Veganuary 2020 – What, why and how?

First thing’s first, let’s acknowledge that the what we should be eating to be sustainable debate is a very complex one, complicated more so with the use of globalised statistics (rather than national or even local) with many variables, new research emerging all the time and by no means do I believe that everyone should be doing the same thing. For example, being gluten-free for medical reasons AND vegan would be a challenge unfeasible and inadvisable for many. Notwithstanding the fact that even having a choice in the first place is heavily reliant on privilege (that’s a whole other kettle of fish for another day, here’s a podcast that explains some of it). That being said, I believe strongly in doing what you can, when you can and being kind to yourself about it [relevant now during lockdown more than ever]. Many of you will already be aware that I’ve been vegetarian for just about ever – finally giving up full-time fish midway through last year (I say full-time because really, do we need to label ourselves as strictly this or that? A responsibly-sourced treat once in a blue moon is still a reduction and therefore a win in my view) – so I figured it was time to take the plunge and see how much further I could go. How hard could it be, right?

My answer: pretty damn easy.

Obviously there are a multitude of caveats as touched on earlier, which I feel important to mention: I was already following a plant-based/vegetarian diet but with some added dairy; I am privileged to have the access, finances and time to shop & eat in this way; I don’t (to my knowledge) have any medical issues which might compromise a vegan diet; and I’ve done my research to do my best with regards to proper, balanced nutrition, which is absolutely crucial if you are considering making such dietary changes. Ideally it’s advised to seek professional dietary advice to ensure you’re aware of how to cover all bases, which I do intend to do when funds allow.

Right, now that’s out of the way we can get to it.

What is Veganuary?

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Peanut butter noodles from Zanna Van Dijk‘s ebook Eat More Plants

Most of my followers have no doubt at least heard of the concept (because social media is designed to be an echo-chamber thanks to those damn algorithms) but just in case you haven’t: this is the idea of pledging to go vegan for the whole of the month of January – Veganuary is the official charity running this. I would recommend pledging via their website if you do decide to go for it because they send out super helpful emails throughout the month advising on nutrition, helpful swaps and how to cope with cravings if you have them. If you fancy the challenge sooner than next January, there’s nothing stopping you trying it now and in fact Macmillan ran a campaign this year supporting a Meat Free March [I had meant to publish this prior to that, my bad] which they may well repeat – there’s no deadline!

Why did I decide to do it?

The answer to this is basically that I wanted to push myself because most of what I was already eating was only a couple of ingredients away and I’d gotten into a bit of a rut of cooking the same stuff over & over, so this was a brilliant excuse to mix things up in the kitchen. As well as the environmental impacts, of course, though it’s important to note that some things like avocados & almonds can also have a large carbon footprint in comparison to other fruit/veg/nuts due to importing and growing practices; hence why it’s super important to do your research and consider what’s manageable for you personally. Don’t beat yourself up if you start with these things to ease the transition and phase them out gradually; I still eat avocado sometimes and had more during veganuary than I normally would but the whole thing is a journey. Some argue that shopping local, regardless of whether it’s meat or veg, is still better for the planet overall but there are so many variables at play and relatively little research on a localised scale that I’ll let you make your own call on that one – it’s preferable, no doubt about that, but not necessarily a definitive answer. Anyway, I digress.

How did I do it?

As mentioned earlier, I would really recommend signing up to the official Veganuary emails, they were so helpful during the first few weeks of getting into the swing. Those first few days post-New Year celebrations I was pretty clueless to be honest and not in any fit state to do a thorough, planned food shop, but once I had set aside time to do this I felt much more in control and confident. A crucial golden nugget of info for me has been the ‘daily dozen’ checklist from Veganuary which details the recommended portions of fruit/veg/nuts/seeds/wholegrains/beans to succeed nutritionally in a vegan diet. Absolute game changer. I’ve since used it alongside my weekly meal planning to ensure I’m getting as much ticked off as possible each day. [If anyone’s interested in this please get in touch, I’d be happy to share] I also think that talking about portions rather than macronutrients (% or grams of protein/fat/carbs) is a much healthier way of looking at things and promotes a more positive relationship with food, which is especially important in any sort of restrictive diet.

