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.

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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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Matcha Courgette Muffins

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Green muffins might look and sound a little strange but in truth they’re natural, healthy and packed with vegetables. Although courgettes aren’t quite yet in season in the UK the ones I used were grown in Spain, so they haven’t travelled too far from soil to chopping board. And they’re the secret to these moist, juicy cakes – giving them a soft density and squishiness which is delightful to bite into.

Matcha green tea has spiralled up into popularity in recent years, and for many good reasons. Unlike standard green tea you brew with a tea bag, matcha is the concentrated powder of the whole leaf, so matcha’s nutritional value far exceeds regular tea. It’s one of the richest sources of antioxidants, which have a whole host of benefits, one of which is fighting against the negative effects of UV radiation. Matcha is also brimming with chlorophyll (giving it that amazing green colour) which is a great detoxifier for the body. Furthermore, matcha contains the amino acid L-Theanine which can help us to relax (by the promotion of production of alpha waves in the brain) as well as boost energy levels, memory and concentration.

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Along with all of this, matcha green tea has a wonderful flavour which, in these muffins, is really complemented by the warm vanilla essence. You also get a slight tang of banana that adds a subtle sweetness to the agave nectar – so they’re totally refined sugar free. This makes them really versatile – you can enjoy them for breakfast or as an afternoon pick me up or even as pudding. They’re also gluten free and vegan, and the roasted pistachio crumb on top really gives them that edge.

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Makes 12 muffins:

  • 420g/1½ cups of shredded courgette (about 3 whole courgettes worth)
  • 1 very ripe banana
  • 210g/1 cup of brown rice or buckwheat flour
  • 120g/½ cup of coconut flour
  • 1 tablespoon of matcha green tea powder
  • 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed
  • 1 vanilla pod (or 1 teaspoon of ground vanilla powder)
  • 5 tablespoons of coconut oil
  • 5 tablespoons of agave or maple syrup
  • 250ml of rice milk (or other plant-based milk of your choice)
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
  • A pinch of salt
  • 35g of raw pistachios

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Start by adding 5 tablespoons of water to the ground flaxseed and whisking together before setting aside to thicken. Preheat your oven to 180°C. Sieve the flours, matcha powder, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a large bowl and stir until fully combined.

Place the coconut oil into a saucepan and set to a low heat so it melts. Once melted, add the agave syrup. Slice open your vanilla pod and scrape all the seeds into the pan as well. Give this a stir so it’s all mixed up and leave on a low heat for at least 5 minutes so the vanilla has a chance to infuse into the oil and syrup.

Mash the banana and place in a separate bowl to your dry ingredients. To this add the flaxseed and water mixture along with the oil and syrup mixture, the shredded courgette and rice milk. Stir it all up well and then add half to your dry ingredients. Mix until combined and then add the second half of the wet ingredients and do the same until you have a cake batter.

Spoon the batter into muffin cases, filling them almost to the top until you have 12 equal amounts. At this point, place the pistachios into a pestle and mortar and bash them up until they’re in small pieces and large crumbs. Sprinkle this evenly onto each of the muffins before placing them in the oven for about 20 minutes until they’ve risen and are starting to turn a little golden brown.

Remove them from the oven and leave to cool for at least 10 minutes before serving and savouring!

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.

Turmeric Tangerine Porridge with Blackcurrant Compote

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Turmeric should be called a superspice. It’s got the most amazing colour, distinct flavour and even better it’s one of the best things you can eat, especially in these winter months when your body needs a good immune boost. It has a host of medicinal properties and nutrients – the most significant of which is curcumin. This compound is both a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, and recent studies have shown that it can prevent heart attacks, delay the onset of diabetes and fight cancer by helping to kill cancer cells and shrink tumours.

You most probably associate turmeric with curry and savoury dishes, but it’s such a warming spice that it goes perfectly with porridge and, in general, with sweet, fruity flavours. Tangerines have a citrusy sweetness with subtle sour tangs, which combined with the turmeric creates a unique, mildly exotic taste, making every spoonful of porridge delicious. Tangerines are such a great seasonal fruit – they’re my go-to for a naturally sweet afternoon snack in the winter. Not only are they chock-full of vitamin C, they’re also grown in Spain, so they haven’t had to travel too far to my greengrocer in southern England.

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Swirling blackcurrant compote through this porridge really is the cherry on top of the cake. Blackcurrants are so overlooked as a berry, which is mad because they’re so good for you – packed with iron, as well as B vitamins and vitamin A. I use blackcurrants handpicked from my very own garden, which to me is just the most wonderful thing – truly organic, local and with no one else involved in the growing and gathering apart from me. These babies have been frozen since last summer, so if you can’t get your hands on any right now then try alternative berries for the compote and be ready for the blackcurrant season this year. They’re little gems.

