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Sea Salt & Rosemary Focaccia (vegan)

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Sea Salt & Rosemary Focaccia (vegan)

Vegan Rosemary Sea Salt Focaccia

Here is a recipe for a focaccia that is not a futon i.e. mean, hard and thin. It’s the emperor of mattresses: the dimples are deep, the texture is soft yet springy, and there is no scratchy dryness that a futon focaccia may have but, rather, a balmy olive oil-enriched crumb.

Vegan Rosemary Sea Salt Focaccia
Vegan Rosemary Sea Salt Focaccia

Having had a few scarring experiences with the brittle, mouth-desiccating, hard mats that parade as focacce (even in their Italian heartlands), this recipe is not only sublime but a protest against my negative experiences.

Vegan Rosemary Sea Salt Focaccia
Vegan Rosemary Sea Salt Focaccia

And while I’m singing its virtues, I have to stress that it’s ridiculously easy to make. Bread-making has such a bad press in terms of time, effort and skill required, but it is all a conspiracy to get you to buy the overpriced, chemical–laden, factory produced supermarket types. All you need to do is hang around a bit and the yeast does all the work for you. Total contact time with focaccia is only about 15minutes - the rest of the time is just a matter of rising or baking (or eating).

Vegan Rosemary Sea Salt Focaccia

I make this with spelt which lowers the GI and adds a little nuttiness. You can play around with the toppings: rosemary is traditional, but you can add caramelised onion, parmesan, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, sage…whatever you wish.

I like to make a lot in one go and freeze the loaves sliced, so you can dip into them when you please. But if you want to make fewer, just halve or third the ingredients.

Vegan Rosemary Sea Salt Focaccia

Recipe  - makes 3 loaves (or mattresses)

Ingredients

14g dried active yeast (2 sachets) or 25g fresh yeast

2 tbsp sugar

675ml lukewarm water

4 tbsp olive oil, for the dough + 3 tbsp for topping

1kg white spelt flour (or plain, if not available)

2 ½ tsp normal salt

1 tbsp coarse sea salt

4 sprigs of rosemary

 

3 x 25cm square cake/bread tins (or tins with the equivalent area), greased with olive oil

 

Method

1)    If using fresh yeast, cream it together in a large bowl with the sugar until it turns to liquid. Then, stir in the water and oil. If using dried active yeast, mix it with the sugar and water, and let it sit in a warm place for five minutes to activate. Then, stir in the oil.

2)    Into the wet ingredients, stir in the flour and salt –it should form a sticky, craggy mass. If you have a stand mixer, fit it with the dough hook and knead the dough for five minutes. If you are making the bread by hand, pour the dough on to a lightly floured board and knead until smooth and springy, so that it bounces back when pressed.  I like to use the dough hook for most of the kneading, take it out when it's almost done and finish by hand. 

3)    Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with cling film and allow to rise for about 1 to 1 ½ hours until doubled in size.

4)    Punch down the dough (so. much. fun.) and divide it into three. Stretch each piece of dough in its tin so that it is even in depth and reaches the sides (you may need to do a bit of pummeling to do this). Then, sprinkle over the rosemary and olive oil and dimple the dough with your fingers, pressing almost to the bottom of the tin. Allow to rise for a further 45 minutes to an hour until almost doubled in size. 

5)    Preheat the oven to 200C.  Then, sprinkle the breads with coarse sea salt, and place in the oven to bake for 12-15 minutes, or until deep golden in colour and crunchy on top. Remove from the oven and place on a baking rack to cool. Best eaten on day of baking (which is usually inevitable as testament to their deliciousness). Or place in an air-tight box and freeze for up to 3 months.

Vegan Rosemary Sea Salt Focaccia

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Vegan Sesame Jerusalem Bagels

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Vegan Sesame Jerusalem Bagels

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Do your ears hang low? Well, attached or unattached, furry or fuzzy, chunky or petite, this recipe is an ode to the earlobe.

