Speedy Springtime Soup

I love it when an extra person for dinner throws your catering plans out of kilter. I’m not being funny – I actually do… It’s like I can host my very own episode of ‘Ready Steady Cook’ (remember that?) and challenge myself to produce something tasty with the ingredients already in the house.

So last night, Munkyman and I were going to have a simple chickpea & chard stew but as hubster was home way earlier than expected, we had an extra mouth to feed. Which meant that we had this soup instead – and all I did to stretch the recipe was increase the amount of stock from 200ml to 800ml! Totally simple but totally worked!

It was a really light, refreshing meal – perfect for springtime when you don’t want anything too heavy for dinner but still want something warming. This is low-carb, gluten, wheat and dairy free so good for anyone with dietary restrictions. And it was ready in less than 30 minutes!

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Warming Fresh Springtime Soup (serves 3)

My thanks to Riverford for the original ‘chard & chickpeas’ that this is based on. 

1 carrot, peeled and finely diced

1 small onion, finely diced

1 bag chard, stems finely chopped and leaves roughly shredded

1 bay leaf

4 garlic cloves, crushed

400g cooked chickpeas

1/8 tsp chilli powder

800ml veg stock

handful chopped parsley

juice of 1/2 lemon

  1. Sweat the onion, carrot, chard stalks, bay leaf and garlic in 1tbs of olive oil for about 15 minutes until the vegetables are soft but not coloured. Season well.
  2. Add the chard leaves, chickpeas, chilli powder and stock. Cook gently for about 10 minutes to allow everything to warm through and the chard to wilt.
  3. Season to taste, add the lemon juice and parsley, stir and serve.

To make this a little heartier, you could serve this with crusty bread (although of course it would mean that it wouldn’t be gluten or wheat free) or it would make a great starter if served in smaller portions.

Healthy cookies and ice cream for the heartbroken

My son is suffering his first dose of heartache at age 11. His girlfriend of 6 months dumped him, via a mutual friend, because she is now ‘going out’ with his best friend. I quote “She’s been cheating on me mum. Why would she do that?”. Doesn’t your heart just ache for him?

With his closest friendship group in tatters, Munkyman wants nothing more than to eat cookies and ice cream while watching his favourite Marvel characters on the television. While I can cope with an overindulgence of Iron Man (who doesn’t love Robert Downey Jr?), I know that the refined sugary snacks won’t do him any favours in the long run. So this is what I made for him instead. (Note: he didn’t have these on the same day…)

Chocolate-Banana-Brazil Nut ‘Ice Cream’ (serves 1)

1 ripe banana, peeled and then frozen

3 brazil nuts, roughly chopped

25g dark chocolate, melted and cooled slightly

Take your frozen banana and put it in a food processor. Process until it resembles soft scoop ice cream, then add the brazil nuts and drizzle in the melted chocolate while blending until just combined. Be careful not to over-process otherwise you’ll lose the textural element from the roughly chopped nuts. Scoop into a bowl and freeze for a couple of minutes to re-cool before serving.

I don’t have any photo’s of this to show you as it didn’t last long enough for me to get the camera out 🙂

Wheat & Dairy Free Double Chocolate Cookies (makes about 12 – 15 cookies)

(this is an adaptation of a recipe by Angela Liddon of Oh She Glows fame)

Wheat & Dairy Free Double Chocolate Cookies

Wet Ingredients

1 tbs ground flax seeds mixed with 3 tbs filtered water

1/4 cup coconut oil (do not melt)

1/4 cup almond butter

2/3 cup coconut palm sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

Dry ingredients

1/2 tsp baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp himalayan pink salt

2 tbs raw cacao powder

1 & a 1/2 cups oats, processed into flour

1 – 2 tsp coconut milk (or any other non dairy milk you prefer)

