Sunday, 31 January 2016

A Modern way to Cook by Anna Jones

Always last to jump on a bandwagon (or anything for that matter - I didn't realise I had to do anything with my eyebrows until I was well into my 20s, and dealing with bushy eyebrows is no bandwagon issue), I have only recently come across Anna Jones. Friend and erstwhile employee of Jamie Oliver; Slender of leg, blonde of hair, vegetarian wholefood enthusiast...

Anna Jones A Modern Way to Cook

You might have thought I'd be more than a little dismissive. I am, after all the person who sent Deliciously Ella back whence it came (my mum) a few short months ago for reasons too numerous to mention (oh, OK then - I found it irritatingly smug, couldn't connect to the writing style or the writer, there was, frankly, far too much quinoa in the first few pages for her to be credible, and what I really wanted was Diana Henry's 'A Bird in the Hand' but obviously I hadn't been hinting hard enough.)

But we're not talking about Deliciously Ella or A Bird in the Hand (although I will return to Diana Henry in a later blog). We're talking about Anna Jones and A Modern Way to Cook and, swoon, my latest food crush.

I'm never going to be a vegetarian but I flirt with reducing the amount of meat in our diet for numerous reasons. I am conscious that there are calories and there are calories and I need to make them count. A Modern Way to Cook seems to tick both boxes. There are many vegetarian cookery books that I've tried and enjoyed but are very cream and cheese laden, thus defeating the object of my latest quest to make my calories count in the right way. Anna Jones' approach to food seems to be easy and straightforward. Ditch the refined sugar, choose alternatives to dairy, cut out the meat. Yes, my cupboards now groan with a wider selection of pulses and unrefined sugar options (Agave syrup, anyone) but get your head around that and you're laughing. And feeling lighter and generally more energetic. Really. Couple this shift in culinary preferences with a surprisingly successful Dry January and I'm feeling perkier than I can ever remember for this time of year which usually drags me right down. To top it all - and probably crucial to this feeling of well being - is that I don't feel like I've been hard done by in the food department. AND I'm half a stone lighter than I was at the end of December.

So what have I cooked? Admittedly, I've majored on the baking section in A Modern Way to Eat - I am after all trying to lose a bit of weight, but I love a treat, so if I can make the contents of my cake tins healthier, that's got to be a good thing. There's a totally divine 'Ultimate Pecan Banana Bread' combining bananas, oats, pecans, maple syrup - as a connoisseur of banana loaf this comes in very close to the top of my list of banana loaves to bake; 

A Modern Way to Cook Banana Bread

A Carrot Cake Flapjack which somehow combines the best of both carrot cake and flapjack without eggs, flour or refined sugar; 

Dark Chocolate Goodness Cookies - who would have believed you could use cannellini beans to such amazing effect?! If you've read any of my blog before, you'll know how much of a cake fan I am. Of course, these don't taste the same as my usual bakes, but different is good, and I am converted.

I served up celeriac, bay and mushroom ragu the other evening - it disappeared. And if comfort food is what you need, rhubarb apple and maple pan crumble is a revelation - scrummy crumble topping with none of the heaviness to leave you groaning afterwards for hours...

Rhubarb Apple Maple Pan Crumble Anna Jones

Honeyed rye loaf

Honeyed rye bread was delicious (despite a slightly over-enthusiastic crust - it's a few months since I've baked bread and I need to get my mojo back) especially topped with avocado and roasted tomatoes with a cheeky fried egg on the side.

Honeyed Rye Bread Avocado and roast tomatoes

And if this is all seeming like it's too good to be true, well, I have had one disaster. I made some lush kale pesto (inspired by lunch in a local cafe, of which more another time) and decided to 'knock up' some chick pea pasta - from A Modern Way to Cook - to serve it with. The very idea of 'knocking up' fresh pasta, chickpea or otherwise, on a week night when I was tried from work and had hungry mouths to feed, shows just how much confidence Ms Jones had instilled in me. Of course I ended up with a sticky unworkable disaster that I had to chuck away before reaching for the dried pasta. But I feel this was probably more down to user error than anything else. My chickpea flour was somewhat old, and I didn't have ground flax seed as required, so tried to whizz up ordinary flax seed in a food processor to use instead. Disaster, disaster, but I will try it again another day.

There are still plenty of the recipes in A Modern Way to Cook that feel a little too worthy for me, a step too far down the road to kale oblivion, but I'm getting over that. Anna Jones puts together really delicious flavour combinations, and her useful charts suggesting combinations for salads and the like are worth digesting (pun intended). My meal plan for this week includes lentils with roast tomatoes and horseradish, and I can't wait to try frying pan Turkish flatbreads with spoon salad. Some of the ingredients are something of a challenge to locate here in very rural West Wales, but there are ways around that. In the same way that Nigella seems to instil the confidence to experiment, so I feel I can enter our local health food shop, Go Mango in Cardigan, with my head held high and ask if they might possibly stock freekeh...

