Preserving, Vegan Treats

Like everything, hazelnut butter is for sharing….

At the beginning of the autumn, on a beautiful sunshiny day, we went for a long walk in the woods.  Beautiful ancient woods at the top of a valley.  The autumn colours were just beginning to turn.  It was just lovely.

walk in the woods

Where we stopped for our picnic there was a hazelnut grove.   We collected as many nuts as we could.

From the hedgerows we also collected blackberries and rosehips, but that’s for another blog.

The hazelnuts were a pale shade of beige, so we left them in a bowl for a few weeks to dry out.

Then the chief nutcracker set about cracking them. It took him a while.

I then got to do the fun bit: make the hazelnut butter.   Continue reading “Like everything, hazelnut butter is for sharing….”


Adventures with Sourdough.

The difference between a bland tomato and great one is immense, much like the difference between a standard, sliced white bread and a crusty, aromatic sourdough.

Yotam Ottolenghi

a large spelt sourdough loaf

I have something of an intolerance to certain forms of yeasted gluten breads.  My insides get tied in knots.  I noticed this (all over again) a few weeks ago when my brother came off his motorbike and I had to make a mad dash to the hospital he’d been taken to, without time to throw something together to eat to take with me.  After a two hour drive, and several hours with him, I was so hungry I had to search something out at the hospital cafe.  I ended up with a humus and salad sandwich (the only vegan option I could find – even the vegetable soup had milk in it) which, I regretted for days.  It was the soggy wheat bread.  There’s something about most wheat flours, and the type of baker’s yeast they use that just doesn’t agree with me.  However, a sourdough spelt loaf suits me fine, so I thought I would share what I do.


I started investigating sourdough bread months ago, partly because I’m a – ‘if I can make it myself I will’ – sort of girl – and partly because I haven’t found a shop-bought bread that suits me.

To begin with, I came across a charming and amusing American blog about making a sourdough starter, which involved pineapples, hot-water bottles and quite a bit of fuss.  It made me smile, but sadly, it didn’t work for me. After several days ado, it smelt sour and unappetising and looked thin and watery.  I also read a lot of obscure articles about the mysteries and subtleties of making sourdough, which almost took me to the point of giving up the sourdough project altogether, and then I came across an article which went something like this:

‘In a large jar (that has a lid), mix together a few tbs. of 100% rye or spelt wholemeal flour, (I used spelt), with enough bottled water, (tap water can kill the natural yeasts), until it looks like a medium thick batter, and then put the un-lidded jar on top of the fridge at the back, where the heat produced by the fridge escapes.  Leave it for about a week, checking it every now and then, adding a bit more flour and water when you need to, and then you’ll have a bubbling yeasty sweet-smelling sourdough starter.  At this point, keep it fed with flour, and watered, pouring off any thin liquid that might form at the top.  If the jar gets too full, throw away a bit of the starter and replenish with flour and water.  Once it’s good and active you can put it in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.’

Now that, I thought to myself, is the kind of advice I can work with!

I did it, and it worked.  That was in September 2014, and fourteen months later I still have a functioning sourdough.  I gather that there are sourdough starters in San Francisco which are over a hundred years old.  I guess a good sourdough starter becomes a family heirloom!

So.  That, it turns out, was the difficult bit.  And in the end, it wasn’t that difficult.  I’m glad I didn’t give up, as I now turn out about six large spelt flour loaves a month, none of which are ever quite the same, but I usually manage a moist substantial loaf, which toasts well, isn’t crumbly and has a nice nutty flavour.

BTW.  A sourdough starter will remain dormant, lidded,  in the refrigerator for several weeks, although I haven’t tested quite how long it might remain viable.


How to make a basic sourdough loaf using spelt flour   Continue reading “Adventures with Sourdough.”

Celebration Dishes, Vegan Main Dishes

Nancy’s Seasonal Christmas Savoury Vegan Pie

A Christmasy Pie, with mushrooms, chestnuts and pinto beans, in a lemon, cashew cream and coconut milk sauce, served with cranberry sauce.

I will shortly be celebrating my second truly vegan christmas, and there’s no looking back.  I’m liking it too much.  Last year I managed a passable nut roast, so this year I thought I’d get ahead with my planning and pull out a few stops.  I’m noticing that, on high days and holidays when family and friends gather, and I bring a vegan dish to the table, my meat-eating relatives all make a bee-line for it, so much so I have to ward them off to make sure me and my partner get enough!  Still, I’m not complaining, because it’s a nice way to open people’s minds to plant-based cooking that’s based on cruelty-free, healthy and nutritious ingredients.  I just have to remind myself to make more than enough to go round.