Specifically, it is a celebration of stretched earlobes, whether those of an 85-year-old glamazon who refuses to compromise on opulence in pursuit of practicality or pain avoidance, and has transformed the once-small piercing pin pricks into gaping chasms by the weight of her bejewelled, solid gold hoops. Or the nonchalant indie who has plugged and gouged and strained their lobes to form human wind tunnels.

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Like stretched lobes, these sesame studded bagels are not your standard chewy round.

They are a rare sight in the UK, only occasionally vaguely mimicked by the odd fougasse dangling in the windows of French bakeries. Though related to those that are more common sighted, Jerusalem bagels are elegantly elongated, less chewy, more fluffy, yet with a crusty exterior (I’m on the topic of bread now, not lobes).  And the Jerusalem bagel is in no way a lesser version – being a rarer breed and a much more fun shape to nibble (yes, still on bagels), I actually prefer them. They are also easier to bake: the absence of the boiling stage means less room for error, and no witch-hunting of wet doughy rounds, bobbing up and down and falling apart in vats of boiling water.

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 If you are intimidated by bread-baking, do not be.

These are extremely simple, and though the process from flour to end-product takes a while, they are very undemanding in terms of action – the sesame seed dipping is, in fact, rather satisfying from a pre-school art class perspective.  Feel free to halve the mixture if you want fewer bagels, though they are so delicious and addictive it’s probably not worth it.... Also, do have a play around with ingredients: you could try poppy, flax, sunflower, or nigella seeds, as well as sprinkling the bagels with cheddar cheese or parmesan if you aren’t vegan.

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Makes 20

Ingredients

750ml warmed, unsweetened almond milk (can substitute with oat, or another neutral-flavoured, unsweetened plant-based milk)

21g active dry instant yeast (3 sachets)

60g caster sugar

500g strong white flour (+ extra flour for dusting surfaces)

500g white spelt flour

4 tsp salt

2 tsp baking powder

1 tbsp olive oil

 

100g white sesame seeds

15g black sesame seeds

4 tbsp boiling water

2 tbsp pomegranate molasses

1 tbsp agave syrup (or honey if you’re not vegan)

 

3 baking trays lined with baking parchment

 

Method

1)    In the bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook, or in a large stand-alone bowl, stir together warmed milk, yeast and sugar. Pour in all the flour (apart from that to be used for dusting the surface), salt and baking powder and stir to combine into dough.  

2)    If using a mixer, knead the dough for about five minutes on a low speed with a dough hook. If making by hand, pour the dough onto a lightly floured surface, and knead by hand until soft, smooth and springy. It may be slightly sticky, but try to avoid adding too much flour as this will make the bagels dry and tough. Even if I use the dough hook, I take the dough out to knead by hand for the last minute. 

3)    Coat the inside of a bowl with the olive oil, place the dough inside and cover with cling film or a tea towel. Allow to rise in a warm place for about an hour, or until it has doubled in size.

4)    When the dough has risen, punch it down and turn it on to a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough into 20 pieces. You can approximate this by quartering the dough and dividing each quarter into five pieces. Or you can weigh it: each piece should be about 85g. Then gently roll each into a ball. To make the Jerusalem bagel shape, take each ball of dough and press your thumb through the centre to create a hole. Whilst keeping the dough even in diameter, gently stretch the hole into an oval so the bagel is about 11 cm long. Place each back on the floured surface and allow to rest and rise for 15 minutes.

5)    Preheat the oven to 200C. Make the topping by mixing the water, pomegranate molasses and agave/honey in a bowl. Then pour the mixture into a small tray or large flat-based bowl. On another tray, mix together the black and white sesame seeds (or whichever other seeds you are using). Taking each bagel lobe, dip it first (on one side only) into the water molasses mix, then into the sesame, so that one side is coated in sesame seeds. Then place it on the tray lined with baking parchment. If the bagel stretches a bit, that is fine. Repeat with the rest of the bagels, spacing them at least 3 or 4cm apart, and allow them to rest again for a further 10 minutes. 

6)    Place them in the oven to bake for 10-15 minutes until they are deep golden and crusty on the outside. Once baked, transfer the bagels to a baking rack to cool. They are best eaten on the day of baking (and it will be a miracle if they last beyond a day). However, if you want to save them for another time, you can freeze them as soon as they have cooled for up to three months in an airtight container.