So, in conclusion, A Modern Way to Eat - definitely worth a read. Certainly worth an experiment. A worthy addition to any shelf of cookery books. But you probably already knew that, didn't you...

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Cauliflower Couscous

Another new year, another round of self-flagellation in the Recipe Junkie household... And when you're making cauliflower couscous, you know it's got to be bad...

The age crisis that I blithely ignored as I turned 40, feeling full of the joys, life beginning and all that. Well it all came crashing down around me in the car the other day on my way to Carmarthen. I was heading for an appointment to see an absolutely gorgeous and lovely practitioner of the Bowen technique in a bid to sort out my ever problematic back. If you're in the area and need sorting out, I recommend her. But I digress.

As I avoided the floods and negotiated the broken roads (where the floods had receded) a voice echoed around my head: 

"This year you will be 44". 


I have no idea where the voice came from, and there's no good reason why 44 should be any different to 40 - but then it's only 6 years to being 50 and where does that leave me?!

Being the person that I am, I have given myself several good talkings to since, and thought I'd got over it. But no! Another 'old' moment befell me at the optician when, during a routine eye check, the young whippersnapper (who tried to sympathise with me by telling me that he'd be turning 30 this year - I had to stop myself for trotting out all the trite guff about how great being 30 is...) advised me that "Not this time, but probably in a couple of years we're going to have to think about varifocals!".


I might as well just go out and shoot myself now...

Then I found my copy of "When I am old I will wear purple" and decided that it wouldn't be all bad, as long as I don't just let old happen to me. I know people who have done this - become old, adopted an old mindset, determined that they couldn't do anything to improve the situation, and metaphorically, if not actually, walked themselves to the old people's home and bolted the door behind them.

This of course will not happen to me. I cannot do anything about the numbers (or, perhaps the varifocals) but I can prevent the 'old'. 

Being the new year and all that, in a bid to stave off being old as long as possible. I have taken the opportunity to once again resolve to eat better, make sure I get enough exercise - drink 8 glasses of water a day. I am even doing Dry January - but that has as much to do with an ill-judged strawberry daiquiri on New Year's Eve as anything else (there are some parts of my life where, it seems, I will forever be 17).

I am currently contemplating A Modern Way to Cook by Anna Jones and Diana Henry's A Change of Appetite. Interesting reading. I even have a jar of coconut oil in the cupboard - and yes, I have been using it to bake with. (Incidentally it's also fab as handcream - I have some lush stuff fragranced with lemon balm. Heaven).

And as always the case, there are pounds that absolutely MUST be shed. Not many, but I am conscious of them creeping back on and being harder to shift when they do. Not doing much for my self image, and I can't afford a new wardrobe. So back to my old favourites - spinach soups fragrant with lemon grass, ginger, chilli and not much else; carefully measured portions of porridge, making sure I scrape away any leftovers fom the kids plates IMMEDIATELY. In a bid to livening things up (!) I have even stooped to making couscous out of cauliflower. Not adding deliciously roasted florets to a chunky couscous rich in good things like chorizo, olive oil and the like. Not that at all. Rather, that thing that was all the rage with the 5:2ers (oh yes, that was me, briefly, wasn't it...) where you whizz up cauliflower and pretend its carbs. Cauliflower couscous. And surprisingly, it was very tasty.

I can't promise that I won't be reaching for Chef Fatboy's 'Cooking with cream, cheese and extra butter' shortly (you mean you haven't got that one? It's very good). But for now, a bit of restraint and plenty of chilli and lime is doing wonders for me!


Cauliflower Couscous

This is based on a recipe from the Abel & Cole Veg Box Companion by Keith Abel.

Serves 2-4 depending on whether you're eating it on its own - I ate about half of it with some cooked mushrooms for my supper and will have the rest for lunch tomorrow...

100g sunflower seeds
1 reasonably large cauliflower
1 fat garlic clove
1 red chilli
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp cinammon
Zest & juice of a lime
Seeds from a pomegranate
A good handful of parsley

Toast the sunflower seeds in a pan until golden and nutty then set aside (remember that if the pan is too hot, they might burn even off the heat, so tip into a bowl if necessary)

Trim the leaves from the cauliflower and roughly chop into florets. Peel the garlic and deseed the chilli.

Chuck the florets, garlic and chilli into a food processor and whizz up till it looks like couscous, then tip into a big bowl.

Sprinkle over the ground spices and stir through the cauliflower along with the sunflower seeds.

Stir in the lime zest and juice, the pomegranate seeds and finally chop up the parsley and add that.

Leave it for a few minutes - I was worried that the ground spices would taste a little 'raw' but they mellowed for being left to marinate - and then eat!