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Serves 2

For the porridge:

  • 1 cup of oats
  • ½ cup of coconut milk or almond milk
  • ½ cup of water
  • 2 tangerines
  • 1 teaspoon of turmeric
  • ½ teaspoon of cinnamon
  • A pinch of ground nutmeg

For the blackcurrant compote:

  • ½ cup of blackcurrants (fresh or frozen)
  • 1 tablespoon of water
  • 1½ teaspoons of yacon syrup, maple syrup or honey

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First of all, place the blackcurrants in a saucepan along with the water and sweetener of your choice and turn to a medium heat. Once the pan’s hot, keep stirring the blackcurrants until their juices start to come out and the berries are just starting to burst. At this point reduce the heat to low.

Juice the tangerines either by peeling their skins and squeezing out the juice from the segments by hand, or by putting them through a juicer if you have one. In another saucepan, pour in the oats, water and milk and bring to the boil. Once the oats are starting to absorb the liquid and break down, add the tangerine juice, turmeric, cinnamon and nutmeg. Give it a good stir to make sure everything is combined.

After 5-10 minutes, depending on whether you’ve used jumbo or porridge oats and how soft you like them, pour the porridge into two bowls and then top with the blackcurrant compote. I like to serve mine with a sprinkling of desiccated coconut.

Ultimate Thai Green Curry

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Thai curry is just one of those things. If you go to an authentic Thai restaurant and order their staple dish it’s just bursting with flavour and I always love it. I went to a Thai place in Brixton the other day for a friend’s birthday lunch and we all sat outside – yep, that’s right we sat outside in Britain in January. But along came our big bowls of steaming Thai curry and everyone was happy – warmed, satisfied and chipper, if a little numb in our fingers and toes.

As a general rule Thai curry comes in the form of chicken or prawn, or it’s been made with fish sauce, which isn’t so fantastic for vegetarians and vegans. For a while now I’ve wanted to create a truly veggie Thai green curry, spiced with all the authentic Thai flavours and creamy coconut milk, but with good seasonal British vegetables as the principal feature. So here you have a kale, cauliflower and broccoli curry, both super healthy and tasty, and 100% vegan.

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Kale rules the health food world at the moment, and for a good reason – it’s chock full of iron (it actually has more iron than beef per calorie!) which is essential for processes in the body such as the formation of haemoglobin and enzymes, and for cell growth. Kale is also high in vitamins K, A and C and contains powerful antioxidants. Cauliflower kicks arse as well – it’s a great source of minerals and vitamins such as manganese and phosphorus, and it’s an important source of fibre which aids in digestion. And they’re both in season here in the UK – bought from my local organic greengrocer, these winter veggies are the most wonderful thing.

The secret to this curry is making the paste yourself. Using fresh ingredients gives it so much more flavour than those supermarket readymade ones in a jar that also have added sugar, colour and acidity regulators, which you just don’t need. Whizzing up the paste is so easy and you can make a big batch and freeze the rest ready for your next Thai curry. Combining this with coconut milk, delicious vegetables and a few peas for a protein boost, this curry is spicy, creamy and zesty.

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Serves 6

For the paste:

  • 3-4 medium green chillies (25g)
  • 1 shallot (60g)
  • 2 cloves of garlic (12g)
  • 5cm piece of fresh ginger (30g)
  • Small handful of fresh coriander (15g)
  • Small handful of Thai basil (18g)
  • 1 lime (75g)
  • 1 lemongrass stalk (22g)
  • 1½ teaspoons of coriander seeds
  • 1½ teaspoons of ground cumin
  • 1½ tablespoons of coconut oil
  • ½ tablespoon of sunflower oil
  • 1 teaspoon of tamari soy sauce

For the curry:

  • 1 tablespoon of coconut oil
  • 5/6 heaped tablespoons of curry paste
  • 2 tins/800ml of coconut milk
  • 3 large handfuls of kale (70g)
  • 8-10 florets of broccoli (200g)
  • 8-10 florets of cauliflower (230g)
  • 150g of frozen petit pois
  • ½ a lime
  • A few sprigs of fresh coriander and Thai basil

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First, deseed and roughly chop the chillies. Roughly chop the shallot, garlic and lemongrass stalks. Peel the ginger and again roughly chop. Grate the lime zest and then squeeze all the juice out. Place the coriander seeds in a pestle and mortar and grind them until they’re completely crushed. Place all of these ingredients and the remaining Thai basil, coriander, coconut oil, sunflower oil and tamari into a food processor and blend until smooth – it should take about a minute. You may have to scrape down the sides with a spoon a couple of times to make sure it’s all combined.

