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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Gooseberry Wisecake

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I almost feel sorry for gooseberries. It seems like they’ve been forgotten about whilst the western world obsesses over other berries like strawberries, raspberries and blueberries. Granted gooseberries aren’t quite as sweet and juicy as those just mentioned, but they have a charming sour-sweetness and their own distinctive flavour. They’re also one of the easiest things to grow – the little fruity balls for this cheesecake came from four bushes we have in our garden which produce hundreds of gooseberries year after year with almost no human effort required, save for the odd pruning. They’re little local wonders.

Picked gooseberries

Gooseberries are a good source of vitamin C, vitamin A and potassium, and they offer variety which is vital in any diet. Their season is from July to August, and I steadily stripped our bushes over the past few weeks whilst thinking of an interesting way to make use of them. The only pudding anyone’s probably ever heard of that features gooseberries is gooseberry fool – a mouse-syllabub type thing which has that wartime vibe and is overloaded with cream and refined sugar. So I thought I’d swing the dial the other way and create a modern ‘cheesecake’ that’s vegan, gluten free and refined sugar free. Or, as another way of looking at it, create something smart for our bodies which also tastes divine. And this really does; the biscuity base crumbling into the thick gooseberry mouse-cream (amazingly like cream cheese but with no cows involved) in a really satisfying way.

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It would be mad not to make use of the array of late summer berries available to us all, and if you can’t get your hands on any gooseberries you can try any other berry such as blackcurrants, redcurrants or blackberries. Go berry wild!

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Makes 1 cheesecake (6-8 servings)

For the base:

  • ½ cup/70 g oats
  • ½ cup/90g brown rice flour
  • ⅔ cup/70 g ground almonds
  • 8 dates
  • 2 teaspoons raw honey/agave nectar/maple syrup
  • 3 tablespoons coconut oil
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla powder or extract

For the gooseberry cream:

  • 2 cups gooseberries
  • ½ cup/90g cashews
  • ½ cup/90g almonds (soaked for at least 3 hours)
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1-3 teaspoons of raw honey (depending on how sweet you like it)

For the topping:

  • A large handful of fresh gooseberries

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Preheat the oven to 170°C. Starting with the base, place the oats into a food processor and blend until they’ve broken down into a rough flour. Then add all the remaining base ingredients and blend until a biscuity dough forms. Grease a flan dish with coconut oil and then press in the dough mixture, smoothing it down with the back of a spoon, making sure it rises up the sides and dips down in the middle in a curve. Place this in the oven and bake for about 15 minutes until it starts to turn a golden brown and has firmed up.

While the base is cooking making the gooseberry cream. Clean out your food processor and add the cashews and almonds along with the water and blend for about 5 minutes until the nuts have broken down and are starting to turn into a creamy consistency. At this point add in the gooseberries, coconut oil and honey and blend for another couple of minutes to make the most amazingly naturally pink, thick gooseberry cream.

Remove the base from the oven and allow to cool for at least 5-10 minutes before scooping the gooseberry cream on top and smoothing it down into the curve until the whole tart’s filled. Finally, place the fresh gooseberries (or any other berries!) over the top as a garnish and serve immediately. If not all gobbled straight away this will keep in the fridge for at least 3 or 4 days.

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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

Almond Butter & Maca Energy Bites

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Almond butter (and I know I am not alone here) is something of an obsession for me. I just absolutely love it. Since I was little I’ve always adored peanut butter because that was the only nut butter available or that I’d come across, but since I tried almond butter last year (Meridian’s is the best – no added sugar and just pure almonds) it trumped peanut butter, and I still tend to gorge on it. The base for these energy bites is almond butter, along with a few raw almonds, walnuts, dates and maca.

Although almonds aren’t in season here in Britain at the moment, I make sure I use almonds which have come from Spain, where they are currently seasonal and so they also haven’t had to travel too far (Meridian states that their organic almonds are grown in Spain, which is fab). Almonds are packed with slow releasing energy, and they’re also rich in vitamins and minerals such as potassium and magnesium, both of which help maintain healthy bones and teeth. The addition of walnuts to these little snacks is also great because they are still in season in the UK – so these nutty balls are fresh, seasonal heaven.