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Touring the US with Mediaeval Baebes

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Touring the US with Mediaeval Baebes

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I’ve just returned to UK reality after touring the east coast of America with my band, Mediaeval Baebes.

In fact, it was definitely more of a crash landing, and I’m feeling overwhelmed by a concoction of delight and disorientation. 

I’ve had two weeks of hilarity and salacious tales: from White Russian parties in Maryland to rooftop partying with firemen in NYC, from hazy, mead-imbued late-night encounters with ex-jailbirds to flouncing around in cemeteries for photoshoots. I’ve met more people and fans of the Baebes’ music (and it has been an honour) in the last week than in the last year, from women with heaving bosoms in skull-coated corsets to a South Dakotan ranger who discovered a dinosaur on his territory, from cage fighters Instagram influencers to wiccans. 

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Those who are involved in the music industry will know that the intense peaks of performing are accompanied by elongated troughs of waiting around before and after sound checks, not to mention the driving from venue to venue, one state to the next.

But even the stretches of time were filled: from learning how to do the electric slide (an achievement for someone who can perform a semblance of a dance only to hip hop music), playing airplane with other band members (the childhood favourite of lifting someone into the air with your feet), to hours of ‘I Spy With My Third Eye’. 

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We were gifted things from the delicious to the ludicrous (though none of the following necessarily fit into the aforementioned categories):

hand sown leather wallets, chocolates, cases of homemade mead, hand-crafted wooden lanterns inlaid with silver, pumpkin bog wine (yes, that’s its official name) and goblets straight out of Game of Thrones. I’ve also signed an interesting range of specimens including various body parts, guitars and recorders, Gandalf-style staffs and animal-bone drinking horns. 

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I’ve witnessed the way in which music makes people dance and cry, and I’ve heard accounts of how some have walked down the aisle, given birth, and woken from comas to our music.

I’ve had ecstatic highs of my own (performing to over a thousand people in the middle of forest glades, and exhausted hysterical laughter set off by the merest glimmer of a joke) and extreme lows, where the adrenalin temporarily stopped, energy levels buckled and desolation took hold.

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Being on the road for two weeks has also meant that I have been lurching between feast and famine.

The restaurant selection in NYC is almost infinite. The highlights this time round included the following:

The Pool, one of NYC’s finest fish restaurants. While I am not a huge seafood eater and am largely vegetarian, the branzino was the best I have ever eaten – delicate and tender without need for any fancy sauces or dressings. The room is elegant and slightly imposing and the service impeccable (apart from the moment when I collided with a waiter en route to the bathroom and he succeeded in pouring champagne directly down my chest). 

Barrio Chino: my favourite Lower East Side Mexican haunt. It used to be a hidden secret, without website and only noticeable in passing if you were in the know. It has now become a bit more open about its existence, but the quality has not diminished. Go for the extensive range of margaritas (from chili to berry to tamarind – the list goes on). The tacos are also delicious, but the show stoppers are the enchiladas – suffused with flavour and fresh herbs and oozing with molten queso – this is the only place I will eat them. The ambience is also electric. I went on a Tuesday evening and it was packed and totally abuzz.

The Butcher’s Daughter– I got caught in the tail end of Hurricane Florence and had to battle through headache-inducing heavy rain to get here. It was worth it. This vegetarian NYC and LA hotshot has a sublime selection of fresh and wholesome, zingy, protein-rich salads. I had the self-professed” Best Kale Salad” and added some veggie chicken into the kale, red cabbage, green apple, jalapeno, red onion, mint, turmeric and cashew mix.

Dean & Deluca– In some ways I am sad that their plans to open a branch in London fell through and that they have settled for selling a minor selection of products at Selfridges. In other ways I am not, because if they had opened here I would probably have moved in and would now be rolling around due to gorging upon their selection of salads and endless array of artisanal snacks. Every time I walked past the crisp white exterior in NYC, I felt its magnetism drawing me in. Mostly I managed to restrict myself to buying a selection of salads. All are excellent, but the highlights were the General Tso cauliflower – battered, deep-fried and coated in a moreish, sticky sweet, umami sauce - and the sriracha-soaked tofu. The soups there are as good as many you would enjoy in a high-end restaurant. 

