressure, which reduces the risk of heart disease and strokes. And the best thing about picking it yourself is you know the leaves are perfectly fresh, so it’s as nutritious as it can be. The combination of wild garlic and seasonal spring onions really gives this pesto a piquant essence. It proves that vegan food doesn’t mean an automatic diminution of taste – trust me, it’s a rival to any parmesan-stuffed pesto out there!

The asparagus season is well under way and it’s such a yummy and special spring vegetable – I look forward to it all summer, autumn and winter. Its window is narrow though so you’ve got to take advantage of it now and in the next few weeks. It’ll never taste as good as it does at the moment so grab yourself a bunch. It complements the wild garlic pesto so well and adds a subtle crunch to this hearty spring pasta dish. IMG_1899 adjusted 2 Serves 4

For the pesto:

  • 110g wild garlic leaves
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 4 spring onions
  • 110ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 40g pine nuts
  • 40g pecans
  • 1½ tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes
  • ½ a lime
  • A small handful of basil leaves
  • Salt and pepper
  • 300g asparagus
  • 300g gluten free pasta (or your favourite durum wheat pasta)

IMG_1945 smaller adjusted 2 To make the pesto, start by crushing the garlic gloves in a garlic press. Slice the spring onions finely. Place a pan on a medium heat and add a little olive oil. Once the oil’s hot, add the crushed garlic and spring onions and gently fry for about 3 minutes. Be careful not to let them burn and once softened remove from the heat and set aside.

In a dry frying pan, lightly toast the pecans and pine nuts (on a medium heat) until they’re starting to turn a golden brown and then pour them into a food processor. Once the fried garlic and spring onions have cooled a little, add them to the food processor along with the extra virgin olive oil, yeast flakes, basil leaves and a good grinding of salt and pepper. Squeeze the juice of the ½ lime in as well and then roughly slice about a third of the wild garlic leaves. Add these to the processor and blend until combined. Slice another third of the garlic leaves and blend once more, repeating with the final third until it’s all mixed into a paste.

Bring a pan of water to the boil and add the pasta, simmering for about 9 minutes or until you have the desired softness (I like mine al dente). While the pasta cooks, steam the asparagus for about 2-3 minutes, poking the spears with a knife to check when they’re soft but not turning to mush. Chop the spears into inch-length pieces and drain the pasta. Place everything back into the pasta saucepan and mix together (making sure the pesto is coating the pasta and asparagus evenly) and serve without delay. IMG_1864 good

French Lentil & Mushroom Casserole

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Lentils and mushrooms make for a somewhat brown combination, but together they really complement each other and create a nutritious, delicious stew. Puy lentils are probably the tastiest lentil out there and hence, over the years, the French have seized on them for their cooking, so they’re often known as French lentils. As a legume (the seed of its plant), they really are powerhouses of protein, but so often they’re served as a side dish. This seems silly to me because a thick, warming lentil casserole is such a hearty, satisfying meal all on its own – it deserves to be the main, the focus of your plate. Taking inspiration from the lentils’ link to France, this casserole is bursting with French flavours, from the red wine to the rosemary and mushrooms.

Shiitake mushrooms are one of the most nutrient-rich mushrooms out there. They’re a fantastic source of bioavailable iron and protein, which is always good news for vegetarians and vegans. They also have a strong antiviral effect – perfect for the colder months of the year when our bodies are naturally more disposed to catching viruses. But the best thing about these shiitake mushrooms is that they were grown here in the UK, so they are local fungi through and through. The chestnut mushrooms also come from a few counties away, and the rosemary’s from a little bush in my garden, so as a whole this casserole is a local pleasure.

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Serves 6:

  • 50g dried shiitake mushrooms (porcini also work well)
  • 250g chestnut mushrooms
  • 120g shiitake mushrooms
  • 3 medium onions
  • 5 cloves of garlic
  • 1 litre of hot vegetable stock
  • 150ml red wine
  • 400g of puy lentils
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • A sprig of rosemary
  • 2 teaspoons of miso paste

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First, give your dried shiitake mushrooms a quick rinse before placing them in a large bowl and pouring over the hot stock, leaving them to soak for twenty minutes.

Meanwhile, finely chop the onions and crush the garlic cloves through a press. Chop both the fresh shiitake and chestnut mushrooms into discs, making them all a vaguely similar size. Place the lentils in a sieve and give them a thorough rinse.

When the dried shiitake mushrooms have soaked for twenty minutes, use a slotted spoon to take them out, letting as much liquid as possible drip off so they’re fairly dry. Chop these mushrooms, discarding any hard stalk ends.

Place a large casserole dish (I like to use Le Creuset) over a medium to high heat and pour in the 2 tablespoons of olive oil. When the oil’s hot, tip in the onions and fry for a few minutes until they’re starting to soften. Add the garlic and a few rosemary leaves and allow to cook for another couple of minutes, turning the heat down to medium. At this point add all the mushrooms and fry for approximately 5-10 minutes until they’ve all softened and shrunk down, cooked through.

Pour in the mushroom vegetable stock and the red wine, give it a good stir and then add the lentils. Stir once more, season with salt and pepper and sprinkle in the rest of the rosemary leaves. Make sure all the lentils are down in the liquid before placing the lid on and reducing the heat to a simmer. They should take about 45-60 minutes to cook, but every 10 minutes check it’s gently simmering and give the stew a good stir. You may find you have to add a little more liquid as the lentils soak it up – do a small amount at a time as you want a thick casserole by the end.