Serves 6

Apart from the cashew nuts process*** (which needs to be done 3 hours in advance) – 90 minutes is ample time to prepare and bake this pie.

Ingredients:   Continue reading “Nancy’s Seasonal Christmas Savoury Vegan Pie”

Cook's Tales

Sunday Morning. Egg-gate.

It was Sunday morning after a night out on the razzle.  The sun streamed through the bedroom window.  Matt shielded his eyes and rubbed his forehead.  He had an almighty hangover.  He peered at the alarm clock, it was nearly eleven.  Alice must be downstairs already.

He stood for a long time under the shower, to see if he could wash it all away.  He put on a clean tee-shirt and a pair of knee-length shorts.  He smothered himself in aftershave, which was startlingly invigorating on his freshly shaved skin, and wandered downstairs.

‘Morning,’ she said breezily, looking up from her bowl of muesli scattered with slices of fresh fruit.

‘Morning,’ he said back.

‘Coffee’s made, ‘she said.

‘Great,’ he replied, pouring himself a cup.  Black and strong, just how he liked it.
Meanwhile, he really fancied a proper, no holds barred fry-up.  Hit the hangover where it hurts.

This was no longer possible.  She had decided to turn vegan three months ago.  Consequently there were moments, like now, when he felt really hard done by.  He had never been any good at making changes.  It was too much effort, something in him simply revolted.  But, in the name of love, for her that is, he had agreed to give up just about everything, except fish and eggs.

She had promised him he was under no pressure.  He could go on eating whatever he liked.  She said.  Secretly he was quite enjoying it.  Greasy foods had started making him feel a bit sick occasionally.  And cheese.  That’s the sign of an overloaded liver, she had said.  How did she know all this stuff? he wondered.

‘Think I’ll have a boiled egg this morning,’ he said.

‘Yeah, sure,’ she said, speaking, for some unknown reason in a mock American accent, whilst continuing to pore over the newspaper laid out on the table before her, ‘just bear in mind they grind up male chicks live in great big grinders in the egg factories.’

His heart sank.  He made a snap decision to say nothing for the moment.  This was unusually easy, maybe his aching head was distracting him.  He stood at the fridge with the door open, enjoying the cool air wafting from it.  He was feeling disturbed.   He took out the incriminating egg box.  Maybe he would have two.

He pondered the fate of male chicks.
‘Why do they do that?’ he said, dejectedly.

‘They don’t lay eggs so they’re useless,’ she replied.

‘But couldn’t they kill them later and make them chicken?’

Continue reading “Sunday Morning. Egg-gate.”

Growing things, Vegan Ingredients

A little onion magic

Not much to offer you – 

just a lotus flower floating

In a small jar of water.  

Ryokan   18thC Zen Poet.


Yesterday I planted onions.

They are undemanding. They want only a well-dug bed, and to be planted the right way up, with the little stalk protruding minutely above the ground.

They will accept whatever winter brings: the frost, the rain, the snow.

Next June and July they will be ready for harvest.

I love onions.  I use them every day.  However bad the day has been, I am revived by the fragrance of frying onions.





Flavours. Sweet Potato Soup.

Five Element Acupuncture and Taste.

Including a great recipe for five-flavours sweet potato soup.

acupuncture chart

In five element acupuncture, the body/mind/spirit is divided into five elements: fire, earth, metal, water and wood.  Each element  houses different aspects of our physical being, our personality, our moods and emotions and our characteristics.  It is a system that is both complex, and wonderfully simple at the same time.  In this blogpost, I hope to elaborate on flavours.

Each element is governed by a particular flavour:

Fire: Bitter flavours such as coffee, raw cacao and certain herbs and spices

Earth: Sweet flavours such as sugar and fruit

Metal: Pungent flavours such as spices and certain herbs

Wood: Sour flavours such as vinegar, lemon juice, onions

Water: Salty flavours such as salt and tamari

Of course, lots of basic ingredients have more than one intrinsic flavour, for example, garlic is both pungent and bitter, and cherries are both sweet and sour.

When it comes to flavouring a dish, it’s very useful to use different flavours to enhance and/or rein in others.  Some dishes, notably many Asian dishes, include all these flavours, and, in the right quantities, they blend together to create complex and well balanced tastes that thrill the palate.  There is an art to this as it can easily go wrong.

Classic flavour combinations may only include two or three different flavours, which can fire each other up to create lively and exciting blends. It’s not necessary to add all five flavours to every dish, just put the right ones together.

A good balanced diet will include all of the flavours, in a creative, interesting and varied way.  An excess of any particular flavour in the diet is not such a good way to go.