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Conversely, I’ve experienced pit stop, intra-state, highway grub, with the choice between early-onset obesity via deep fried foods, diabetes through the sugar-laden, inevitably chocolate-peanut butter coated candies, or heart attack via the sodium-laden snacks (I opted for the latter). 

The most radical of trends that emerged was the “substance on a stick” that prevailed as a dining option in the Maryland Renaissance Festival. The good folk of the festival clearly thought they were on to a good thing with this particular serving contrivance and didn’t feel the need for variation. Options included the following (see pictures for evidence):  white chocolate-coated key lime pie on a stick, dark chocolate-immersed cheesecake on a stick, sausage on a stick, chocolate-covered peanut butter pie on a stick, and macaroni cheese on a stick. The lattermost culinary innovation was my favourite - a praiseworthy feat of science, concocted to adhere strictly to the theme. Even the choice meat option, turkey leg, was by its very nature “on a stick” – the Neanderthal look of gnawing the dull red flesh from the bone worked well with those who were dressed in animal horns and fur (of which there were many).

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And so I am back in reality – or what I can piece together:

it may only have been two weeks away but it feels weird to have to pronounce the “t” in water again (rather than a “d”) to make my request understood, to ask directions for the “loo”, not restroom, to not be in a tour bus laughing hysterically with eight other wickedly funny band (coven) members, to not feeling the daily adrenaline rush of performing and experiencing post-gig tequila-fueled highs, to not dancing to old school hip hop tunes in hotel rooms until 3am, and to reverting to cutlery after becoming accustomed to sticks. 

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Maryland Renaissance Festival

NYC

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Eating New York

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Eating New York

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I write this sitting on the flight to New York in stasis mode, having metamorphosed into a sedentary lump.  The invisible but insidious radiation, and the already- breathed air must be to blame for my lack of concentration:  I’ve started five films, and finished one – a saccharine, brainless comedy. And in this reduced state, my thoughts revolve around my stomach (more than usual). The looming flight attendant and her trolley are causing spikes in adrenaline –so attuned to the possibility of food delivery am I that I’m reacting pavlovianally to the click of the locker doors as the meals are unloaded. By flying west, I’ve gained time.  More time equals more meals. I had breakfast and lunch at home, but the grey boredom of airports requires food for stimulation. The pre-flight, Prêt snack ritual has been observed.  But that has not deterred me from munching through the 5pm dinner (chicken, and sticky-toffee pudding - and not bad actually. Better, in fact, than the recent attempt at a repast at The Palomar – see my review). 

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In-flight entertainment is clearly not being served by the screen in front of me, but instead by the rotating supply of snacks from the “Wonder Wall”. These fill the flight with purpose: I must try every one of these matte- packaged, faux-healthy snacks.  Initially, I feel pride as I conquer them: a nut-free, oat bar so small that I need to have two just to make sure I document the flavour correctly; a tiny packet of popcorn that is apparently “cheese toasty and caramel flavour” (too weird not to try); some vegan sour sweets (only four in a pack - what a tease, two please); olives; hand cut crisps that promise to be artisanal (I’m sold); two-bite bars of Himalayan salted chocolate that barely register due to their shrunken format.

At 11pm UK time, I’m served afternoon tea (a selection of cakes, a scone, and some mayonnaise-suffused sandwiches). I persevere with these.  There’s no stopping me now.

It’s half an hour until landing, and reality is beginning to set in. I’m surrounded by a shameful nest of wrappers: unequivocal evidence of my greed and boredom.

Pride has turned to nausea.  

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After a day of recovery, I launched myself on to the NYC dining scene. I’m mainly vegetarian, so most restaurants set out below are either fully plant-based, or vegetarian/vegan-friendly. This is by no means an exhaustive list but an account of the places that I enjoyed (with one rather off-putting experience).

