Month: November 2016

Moving under Trees

Moving under trees dressed for autumn – leaves at dusk lit by streetlight.


Colour sketches with a camera

I think I’ll attempt this technique again as the composition (or something) in these images is lacking but I sort of dig this not-so-subtle colour combination.

© Karen McRae, 2016


Creamy Cauliflower, Mushroom & Kale Pasta Bake {vegan option}

Creamy Cauli Mushroom and Kale Pasta Bake

This post was created in partnership with Barilla Pasta – they’ve got an amazing competition on at the moment where you can win £1,000 of British Airways vouchers to use towards a weekend trip to Italy (that would be my dream come true!) – to enter you just have to post a pic of a pasta dish either on the comments of this post on Barilla UK’s facebook page OR on instagram using the hashtags #OutsideTheBox and #BarillaUK. Just think of all the pizza and gnocchi you could be eating *weeps tears of joy*. 

Now onto the recipe! If you are as much of a pasta bake fan as I am, you’ll love this post.

Every year I start to feel a bit blue once winter arrives. All that luscious summer produce is gone and with it, the sunlight has withered away. I’m stuck wondering why the heck we still have to put the clocks back and hour in the winter? It just means the meagre afternoon sunlight becomes even more fleeting. I miss fresh tomatoes, peaches and big bunches of fresh basil <img src="×72/1f641.png&quot; alt="

Chocolate Chip Wholemeal Challah Bread {Vegan}


I’ve been a bit bread-obsessed lately – well, I always am, just more so at the moment. I find myself opting for lightly-sweetened bready goods over dessert come winter. Popping a slice of challah into the toaster and catching it a few minutes later at that caramelised but aaaaaalmost burnt stage, and slathering it in peanut butter is my post-uni snack of choice.


This loaf is cloud-like in texture and shape! Just look at those little slices – they seem as if they’re about to drift away…. (directly into my mouth..). That’s the bonus you get when you make a plaited loaf – it can seem a bit daunting to do, but if you eff it up you can always squish the dough back into one big ball and start again. The squishing of the dough is especially cathartic if, like me, you get stressed out by things like plaiting challah or decorating cakes. So squish away! The bread dough will be no worse off, you might just need to let it sit for a bit before trying again as working the dough tightens the gluten up which makes it harder to shape. My biggest tip is to just watch a bunch of youtube videos on how to shape a challah plait and you’ll be a pro in no time. If you’re really not committed to the 6-stranded plait, just bash out a wicked 3-stranded plait and boom, ur done.


From what I’ve seen/read, challah is usually made without dairy (so no butter or milk) but I also managed to wangle my way out of using eggs. I incorporated my favourite method for making fluffy breads – the tang zhong – where you heat a mix of water and flour until you get something like veeeery thick wallpaper paste. This is cooled and incorporated into the normal dough recipe. It seems to work super duper well at keeping bread ethereally light even when there’s no eggs and/or I use wholemeal flour – I’ve used it before in my hot cross bun loaf.


An added extra that I used in this recipe is gram flour which I’m preeeetty obsessed with – it’s made of ground chickpeas and thus is high in protein and fibre. It has a soft yellow colour and I’ve used it in a vegan scrambled egg replacement at a brunch pop-up I did in May in Leeds – it kind if coagulates into a silken-tofu like block when cooked and cooled as you would polenta. Anywho, I chucked some of that into the loaf for a slightly more yellow colour (mimicking egg yolks) – I have tested the recipe using extra wholemeal flour instead of  the gram flour though and it was just as tasty, but slightly paler in colour.

One last thing – I shaped my challah into one very long plait but as this is a 500g (of flour) loaf,  the dough can be divided into two so you can make 2 smaller, cuter loaves.

Chocolate Chip Wholewheat Challah Bread {Vegan}
Serves: 1 large challah loaf (about 18 slices)

  • 100g (1/3 cup + 1 tbsp + 1 tsp) lukewarm water
  • 2 tsp fast action dried yeast
  • 100g (3/4 cup + 1 tbsp) strong white flour
  • 20g (2½ tbsp) strong white flour
  • 50g (1/4 cup) water
  • all of the sponge
  • all of the paste
  • 50g (1/4 cup) rapeseed oil, plus a little more for the bowl
  • 150g lukewarm water
  • 85g granulated sugar or demerara sugar
  • 150g strong white flour
  • 200g strong wholemeal (wholewheat) flour
  • 30g gram (chickpea) flour (a.k.a. besan)
  • OR an extra 30g strong wholemeal flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 100g dark chocolate chips