100g chopped dark chocolate

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees and line a large baking sheet with parchment.
  2. In the bowl of your food mixer (or a large bowl), mix together the flax seeds and water and set aside for about 3 -5 minutes to thicken up. Mix again once thickened.
  3. Add the coconut oil, almond butter, coconut palm sugar and vanilla extract to the flax mixture and beat again until combined and smooth.
  4. Now beat in the ‘dry’ ingredients, one by one as they appear in the list, until fully combined. Only add the non-dairy milk if your dough needs loosening up. The dough should be moist enough to form balls without cracking, but not super sticky.
  5. Bash the chocolate into pieces (I wrapped the sealed bar of chocolate in a tea towel and then beat it with a rolling pin – therapy in itself!) and then mix into the cookie dough.
  6. Use a tablespoon to measure out the dough into your hands, roll into a ball and then place on the baking sheet. Press down slightly to form a disc shape. Repeat for the rest of your dough. Each disc should be about 2 – 3 inches apart.
  7. Bake for 12 – 15 minutes until the cookies are spread out nicely, are squidgy when you touch them but don’t leave a gooey mess on your fingers (be careful not to touch the melted chocolate chips because that will hurt…).
  8. Remove from the oven and cool on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes then finish cooling on a wire rack.
  9. Eat! Try and and save some for later… 🙂

The original recipe calls for sunflower seed butter in place of the almond butter to make it nut free, but I didn’t have any; it also says to use 1/3 cup brown sugar and 1/3 cup of granulated sugar, but I didn’t have these either. Coconut palm sugar has a lower GI than regular sugar so won’t spike your blood sugar as much, it is also nutritionally better for you because it contains traces of a range of vitamins and minerals, which you won’t find in regular sugar. Finally, I used raw cacao powder, where Angela suggests to use 3 tbs cocoa powder. For those of you that don’t know the difference between cacao and cocoa, there’s a really good explanation here.

Old Mother Hubbard’s Sun-dried Tomato & Courgette Pasta

Sun-dried tomato & courgette pasta

Monday. Ick. Not only does the house feel really empty after a weekend of family frolicking, but it’s also the day that the fridge could pass as belonging to Old Mother Hubbard. This is what I found on inspection of said fridge this morning:

  • Half a bag of mixed salad leaves
  • Half a bag of watercress
  • Half a white cabbage (this thing was huge when it arrived in our veg box a fortnight ago – it weighed more than mini-L when he was born, and that’s saying something…)
  • 3 leeks
  • A couple onions
  • Garlic bulb
  • A really sorry looking bit of ginger
  • A courgette

Hmm. Not feeling especially inspired, but out comes an onion, the garlic and courgette anyway.

Next is a frantic pore through the contents of my dried food cupboard, which is crammed full of kilner jars containing decanted lentils, beans and pulses – all of which are useless to me today as they need pre-soaking for at least 8 hours and I have less than four before lunch needs to be on the table. And then suddenly, there it is. A thing of joy. The ingredient that would transform a humble courgette into a lunch fit for a hungry omnivore and his almost-vegan wife. Sun-dried tomatoes!

I take six toms from the packet, slice them and soak them in warm water for a while (I don’t know how long because I’m rubbish at checking the time, but long enough for me to catch up on last week’s The Good Wife, check my emails and plan my days studies) before I get on with the job of preparing our meal.

Old Mother Hubbard’s Sun-dried Tomato & Courgette Pasta

200g brown rice pasta

1 courgette, diced

1 small onion, diced

1 clove garlic, minced

6 sun-dried tomatoes, soaked in warm water* (keep the soaking water)

2 tbs tomato puree

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp basil (I used dried as my black thumb prevents me keeping fresh, but you do you)

  1. Put a pan of salted water on to boil. Add a good splash of olive oil to the water (this prevents your pasta from sticking together). When the water is boiling add your pasta and stir.
  2. In a frying pan warm a tablespoon of olive oil and then add the onion and garlic and sauté over a medium-low heat. When the onion is soft but not coloured add the cumin and stir. When fragrant, add the courgette. Sauté some more until the courgette starts to soften and then add the sun-dried tomatoes with their soaking water and the tomato puree to the pan. Was this starts to thicken, add the basil and stir to incorporate.
  3. Keep an eye on your pasta sauce and if it gets too thick, spoon in some of the water that your pasta is cooking in.
  4. When the pasta is cooked al dente (tender but with a slight bite), drain it and then stir it into the pasta sauce, ensuring that all of the pasta gets coated with the sauce.
  5. Serve! We used up the mixed salad leaves and the watercress because that’s what we had available.