Place the paste in a bowl and chill in the fridge for about 20 minutes. After that, place a large pan on a medium heat and add the coconut oil. Once it’s hot, add 5-6 heaped tablespoons of the paste, depending on taste or spiciness required (the amount of paste should be about right but you may have some left over – simply place in the freezer for another curry). Let the paste fry in the oil for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly. At this point, add the coconut milk and stir.

Once the milk comes to the boil, reduce the heat to low, put a lid on and let it simmer for at least 30 minutes. This will let all the flavours from the paste infuse into the coconut milk and will really bring them out – ideally you should leave it for at least 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, chop the broccoli and cauliflower so that they’re all small to medium sized florets. At this point, squeeze the juice out of the ½ lime ready for adding later. Once the coconut milk’s simmered for at least 30 minutes, place a small amount of water in a saucepan and bring to the boil. When it’s boiling add the petit pois and simmer for 4 minutes, or until tender. At this point, steam the broccoli and cauliflower for not more than 1½ minutes before adding them to the coconut milk. Add the cooked peas and the fresh kale as well.

Give the curry a good stir and then let the vegetables simmer gently for about a minute (making sure the kale has a chance to wilt). While they’re simmering, add the lime juice to the curry along with the fresh coriander and Thai basil. Stir it all round once more and then finally serve – I like to soak up the luscious, spicy coconut sauce with a portion of wholesome long grain brown rice.

Roasted Parsnip, Butter Bean & Almond Soup

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I’ve never been much of a soup person. Other people always go on about how great it is, how easy to make and how delicious it can be. Maybe it’s because I used to eat those Covent Garden soups from the supermarket which are bulked out with butter and cream – and that’s all they taste of to me. Soup from the supermarket, especially Tesco own or even Sainsbury’s own, just doesn’t cut it one bit. And they all seem to have funny, artificial, unidentifiable ingredients, just like almost everything else on the shelves. I’m also really not a fan of boiled vegetables or watery soup (keep broth away from me) – for me it has to be thick, creamy and tasty to the max.

And that’s exactly what this parsnip soup is. Roasting the parsnips really brings out their flavour, adding a nuttiness which you don’t get if you simply boil, and then the combination of butter beans, almonds and almond milk gives it a creamy (with not one drop of cream in sight) and hearty dimension. Including butter beans and almonds means this soup is brimming with protein, which again is what I think many vegetarian soups lack. Even better, it’s root vegetable time in Britain and parsnips are 100% in season. As well as being in season, they’re a great source of both soluble and insoluble fibre, and many minerals and vitamins such as manganese and vitamin K, and they contain many poly-acetylene antioxidants which have anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal properties.

This soup really does taste great, boosted by the garlic and spices – it’s a far cry from watery broth or buttery mush. And, it is super easy to make and is so warming on these ever deepening wintery days, so I really hope you whip it up and tuck in.

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Serves 6:

  • 3 large parsnips
  • 1 cup/240g of butter beans (either 1 can’s worth or soaked overnight and simmered for 2 hours with a couple of garlic cloves and bay leaves)
  • ½ cup/120g of blanched almonds (soaked overnight)
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 450ml of unsweetened almond milk
  • 550ml of vegetable stock
  • 1½ teaspoons of turmeric
  • 1½ teaspoons of paprika
  • 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds
  • ½ teaspoon of chilli flakes
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

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Preheat your oven to 190°C. Peel the parsnips and chop into large hunks before placing on a baking tray. Sprinkle over some olive oil, a pinch of salt and pepper and then stir around to make sure all the pieces are coated before placing in the oven for about 45 minutes, turning them at least twice to make sure they roast evenly.

While the parsnip is roasting, peel and chop the garlic cloves into small discs. Add the tablespoon of olive oil to a pan and place on a medium heat, waiting for the oil to get hot before adding the garlic. Let it cook gently for a minute or so and then add the cumin seeds, ½ teaspoon of turmeric and ½ teaspoon of paprika. Stir in the spices so they have a chance to lightly fry and then remove from the heat.

Drain the blanched almonds then place in a food processor along with a very small amount of water. Blend until they’ve broken down into a smooth paste before adding the butter beans. Blend again until smooth. Once the parsnips are a nice golden brown all over, remove from the oven and place in a blender along with the blended butter beans and blanched almonds, fried garlic and spices, almond milk, vegetable stock, chilli flakes, the remaining 1 teaspoon of turmeric and paprika and a good grinding of salt and pepper and then blend until smooth. If you like your soup nice and thick it should be a good consistency but if you want it a bit thinner then add a little water until you get the thickness you want. If serving straight away pour into bowls, otherwise reheat when ready and enjoy!