Make the sponge:
  1. Mix the water and yeast in a medium bowl until dissolved. Stir in the flour, cover with a clean towel or piece of clingfilm and set aside for an hour in a warm place.
Make the paste:
  1. Combine the water and flour in a small pot over a medium heat. Stir constantly until you get a very thick paste – around 3-5 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool completely.
Make the dough (stand mixer method):
  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer with the dough hook attached, combine the sponge, paste, oil, water and sugar. Mix on a low speed for a few minutes to start breaking up the paste.
  2. Add the flours and salt and mix on a medium speed for 10 minutes until smooth and slightly tacky. Remove the bowl from the mixer, lift the dough up and pour a little extra oil into the bowl. Turn the dough in the bowl to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with a clean towel or piece of clingfilm and leave in a warm place for 1.5 to 2 hours until more than doubled in volume.
Make the dough (by hand):
  1. Place the paste into a large bowl. Gradually stir in the sponge until relatively smooth. Mix in the oil, water and sugar until combined. Add the wholemeal flour, chickpea flour and salt (but not the white flour) and mix to make a wet dough.
  2. Dust a clean work surface with some of the strong white flour, tip the dough out onto it, and dust the dough with some of the strong white flour too. Knead the dough, gradually adding in the remaining strong white flour until it is all incorporated and you have a smooth dough. If it isn’t quite smooth and is still quite sticky, rub some rapeseed oil onto your hands and over your work surface. Continue to knead on the oiled surface until smooth.
  3. Pour a little extra oil into the bowl you were using. Turn the dough in the bowl to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with a clean towel or piece of clingfilm and leave in a warm place for 1.5 to 2 hours until more than doubled in volume.
Shape, Rise, Bake:
  1. Pour the chocolate chips over the risen dough in the bowl. Knock down the dough as you knead the chocolate chips in by hand in the bowl. Once mixed, divide the dough into 3 or 6 equal balls and dust with flour. Roll each ball out into a snake about 40cm long. Pinch the ends of each snake together and plait together (I just watched youtube videos of people plaiting 6 stranded challah to see how to do it). At the end of the plait, pinch the ends together and tuck the top and bottom end of the plait under the loaf. Lift the plait up and onto a baking tray which is either brushed with oil or lined with a non-stick baking mat. Cover the loaf with a piece of oiled clingfilm and leave in warm place to rise for 30-40 minutes until almost doubled in volume.
  1. Preheat the oven to 180 C (350 F). Once the loaf has risen, remove the clingfilm. Brush the loaf with non-dairy milk (see notes) and bake for 30-40 minutes – it’ll be done when it’s dark-golden and the whole kitchen smells INCREDIBLE. Leave to cool before slicing and eating. The next day, the loaf is best sliced, toasted and eaten with nut butter/butter/jam OR turned into French toast!

– ‘lukewarm’ water is water which is barely warm to the touch. You need to make sure that you’re not using hot water otherwise you may kill the yeast.

– if needed, ensure the chocolate chips you’re using are certified vegan as sometimes dark chocolate can still contain dairy. If you can’t find vegan chocolate chips, just chop up a bar of vegan-friendly dark chocolate into small chunks.

– I egg washed the loaf in the pictures. Of course this is more of an aesthetic thing than a something you ‘have’ to do.

– you can swap in 100g of raisins instead of the chocolate chips for a different flavour


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Review: Shop Cats of New York


This post contains affiliate links*

My favorite city in the world and cats – what could be better? I’d been looking forward to Shop Cats of New York ever since I first heard about the book’s concept. This first book by Tamar Arslanian, known for her blog – “Single in the City with Cat(s)”, combines Tamar’s love for cats and for her city in one beautiful package.

Tamar introduces us to shop cats ranging from the famous Matilda, who resides at the Algonquin Hotel, to ordinary cats who live at copy shops, distilleries, bookstores, and bodegas. The stunning photographs by Andrew Martilla, combined with the backstory Tamar provides for each of the cats, take the reader on a feline-centric tour of the city’s five boroughs.


Tamar also addresses an issue about shop cats that I’ve often wondered about myself. Like me, she felt bad about cats who lived out their days in businesses, wondering whether they wouldn’t be better off in more traditional living situations. Meeting the cats in the book not only dispelled those misgivings for Tamar, it made her realize that these cats probably have more human interaction than many apartment cats in the city who only see their humans before and after work and on weekends.


This gorgeous book is much more than just a beautiful cat book. It’s a celebration of the bond between cats and humans, and one woman’s love affair with her city.

Shop Cats of New York is available from Amazon and everywhere books are sold.

You can find more stories about the shop cats of New York on Facebook and Instagram.

*FTC Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher. Receiving the complimentary copy did not influence my review. The Conscious Cat is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to products on Amazon.


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Squash & Crispy Kale Bowls with Pomegranate and Miso-Ginger Dressing


Ah bowl food, the trend of 2016 which, imo, is GREAT (I mean, if you looked at how many pasta bowls I have with me at uni, you’d see I’m not lying). The typical bowl food format is one I automatically turn to for dinner when I need something a) with lots of veg and b) easy to assemble from whatever I have in the fridge.