The mix of creamy almond butter, almonds, walnuts, dates and ground flax seeds gives these bites so much flavour, and you just know you’re giving your body a health and energy kick because almost all the ingredients are raw. In health cafes maca is often offered as a drink alternative to coffee, because of its naturally invigorating and revitalizing effects, so it gives these balls that little bit extra for an afternoon pick-me-up or a morning boost. Even better, maca has a unique spiciness and subtle sweetness which is so delicious. These little titans of energy really are so easy to whip up – it’s great to make a quick batch at the weekend ready for the trials of the week ahead.

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Makes between 12-15 balls:

  • 4 tablespoons of almond butter
  • ⅓ cup of almonds (50g)
  • ⅓ cup of walnuts (45g)
  • 10 dates (80g)
  • 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseeds
  • 3 teaspoons of maca
  • 3 tablespoons of jumbo oats
  • 2 teaspoons of coconut oil
  • 3 tablespoons of water
  • Sea salt

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Simply place the raw almonds, walnuts, ground flaxseeds, oats and maca in a food processor and blend until the nuts are broken down into fine pieces and it starts to resemble a flour (though not totally ground).

After that, add the almond butter, dates, coconut oil, water and a good grinding of sea salt before blending once more until the mixture has all come together and is starting to stick into one big ball of dough.

Scoop out a small amount of the mixture and roll around in your palms to make smooth balls. Store them in the fridge, or if you’re restrained and don’t think you’ll eat them within a week, place them in the freezer. Nibble (or pop into your mouth in one) and enjoy!

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!

Chestnut Pancakes

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The best thing about Christmas markets is chestnuts roasted on a smoky barbecue, holding the warm paper bag of them in your hand as you carefully peel their charred skins off to reveal the soft nut inside, which you then pop into your mouth. Now, obviously it’s a little early for Christmas talk, but the wait until December for chestnuts is a bit of a long one. Furthermore, it’s an unnecessary wait because chestnuts are in season now. Sweet chestnuts (not horse chestnuts – they’re poisonous) start falling from trees from September onwards, and they’re hard to miss, with their bright lime green, viciously prickly shells (a bit like a porcupine). I went out walking a few days ago and came across a chestnut tree with its nuts sprinkled around the trunk, spiking my palms as I gathered a few up.

Given all this, I just had to make something chestnutty. And these pancakes are chestnut heaven. Vegan, gluten free and refined sugar free, you really just don’t miss the milk, eggs or wheat. They’re both mushy and fluffy, and the combination of chestnut flour, chestnut purée, almond butter and banana is a creamy, autumnal treat. Chestnuts are low in fat (they’re largely made up of starch) whilst also being a good source of mono-unsaturated fatty acids such as linoleic acid and a rich source of fibre, with even more fibre per 100g than walnuts and pistachios. As well as this, chestnuts are rich in the B vitamin folic acid, which is required to synthesize DNA and repair DNA, and helps produce healthy red blood cells and prevent anemia.

These pancakes are pretty good for you, tasty and so easy to make – you can whip them up in ten minutes for a delicious breakfast or an afternoon snack. They’re rich and nutty, without being overly sweet, which to me is ideal.

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Makes about 16 small pancakes/serves 2-3:

  • 130g/½ cup of chestnut flour
  • 3 tablespoons of chestnut purée
  • 1½ tablespoons of almond butter
  • 1 banana
  • 1 cup of almond milk
  • ½ cup of water
  • 1½ teaspoons of baking powder (I like to use this)
  • Coconut oil for frying

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Simply mash the banana until there are no lumps left then place in a mixing bowl along with all the other ingredients and mix with a whisk until a batter forms. It should be fairly runny, but not too much.

Next place a large frying pan on a medium heat and add a teaspoon of coconut oil. Once the oil has melted and the pan is hot pour about two tablespoons of the batter into the pan to make one pancake. It should run out and form a circle. Wait about twenty to thirty seconds, until it starts bubbling a little and you can see it cooking around the edges. Then carefully slip a turning spatula underneath the pancake and flip it over, letting it cook for another twenty seconds.

Add a little more coconut oil to the pan and repeat this until all the batter is used up (I usually do two pancakes at a time). Then make a pancake stack, topping it with your favourite things – I recommend banana, raspberries, chestnut pieces, almond butter and raw honey – and serve!