What I want to say is this; bearing in mind these flavours, it’s possible to create really great dishes that have a complexity of flavour that exceeds the sum of the parts.  It only requires a little imagination, exploration and experimentation.

A recipe for sweet potato soup that uses all five flavours.

Ingredients: (amply serves 4)   Continue reading “Flavours. Sweet Potato Soup.”

Vegan, Vegan Cheese, Vegan Snacks

Tomato Skins…lol… #wastenot

What to do with tomato skins and a simple recipe for tomato and peppercorn cashew cream cheese.

This is a slightly odd one so I’ll keep it short!  Ideally you need a dehydrator and a decent spice grinder, but you can try it on the lowest possible oven setting, and grind with a pestle and mortar.  You also need enough tomato skins to make it worth the faff!

I grow tomatoes.  If you want to grow one thing, make it tomatoes.  You don’t need much space, they will grow very happily in pots and hanging baskets on a sunny patio, and while they need reasonable and consistent attention, it isn’t rocket science.

You won’t regret growing tomatoes because they always taste so much better than any you buy in the supermarkets.  Always.

To grow them, you need to do two things, google ‘grow tomatoes’, and investigate varieties for taste and size. I’m still exploring varieties, this year I grew Marmande Beef Tomatoes, and Black Cherry tomatoes.  My salad tomatoes got the blight.  However, I have had baskets of tomatoes on the kitchen table for over three months, and everyone tends to pop the cherry tomatoes in their mouths like candy.

I make passata to freeze, which is where this blog post comes in.

I personally don’t happen to like tomato skins in my passata and asian tomato sauces, so to make Mediterranean style sauces I either roast the tomatoes in a big roasting pan covered in foil, and remove the skins when they’re soft, before whizzing the pulp in the blender, or I blanche them in boiling water for ten minutes, and skin them before chopping and freezing for Asian dishes.  I’ve probably got about a dozen packs of tomato based sauces in the freezer now that autumn’s here….

So.  Call me mad, but I collected the tomato skins all summer long, and added  them to a bag and froze them.

Now the tomatoes are all gone, (and dearly missed they are too), I have retrieved my collection of tomato skins, defrosted them, laid them out on a parchment sheet on a baking tray and put them in the oven on the lowest setting for an hour.  Once they were less soggy, I transferred them to my dehydrator, again on parchment-lined trays, and set the dehydrator temperature at 40C.

If you dry vegetables at too high a temperature, they are liable to lose flavour.

When the skins were completely dry, (36-48 hours), I ground them into a powder which will keep for a couple of months in an airtight storage jar.
Tip: Once ground, if the powder is still even a little bit moist, put it back in the dehydrator (spread out on the parchment-lined trays) and give it another
blast for a few hours at 40C.

The powder can be added to anything that requires a tomato hit: sauces, soups, veggie stock powder, vegan cashew cream cheese, pizza……or anything else you can think of.

And that’s what you can do with tomato skins! #wastenot








A recipe for dreamy cashew cream cheese coated in tomato powder.   Continue reading “Tomato Skins…lol… #wastenot”

All About Beans, Growing things, Vegan Ingredients, Vegan Snacks

A Celebration of The Humble Bean.

Tips on cooking beans, with a simple recipe for bean pate.

You’ve just got to love beans!


It’s autumn here in the UK.  I am lucky enough to have an allotment, and I love it at this time of year, its decked in autumn colour, bathed in hazy sunshine or shrouded in fine mist (or is that rain…?), and still abounding in fruitfulness.  A few days ago, I stripped all the bean pods from the vines.  The pods are slightly damp and bedraggled, and coloured musty shades of brown and yellow.  I brought home a huge bin bag full of them, three different kinds: moonlight runner, scarlet emperor runner and borlotti. They look distinctly unpromising, which is why I am always struck by what I find inside. The pods split open easily, and inside, nestling in a smooth, silky, papery, white sheath, are lines of immaculate, shining, pristine beans.

It seems so improbable.

The task of the next few days is to shuck them into bowls, then leave them in a warmish dry room (but not too near the heat otherwise they will split).  Every time anyone passes, they perform a little ritual, which basically involves shuffling the beans around in the bowls.  It’s quite musical and very therapeutic actually!  To begin with, they sound dull and muffled. As the days go by, the rattle of the beans starts to change, until eventually it sounds like marbles rattling in a glass bowl.  The sound, after a few weeks, becomes absolutely clear and bell-like.

They really are like magic. It’s no wonder that they’re the stuff of fairytales and runes.   Continue reading “A Celebration of The Humble Bean.”