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The Fat Radish

Vibe: Vegetable-focused Modern European cuisine in an earthy chic paradise.

Highlights:  Though not vegetarian, the vegan and vegetarian options are numerous and innovative (refreshingly not pasta or risotto). Order several of the sweet pea pot pies which are so good I’ve had to replicate them twice since returning to London. The Macro plate and banoffee pies are also must-eats. Booking is essential.

Lowlights: None. 

Good for: vegans/vegetarians/restricted diets

Where: Lower East Side

http://www.thefatradishnyc.com

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Jajaja Plantas Mexicana

Vibe: Vegan innovative Mexican style cuisine in a vibrant, bustling urban cafe

Highlights: No one at my table could get enough of the nachos with vegan chorizo, fermented black beans, turmeric vegan queso fundito, spicy vegetable relish, and vegan sour cream. The crispy chayote ‘fish’ tacos with chipotle almond butter and pickled red onion are also deliciously different.

Lowlights: no booking, and the tightly packed restaurant mean that you should avoid peak meal hours. Service also slows drastically during these times.

Good for: vegans/restricted diets/casual dining/adventurous eaters

Where: Lower East Side (near China Town)

https://www.jajajamexicana.com/

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Root & Bone

Vibe: rustic-modern take on Southern-American comfort food.

Highlights: The buttermilk biscuits are freshly baked, and so light they melt on your tongue. The side of honey butter just helps them slide down even more sweetly. Crispy topped and golden, with unending tangles of molten cheese, the mac and cheese is amongst the best.

Lowlights: The fried chicken. I may have gone with warped expectations – I had primed myself for strips of chicken breast coasted in thick crispy-crunchy breadcrumbs (especially good at London’s Mother Clucker). However, what arrived was a basketful of dismembered chicken body parts. The rebellious wing bone protruding uncomfortably from the thin batter was enough to put me off. However, this may just be a personal dislike.

Good for: comfort food/family gatherings

Where: East Village

http://www.rootnbone.com/

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Talde

Vibe: Casual Asian-American cross-over cuisine in a dark wooden pub from Top Chef contestant, Dale Talde

Highlights: I’m not a big meat eater, and I never eat chicken wings. However, I make a very rare exception for the Kung Pao wings which are ridiculously sticky and succulent – order many. The Pad Thai puts most to shame with its zingy freshness too.

Lowlights: The bibinkga divided opinion with its eggy coconut texture. I came around to it after the third mouthful.

Good for: inventive cooking/vegetarians/brunch/casual dining

Where: Park Slope, Brooklyn

https://www.taldebrooklyn.com

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By Chloe

Vibe: Airy, female-flocking, vegan café (also in London)

Highlights: The salad portions are generous – my favourite is Spicy Thai which, with its kale base, crispy wontons, apricot-glazed tempeh and spicy peanut dressing, is a mouth workout in a bowl - but every mouthful is worth savouring. The tempeh-lentil chia classic burger and kale-artichoke dip are also major hits.

Lowlights: The London branch is not restful as you have to wait for your name to be shouted out to pick up your food. The NYC branch I visited was great.

Good For: vegans/vegetarians/healthy eating/casual meals

Where: West Village

https://eatbychloe.com

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Van Leeuwen

Vibe: artisanal vegan and dairy ice-cream served from wholesome butter-coloured trucks and stores around NYC

Highlights: the vegan honeycomb is a sludgy grey but don’t let that put you off. Made with cashew coconut and cocoa butter it is ambrosial. The non-vegan peanut butter and marshmallow crunch and Sicilian pistachio are also sublime. 

Lowlights: It’s addictive – I began to think they were stalking me as I managed to go past at least one Van Leeuwen truck or shop every day… and failed to resist each time.

Good for: vegans/vegetarians/innovatively flavoured ice creams

Where: multiple locations

http://www.vanleeuwenicecream.com/

 

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Black Seed Bagels

Vibe: pared down, fresh out of oven, open bakery

Highlights: multi-everything bagel – get there early in the day to get it piping hot from the oven

Lowlights: Addictiveness – I once ate 4 black seed bagels in a row.