Although this was pretty easy – you can’t really go wrong with pasta, right – it turned out to be just the thing for a miserable Monday in Shropshire. I know cumin might sound like an odd ingredient but it seriously works! It adds a little zing to the flavour and gives the sauce a meaty quality which is essential when feeding a vegan meal to Mr. L, aka the king of meat eaters.

*Why did the toms need soaking in warm water? Because these are literally just dried tomatoes in a packet; no herby-oil-bath-in-a-jar for these babies…

The value of motherhood

When it comes to writing any kind of scheduled editorial – be it a magazine, or even a blog – it helps if your content is both timely and relevant. And with this particular scheduled editorial falling between International Women’s Day (yesterday, 8th March) and Mothering Sunday here in the UK (next Sunday, 15th March), what else could I write about but women?

Much of what I’ve read in support of International Women’s Day this year seems to fall into two camps: 1) to promote empowerment in young women (such as the #DearMe campaign) and 2) to maintain the traction of the pay parity argument by celebrating the successes of working women. While I totally applaud both of these strategies (as a feminist of course I want to promote strength in women and believe that our gender should get equal pay for equal work), I can’t help but feel that we have been missing a trick in terms of celebrating women as mothers.

Although Patricia Arquette’s Oscar’s speech became newsworthy the moment she uttered the impassioned words “To every woman who gave birth to every taxpayer and citizen…”, the ‘pay equality’ message completely overshadowed the celebration of motherhood that she began with. With this in mind it’s no surprise that the new minority (the stay-at-home-mum) was not recognised by the International Women’s Day commemorations.

All of this, along with the ‘to work or not to work’ debate got me thinking about how we measure success as women:

  • Am I successful only if I am a career woman or employed in a paid job?
  • Does the stay-at-home-mum’s ability to nurture, protect, love and educate the next generation so that they can go on to contribute positively to our global community not constitute success?

After many years of being a working mother, I chose to stay-at-home because it was best for my family. I don’t apologise for it and I don’t think it makes me any more or less valuable than any other woman on the planet. And the fact that this status is something that I chose rather than had imposed on me isn’t lost on me either. But I worry that while we are busy fighting for choice, challenging discrimination, empowering our daughters and educating our sons to accept gender equality, we are losing sight of the value of motherhood, surely one of the fundamental experiences of being a woman.

When is a burrito not a burrito?

I wasn’t planning on posting anything today as a) I have college work to do, b) my food concoctions for the day consist of making an ‘empty the fridge to make room for the new vegbox delivery’ stew and c) I don’t want all of my posts to be food related. However, an important (read: philosophical) question has been raised over the lunchtime catch-up between me and Mr. L.

Mr. L: Thought I’d have the burrito at lunchtime… Turned out it was Chinese… In a burrito!?!

Me: Surely it would then be a pancake?

Mr. L: It was a burrito.

So what exactly constitutes a burrito? Does it matter that the filling is in no-way related to any Latin American country? Is it the flour tortilla wrap that defines a burrito as being a burrito? Or is it simply because it said the word ‘burrito’ on the menu?

Discuss. I look forward to reading your thoughts on the subject.

So you’re a veggie…What DO you eat?!?!?!?

Although it’s been six months since I started my journey to become a dairy-free, wheat-free, gluten-free and refined-sugar-free vegetarian, the question that I still get asked the most is “what do you eat?”. People (read: the world) seem to be concerned that I’m missing out on vital nutrients and that I’ll keel over at any given moment. But fear not, worried individuals, I am healthier than I have ever been!