Today though, this bowl themed recipe was made in honour of the fabulous & kind Cynthia of Two Red Bowls for her SURPRISE BABY SHOWER….even though we’re celebrating a tad late… so it’s more of a baby CELEBRATION! If you want to see all the magnificent bowl food recipes from this internet baby shower, head to the bottom of this post to find all the links (they all sound seriously delicious). Anyway, congratulations on your lil baby boy bowl, Cynthia!! He’s utterly adorable <img src="×72/1f642.png&quot; alt="

Burnt Aubergine, Coriander Oil, Garlic Labneh & Pomegranate


There is something so satisfying about letting an ingredient burn and char, filling the kitchen with eerie smog and heck, even setting off the smoke detector (whoops!), when you do it with an intention for delicious food.


It seems so wrong and yet tastes oh so right. Like those crispy bits on the top of a pasta bake or the scent of browning butter as you let it sizzle and foam in a saucepan. It’s the magic that takes flavour to the next dimension. The Maillard reaction gone out of control – rolling from simple caramelisation to smoky sweetness.

Burning aubergine has to be *the* most dramatic change in a vegetable you’ll ever see. The unassuming, plump flesh slumping down and becoming creamy, disguised by the crackled skin.


It’s not surprising to me that ‘burnt foods’ made their way onto Kimpton’s Culinary & Cocktail Trend forecast for 2017 (which I used to inspire this recipe), along with ingredients like tahini and yogurt (thanks to the massive trend in Lebanese food which has been building for a while now and is still going strong!).

Another mention in the forecast went to to fermented foods – yep! yogurt again – which have been popping up everywhere. I’ve even got some jars of kombucha brewing at the moment and have been making shrubs (fermented fruit drinking vinegars) all summer long!! Side note: the reason fermented foods in particular may be trending is because there has been speculation that they’re good for our guts, in particular for the balance of bacteria living in our guts but…I’m not too convinced yet (it’s probably a better bet to focus on getting a good intake of fibre, first). However I am writing my 6,000 word (gulp) literature review this year on the ‘human microbiome‘ which will probably involve me reading into research about fermented foods and health. SO if I find anything interesting out, I’ll probably write about it on here later! Health aside, fermented foods are pretty tasty (miso, beer, wine, pickles, yogurt..) so I’m all in for more fermentation.


Putting that together – burning, fermenting, Lebanese flavours – and given that aubergines are just about still in season, it seemed serendipitous to make this recipe.

Silky, smoky aubergine with tart, unctuous labneh. A sweet-sour drizzle of pomegranate molasses, herby green notes from coriander oil and crunch from the pomegranate arils & pistachios. It’s a beautifully bright dish and takes extremely well to being attacked with a fork in one hand and a warm pita bread in the other.



Burnt Aubergine, Coriander Oil, Garlic Labneh & Pomegranate
Serves: serves 2-4

For the labneh:
  • 150g plain Greek yogurt
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
  • 1 tbsp tahini
  • salt
For the coriander oil:
  • 20g (a large handful) coriander leaves (save some leaves for sprinkling at the end)
  • 80ml extra virgin olive oil
For the rest:
  • 2 medium aubergines
  • 2 tbsp pomegranate molasses
  • 20g shelled pistachios, roughly chopped
  • large handful of pomegranate arils (from about ¼ pomegranate)

To make the labneh:
  1. Place two layers of cheesecloth into a fine mesh seive (strainer) set over a medium bowl. Place the yogurt into the cheesecloth lined seive and set in the fridge overnight. Discard the liquid (whey) from the bowl. Tip the strained yogurt from the cheesecloth into a bowl and mix with the garlic, tahini and a pinch of salt.
To make the coriander oil:
  1. Blend together the coriander and olive oil – you can do this in a jug using a hand blender (immersion blender) or in a free-standing blender.
The rest:
  1. Place the aubergines over the lit burner of a gas hob. Leave to char, turning occasionally using kitchen tongs, until completely blackened all over. Let the aubergines cool then peel off the charred skin, leaving the stem intact.
  2. Spoon the labneh into a couple of bowls (or over a large serving platter) and spread it around with the back of a spoon. Top with the peeled aubergines then drizzle with the pomegranate molasses and coriander oil. Sprinkle with salt, the pistachios, pomegranate arils and reserved coriander leaves.
  3. Serve with flatbreads for scooping as a starter for 4 people OR with brown rice and grilled halloumi cheese as a main for 2 people.

– you can burn the aubergine by placing it under your oven grill and turning it occasionally until completely blackened. The aubergine just won’t be smoky if you use this method.

*Thanks to Kimpton Hotels for sponsoring this post & providing the inspiration via their Culinary & Cocktails Trend report. 

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