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

Foodie’s Paradise: Partridges Food Market

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Food markets are a wonderful, traditional and natural thing – something humanity has been doing for hundreds of years as a way of trading, exchanging and buying food. They create a physical and visual circumstance where consumers can see, smell and often taste (the most important aspect of anything we eat!) food before they buy it. We can literally ‘feast’ our eyes on an array of delicious fare.

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Markets are direct, personal and unambiguous presentations of fresh ingredients and real produce, usually handmade or cooked or baked on a small scale, by passionate people. They operate on an intimate level, and not only foster interaction between one person and another, but between producer and consumer, farmer and customer, maker and eater. Furthermore, they characteristically encourage the sale and consumption of local and seasonal food. That was why and how markets first began – a local farmer or baker would set up a stall for those who lived nearby to come and purchase locally grown vegetables, or bread kneaded and baked from local wheat or rye flour, or meat reared from cows or pigs living in neighbouring fields. Today, people all over Britain and the western world are doing the same thing; in a kind of revival of something we’d lost and forgotten about for a good fifty years.

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Everything about food markets is positive and nurturing – natural, sensual, personal, local. So different to the experience we as people have when buying food at supermarkets; pushing our trolley round aisles and aisles of plastic-wrapped food in a sterile, odourless and artificial atmosphere, as if food was made by machines and just appears on the shelves out of thin air, with no human being or plant or animal or particle of soil involved in its growth and production at all.

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The great news is food and farmers markets are on the rise, becoming more and more popular, attractive, accessible and prevalent. They are quickly starting to be seen as valuable, exciting ways of purchasing and enjoying food, both in terms of buying ingredients for home cooking and as a delicious lunch or snack. Partridges Food Market is one such market, where every Saturday tens of growers, producers and companies set up their stalls in Duke of York Square for anyone in London to enjoy. It’s always heaving, and for a good reason – the array of food on offer is both amazing and mouth-watering.

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There’s raw honey from Spain; organic vegetables from Riverdale Organic Farm; cheeses from France, Wiltshire and Somerset; raw super foods by Detox Delivered; a hog roast; Chinese dumplings; paella; French crêpes and galettes; speciality curries and Indian dishes; haggis toasties; sushi made right in front of you at the stall; burgers with a range of toppings; a Brazilian pastelaria and deli; vegan cakes and biscuits; petit fours; organic sourdough breads; handmade ravioli and gnocchi… The list goes on!

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My absolute favourite stall is Rainforest Creations. Their spread of tropical-style raw salads, dips, flans, cakes and sweets is like a rainbow of vegan, plant-based, refined sugar free delight and goodness. It makes natural, healthy vegetables look like the food of the gods. And it all tastes incredible. Their salads range from tropical coleslaw and angel kale and avocado to mungbean-lentils and red quinoa. And their sprouted hummus is the best I’ve ever tasted, with subtle hints of spice, herbs and turmeric. You can get almost everything wrapped up in a corn and split lentil roti, or just a tub bursting with salad, an akashe ball and a good dollop of hummus.

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If you haven’t been to Partridges Food Market, Rainforest Creations alone is a reason to get yourself there. But it’s wonderful to just go and wander round; to see, smell and take in all the food and bustling people – to experience genuine food out in the open air and have your fill of fresh, delicious produce that’s natural, personal and real.

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.

Warm Winter Sprout & Quinoa Salad

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Quinoa is a slightly contentious topic in the food world at the moment (as this article highlights), due to the west’s sudden love and demand for this little grain. There’s no doubt that quinoa is one of the world’s greatest foods, especially for vegetarians and vegans out there: it’s a complete protein with all nine essential amino acids, it has almost twice as much fibre as most other grains and it’s packed with magnesium. In most ways, it trumps all other grains, but when poor Bolivians and Peruvians can no longer afford their staple food because of US and European demand raising prices, it’s not an easy or particularly acceptable thing to buy a packet of South American-grown quinoa and simply shrug and ignore this unethical fact.

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But here in Britain we have the perfect solution – Hodmedod’s British quinoa from the fields of Essex. A truly local grain grown in English soil which has only travelled a few miles and hasn’t cheated South American farmers and civilians out of their food – what can be better than that? And, pairing this with Brussel sprouts and a few swirls of carrot, which are both in season, this salad is a local and seasonal bowl of rainbow-coloured goodness. Sprouts receive an unfair nose-wrinkling bad name, but they can be so delicious if cooked in an imaginative way, rather than simply boiling all the taste and nutrients out of them. Infusing this warm winter salad with rosemary and chilli flakes gives both the quinoa and sprouts an aromatic flavour, and topping it off with lightly toasted sunflower seeds adds a crunch which makes every mouthful a protein-packed, plant-filled pleasure.

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Serves 3:

  • 2 cups/310g of Brussel sprouts
  • ½ cup of quinoa
  • 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar
  • ½ cup of sunflower seeds
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 sprigs of rosemary
  • 3 teaspoons of chilli flakes
  • Sea salt

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Preheat your oven to 170°C. Start by chopping the bottom end off the Brussel sprouts and removing the outer leaves. Give them a good wash before cutting them in half. Then place them on a baking tray, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and toss until evenly coated. Roast them in the oven for approximately 20 minutes.

Whilst they’re baking, bring a pan of water to the boil and add the quinoa and apple cider vinegar. Give it a stir and reduce to a simmer, letting it cook for about 15 minutes, or however long your specific quinoa takes.

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At this point, peel the outer skin of the carrots off and then use the peeler to make thin strips, from one end to the other. Strip the rosemary leaves off their stems. Once the sprouts have been in the oven for 10 minutes take them out and sprinkle over the chilli flakes and rosemary leaves. Give them a stir to make sure they’re roasting evenly and return them to the oven for about 10 more minutes, or until they’re starting to go golden brown and slightly crispy.

Using a dry pan, turn it up to a medium heat and gently toast the sunflower seeds, tossing them about a bit to make sure all sides go lightly brown. Once your quinoa’s cooked, drain any excess water and remove the sprouts from the oven. Toss all the elements together and serve – I like mine sprinkled with a few extra chilli flakes for a mildly spicy tang.