Before I became an almost-vegan, I ate a typical Western diet of meat and starchy carbs washed down with something sweet. But I was lethargic, disinterested in everything and suffered chronic headaches. Modern medicine couldn’t tell me why I was getting so many headaches or why they were so painful and, being someone who ‘doesn’t do pills’, I needed to find an alternative to manufactured drugs.

So I turned to the books and blogs and, literally overnight, became a vegan. Except I didn’t know what I was doing – I had no concept of what I could eat, how healthy it was for me or even if I’d enjoy  it. It took me a few weeks of subsisting on tasteless ‘lonely meals’ (those soul-destroying ready-prepared meals from the supermarket) before I plucked up the courage to get experimental in the kitchen. But man, when I did! Food started tasting of something again. I lost weight. My skin improved. I had energy! And I haven’t had a headache that I couldn’t explain in months.

Now my diet consists of lots of fresh organic fruit and veg, some gluten-free grains (such as brown rice), pseudo-grains (quinoa and amaranth), seeds, nuts and pulses (chickpeas, lentils etc). Traditional dairy has been replaced with coconut and almond ‘milks’, while eggs provide a source of protein and vitamin B12.

yes, I am a vegetarian, no I don't mind if you eat meat.
Just because I’m a vegetarian doesn’t mean I’m going to try to convert you, or get preachy about it. Each to their own, I say!

My journey of food-discovery has taught me a lot. I know that my body can’t process cow’s dairy and that wheat & gluten leave me bloated and uncomfortable. The smell of meat turns my stomach (that weirdo walking past the butchers with a scarf over their face is probably me) and I know that I can’t live without a ready supply of fresh organic eggs, tomatoes or coconut milk. My partner-in-crime and his mini-me (read: my husband and our son) have embraced my new approach to eating but there are others who are still unsure about what I eat, or what to cook for me.

So, to answer, here is a typical day’s menu. If you’re looking into becoming a vegetarian, just want to eat less meat but aren’t sure how to do it, or you’re my mum looking for catering ideas, hopefully it will help you too.

Breakfast

My Favourite Breakfast Smoothie (serves 1)

250ml Koko brand coconut milk
3 – 4 ice cubes
1 pear
1/2 celery stick
4” cucumber
handful spinach

Measure out the milk in the blender jug and layer on the ice cubes, fruit and veg. I put my spinach in last to make sure that the ‘hard’ ingredients are closer to the blender blades. Blend for about a minute or until the mixture is nice and smooth (take it from me that you don’t want stringy celery bits in your smoothie). Enjoy!

Lunch

Celeriac & watercress soup (serves 4)

2 leeks, washed & sliced
1/2 celeriac, peeled and diced
750ml vegetable stock
100g watercress
1 tbsp olive oil

Cook the leeks in the olive oil until soft but not coloured. Add the celeriac and stock, bring to the boil and then simmer until the celeriac is soft (about 20 minutes). Add the watercress and stir until it is just wilted (about 5 minutes). Blend until smooth, season and serve.

I use a hand-held blender to blend my soups – I just find it less of a faff than letting the mixture cool enough to be able to use a jug blender. But you can use whichever option you prefer… Or just don’t blend it at all. Either way, this soup is delicious and filling. The other good news is that any leftovers can be frozen for upto 3 months.

Dinner

Really quick tomato, pepper & lentil pasta (serves 1)

50g brown rice pasta (I use the Doves Farm brand)
1 shallot, peeled and sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1/2 red pepper, de-seeded and sliced
4 tomatoes, diced
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp balsamic vinegar
4 tbsp pre-cooked green lentils (I use the Merchant Gourmet brand)

Start by putting the pasta on to cook in boiling water. Add a splash of olive oil – this will help to stop the pasta from sticking together.

In another pan, add about a tablespoon of olive oil and allow it to heat up. Add the shallot and garlic and sauté until soft. Add the balsamic and cumin and stir. Then add the pepper and tomatoes and stir to combine. You might want to press down on the tomatoes to help them break down if you want a really saucy sauce. After about 5 minutes add the lentils and stir until warm. By now your pasta should be cooked, so drain and serve with the sauce.