Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Herby Mushroom Pâté with Za'atar

If I were to have a perfect food day it would be full of nibbles. We really love a good graze in our house. Those who know me well understand my past love of a good cheeseboard but my wellbeing and waistline definitely appreciate my newer vegan approach. And nibbling on things that are actually good for you is a win/win situation - hurrah!

I made this Mushroom Pâté on a grazing day not long ago and it was just so deliciously satisfying I knew it had to be a blog post. There is an abundance of herbs and the earthiness of the za'atar really compliments the mushrooms. If you haven't tried za-atar before I definitely recommend it. There are a couple of versions and I use the darker Palestinian variety. It's a lovely blend of roasted Sesame, Thyme and Sumac. The flavour has a real depth and you do not need much to make an impact. Since first buying last year it has become one of my store cupboard staples.

I used a combination of large flatcap and brown chestnut mushrooms although in the past I've used more exotic varieties to deepen the flavour. Try to avoid using a variety which tends to leak moisture when cooking (such as the flatcaps!) but buy your favourites and I'm sure you can't go far wrong!

This recipe would be a great starter to serve 4 with some dippers of your choice. You will need:

310g Mushrooms
100g Vegan Cream Cheese Alternative (I use Tofutti Soya Alternative, which is dairy and gluten free)
Small handful of Basil
1 sprig of Rosemary
Large handful of Flat leafed Parsley
1 tbsp Olive Oil
1 tsp Za'atar
10 Black Peppercorns
2 tsp Salt Flakes
Juice of ½ a Lemon

First roughly slice all the mushrooms. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan on a medium-high heat and add the mushrooms. Mushrooms generally respond well to a good charring so turn up the heat and get them sizzling! Move around the pan with a wooden spoon frequently as they cook. If they leak liquid then simply drain this half way through cooking then continue to brown. After 8 minutes remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Remove the leaves from the herbs, discarding the stalks, and finely chop. In a pestle and mortar crush the peppercorns coarsely.

Put the mushrooms in a food processer then add the cream cheese, lemon juice, chopped herbs, za'atar, salt and crushed pepper. Blend on only a few rotations to prevent over-processing the mixture. Leaving small chunks of mushroom throughout gives it a great texture.

Divide the mixture between your serving receptacles, cover with cling film and chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour before serving. If you have time to make these the day before you need them then they definitely benefit from leaving to chill overnight. They will last for a few days covered in the fridge.

Although this is not exactly what you would call a health food it's very tasty and just rich enough to be satisfied with small quantities. I love spreading on crispbreads and dunking raw carrots - poifect!

On another note, this week is National Vegetarian Week in the UK and a great time for you to seek out your local veggie cafes, restaurants, shops and markets. It's also a great time of the year for British produce so don't miss out.


Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Nut-free Carrot Cake Cookies

Last week was Allergy Awareness Week and as someone with a nut allergy I can tell you it doesn't half make life complicated at times. Especially when food producers cover their backs by stating "may contain nuts" on pretty much everything from pasta to fruit juices. Common sense is key. Despite one trip to A&E a couple of years ago (looking like the Rugby ace Martin Johnson, according to my lovely husband!) I believe my allergy to be relatively mild. My frustration is that I was not always allergic to nuts so I know how wonderful they are - i miss Bakewell tarts, dry-roasted Peanuts and the fiddly process of de-shelling Pistachios. But alas I can only dream. 

I'm on a constant journey trying to create nut-free sweet treats that really hit the spot. Seeds are a great nut-replacement and there's such a massive selection to try. These cookies are not only nut-free but also dairy-free and very low on sugar. As a result they work out at only 60 calories per cookie and the contents are great to give you an energy boost. 

To make 12 small Carrot Cake Cookies you will need:

1 Carrot, finely grated
1 over-ripe Banana, mashed
2 tbsp desiccated Coconut
3½ tbsp Organic Wholegrain Spelt Flour
2 tbsp golden granulated unrefined sugar
½ tsp ground Cinnamon
½ tsp freshly grated Nutmeg
1 tbsp Agave syrup
1 tsp Chia seeds
2 tsp Sunflower seeds
1 tsp Poppy seeds
1½ tsp Pumpkin seeds
1½ tsp Raw Cacao Nibs

The banana is a great binder and allows for the avoidance of egg-replacer, which I try not to use too often. I opt to keep my ingredients natural, organic and fair-trade wherever possible.

Set your oven to 180°c. In a large bowl mix together the carrot, banana, coconut, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and agave then mix together well. Add the seeds, cacao nibs and spelt then combine well ensuring all of the ingredients are well distributed. Each bite should have a good range of seeds and nibs for crunch. The mixture should not be too wet or sticky so add more flour if you need to.

Using a teaspoon scoop up a little of the mixture and roll gently into a ball in the palm of your hand. Lay the balls around an inch apart on a sheet of greaseproof baking paper on a baking tray. When you've laid them all out take a fork and gently press them down flat.

Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes until the cookies are well browned. 

Unlike conventional cookies I would definitely suggest that you allow them to cool fully before tucking in. They are all the crunchier and chewier for it. 

The combination of seeds with the bitter hint of cacao are a lovely replacement for the walnut flavours in traditional carrot cake. The banana keeps them moist and soft in the middle but is not overpoweringly banana-flavoured. And the shredded carrot is delicious with the hints of cinnamon and nutmeg throughout. Lush!

You can store the cookies for 3-4 days in an airtight container but they are definitely tastiest in their first 24 hours. They are also perfect for making cookie sandwiches with dairy-free ice cream or cheesecake-style vegan cream cheese.