Once the lentils are soft and the flavours have all come together, mix up the miso paste with a tiny bit of water and then stir into the mix, turning the heat off. Serve with rice or roast potatoes for a traditional winter supper, or try it in a lunch bowl with some roasted vegetables and salad.

Carrot, Ginger & Turmeric Juice

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Carrots are super – they’re probably the vegetable that’s in season for the longest in Britain, growing naturally and happily in our soil from June right the way through to February. That’s a whopping 9 months, over three quarters of the year. You might think they almost don’t have a season, but it’s so good because whenever I crunch on one or press a bit of carrot through my juicer it’s a great feeling because I know they really are local and seasonal, a true English food.

They’re also pretty bloomin’ healthy as far as vegetables go. They’re great for vision because they’re rich in beta-carotene, which also helps slow down aging through acting as an antioxidant to cell damage. Moreover, carrots promote healthier skin through their vitamin A content, this wonderful vitamin helping to protect the skin from sun damage, premature wrinkling, dry skin and pigmentation. In addition to carrots, this juice is bursting with ginger and turmeric, which both add a lightly spicy tang that’s really stimulating. They’re both anti-inflammatory; ginger containing potent anti-inflammatory compounds called gingerols, which can be beneficial to chronic inflammatory diseases. Turmeric contains curcumin, which has powerful anti-inflammatory effects and is a very strong antioxidant.

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I woke up with a pretty bad headache on Christmas Eve so I decided to make a carrot juice with a ton of fresh ginger and turmeric, and you know what? It really worked! My headache didn’t disappear completely but it was 95% gone, which is an amazing result, especially as it all came from plants – no drugs, nothing synthetic, nothing artificial. Things like aspirin, paracetamol and ibuprofen are just so far from anything natural and when we swallow them our bodies have no idea what they are or how to process them. I’d so much rather sip on a juice, knowing that everything I’m putting into my body can only have a positive effect, in both the short term and long term. In simple words, this juice is an easy and great way to flood your system with vegetables, minerals and vitamins, giving it a good alkaline boost, so don’t hold back – especially if you have swollen glands, tonsils, sinuses or are generally feeling under the weather.

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Makes one large glass:

  • 2 large carrots
  • 1 apple
  • 1-2 inch piece of ginger (depending on how gingery you like it!)
  • 2 inch piece of turmeric root
  • Half a yellow bell pepper

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Simply press all the ingredients through your juicer, pour into a glass, give it a little stir and enjoy!

P.S. I like to save the pulp and make raw carrot cake

Purple Sprouting Broccoli, Spinach and Toasted Pumpkin Seed Salad

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I always used to think of salads as a summer thing, but an autumn or winter salad can be so delicious and can easily be warming, especially with a good zesty dressing. The best thing about this salad is how easy it is to make. Purple sprouting broccoli is so tasty raw and by not cooking or heating it in any way it retains all 100% of possible nutrients available, meaning it’s packed with goodness. Not only is broccoli a rich source of vitamin C, it’s also full of iron, calcium, vitamin A and the phytochemical sulphoraphane which can help protect against diabetes, cancer and heart damage.

Even better, the little bunch of purple sprouting broccoli I used for this salad was grown in the UK, in a county just west of my home, so it’s the epitome of seasonal, local and fresh. Similarly, spinach is still just about in season in Britain, which is fantastic, so I just had to make something with it. And again, by eating raw spinach our bodies have the chance to soak up more vitamins, minerals and nutrients, which is always a good thing. The avocado adds a creamy dimension and the toasted pumpkin seeds are bursting with flavour – lightly crunchy and warm. They also give the salad an autumnal element, as now is the perfect time for pumpkins and squash. Drizzling all the ingredients with an olive oil, lime and tahini dressing really tops this salad off, making it scrummy and the complete opposite of what many people think of as salad. This is far from a boring and tasteless collection of flaccid iceberg lettuce, tomato and cucumber. It’s so healthy, packed with protein and is a seasonal feast which will fill you up without any stodge – perfect for a light autumn lunch. So whip it up and tuck in!

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Serves 1

For the salad:

  • 3 or 4 stems of purple sprouting broccoli (depending on their size)
  • A large handful of spinach leaves
  • ½ an avocado
  • A handful of pumpkin seeds

For the dressing:

  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons of tahini
  • 1 lime
  • Salt and pepper

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Simply wash the broccoli, dry it and then slice into small pieces. Wash the spinach in a salad spinner and place in a bowl along with the broccoli pieces. Cut open your avocado into two halves then scoop out the flesh from one of the halves before slicing it into small cubes. Add them to the salad bowl as well and toss with the spinach and broccoli.

To make the dressing, cut the lime in half and squeeze out all its juice into a jug before adding all the other ingredients. Then stir with a fork to make sure it all combines nicely.

Next, place the pumpkin seeds in a dry frying pan and turn the hob on to a medium heat. After a minute or two they’ll start to toast so make sure you turn them and shift them about so they cook evenly. Once they start going a little brown remove them from the heat. Sprinkle them over the salad, drizzle over the dressing and mix it all up before enjoying!