Good for: breakfast on the go, vegans, high-carb gluten-full diets

Where: Nolita, Battery Park City, East Village

http://blackseedbagels.com

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Levain Bakery

Vibe: stripped back, no-frills bakery for some straight-to-the-point indulgence

Highlights: Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter chip cookie – thick, crunchy on the outside, fudgy inside loaded with an abundance of peanut butter chips – there is a reason it has been named best cookie in NYC. 

Lowlights: Lines for the bakery can get rather long, so go at a strategic, off-peak time

Good for: over indulgence and sweet-tooth satisfaction

Where: West 74th St, Harlem

https://www.levainbakery.com

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El Luchador (Tacos vs Burritos)

Vibe: Hole-in-the wall, cheap, simple and brilliant Mexican food haunt. London could do with mowing down its innumerable greasy kebab joints and replacing them with this.

Highlights: the pollo asado burrito. Spicy, fresh, busting with flavour and filling 

Lowlights: None

Good for: late night cravings, fresh Mexican food, done well (a rarity in London), vegetarian, vegan

Where: Lower East side

http://elluchador.nyc

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Spring Pea, Spinach & Mint Soup

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Spring Pea, Spinach & Mint Soup

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Nowadays we have the fired-up drama, programmes that are lurid, sweary, and sweaty: Iron Chef, Hell’s Kitchen, the straw-haired, backward-sunglass wearing entity that is Guy Fieri. I still find myself sucked into the carefully contrived vortex of dramatics, where someone burns their hand off or the climax is a grotesquely-sized burger oozing with cellulite-whispering cheese.

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But I have an enduring appreciation for the most simple of concepts that were the foundation for many of today’s cooking programmes: green peppers, red tomato; Ainsley Harriet, metre long streams of oil with one arm tucked behind his back; clotted nests of finely spun sugar; dishes named with achingly tenuous puns. Sometimes I long for those days of Ready Steady Cook in its original format. Particularly captivating was the down to earth “quickie bag” challenge: a handful of seasonal ingredients, an on-the-spot declaration of the dish to be conjured up, followed by a frenzied 10 minutes to make good on the promise. 

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It was raw, unedited, unscripted and exposed – a rare combination these days. And that challenge which has now mutated into the MasterChef mystery box challenge is one that I try to set myself every time the contents of the fridge begin to look pitiful. One man’s debris can be another’s feast. All it requires is a little creativity and imagination (unless your fridge stocks only alcohol, like that of several people I know…).

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This soup is so simple that it could almost have been formulated from one of these challenges. The ingredients are few, but their freshness and the way they are only lightly cooked, enhances the flavours. In the UK, we have been starved of spring, but this soup will help compensate in its exuberant and zingy viridity.

Although they are to be enjoyed alongside the soup, the Parmesan spelt crackers featured in the photos are by no means a sideshow, and I shall follow up with the recipe for them. They are frighteningly addictive – I unwittingly crunched through half a batch in one hour.

NB: this can be made vegan by substituting olive oil for butter.

 

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Ingredients (serves 4)

50g butter (substitute with 3 tablespoons olive oil if making vegan)

1 large potato, scrubbed but not peeled, and diced

3 cloves garlic

4 sticks celery, roughly chopped

30g sugar

Large sprig fresh thyme

100ml white wine

1 litre vegetable stock.  (I use Marigold, which is also available as vegan recipe)

500g frozen peas

20g fresh mint, leaves stripped from stalks

100g fresh baby spinach leaves, washed

½ tsp salt

¼ tsp ground black pepper

Method

1. Melt butter over medium heat, or gently heat the olive oil

2. Add potato, garlic, celery, sugar, thyme and pinch salt and pepper, and sweat together for about 10 minutes or until the potato is soft, stirring from time to time

3. Add the wine, and cook until the liquid has reduced by roughly one third

4. Add the stock, and bring the mixture to the boil. Keep boiling for 4 minutes

5. Remove the thyme, add the mint leaves, spinach and peas to the boiling mixture, and remove the pot from the heat immediately

6. Blitz in the liquidizer. Adjust the seasoning, and serve warm. 

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