What did my typical meal plans look like?

Well, I’ll show you. As someone who bases their intake on 3 meals a day plus a few snacks, it was relatively easy to incorporate most of what I needed according to the

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Curry is super easy to make vegan! Plus, you can throw in as many veggies as you like.

daily dozen checklist but getting absolutely everything in required a bit of extra effort and careful planning, so I didn’t always manage it truth be told. But it’s so handy to have that awareness to start with! And crucially, which I should’ve mentioned earlier, the widely accepted advice is that all plant-based eaters should be taking daily supplements for optimum health; namely B12, vitamin D and omegas [ref: podcast linked below]. This is not to say that meat & dairy eaters are exempt from supplement requirements, in fact I’d wager that most people probably don’t tick all the right nutrition boxes because we’re not really taught about it growing up and consumption of animal products does not guarantee a balanced diet.

Exactly what supplements to take/how much and how to meet nutritional needs in your own diet can only be answered by a registered dietitian though, as it depends on your own body chemistry etc., but Dr Rupy Aujla of Doctor’s Kitchen recommends these three as a base to work from in this podcast. As I said earlier, I intend to seek professional advice on my own requirements when funds allow; for now I take these three daily (most days, sometimes I forget) in the form of easily available pharmacy tablets – there are sprays and drops on the market but can come at a greater cost and are not as widely available.

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As you can see, our meals were not revolutionary, ground-breaking or particularly challenging for a competent home cook and the benefits we found of not topping meals with grated cheese was that I put more effort into herbs, spices and more intense flavours. My OH reckons that some of my best homemade meals came out of veganuary! There were a few things we tried that one of us didn’t like much but these were mostly substitutes and they do take a bit of trial & error to work through. Going into veganuary I was particularly worried about not being able to use most Quorn, which we relied on quite often before, but during meal planning I found that I didn’t even need substitutes most of the time to be honest; carefully balanced veggies/beans/legumes was more than enough.

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Homemade tapas went down a storm for a Friday night feast!

So, my advice to you:

If you’re thinking of trying vegan cooking, even if just a day or two a week, is to look up some recipes and just give it a go. If you find you like it, then do a bit more research into properly balancing your meals and appropriate nutrition. And if you like that? Then go for it. You don’t need to label yourself as vegan to enjoy vegan food most or even some of the time. A perfect example of this is my in-laws, who when my OH and I first got together were ex-farming meat lovers. 3 and a bit years later I’ve taught them to recycle properly (no easy feat with my father-in-law let me tell you), they’ve cut down their packaging consumption, keep their own chickens whose eggs they distribute to friends or other family and now eat plant-based about 90% of the time. It’s a journey. (PS. if you’re reading this I’m super proud of you guys!)

Final thing: have I carried on veganism post Veganuary?

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Jackfruit fajitas were one of my favourite new discoveries

Most of the time. We still have some things in the house like mayo, cheese and non-vegan Quorn that it would be wrong to waste, plus my OH isn’t vegan so there will still be some consumption there; but since the start of February I’ve only had the odd bits of dairy and still practise vegan eating the majority of the time. I thought chocolate would be really difficult for me as a previously daily consumer but found that during Veganuary because I was snacking on more fruit, nuts, seeds and small-ish amounts of dark chocolate I slimmed down a bit and didn’t crave that sugar hit as much as I thought. Cheese was the hardest thing by far. Most vegan cheese I tried just did not cut it. However, since then I’ve visited La Fauxmangerie during a weekend in London and that is pretty damn close to the real thing in my view – not to mention the vegan cheese & chocolate we had in Paris recently which was NEXT LEVEL so there’s still hope for the future of non-dairy cheese.

If I’m honest, I’m not convinced cheese actually agrees with me based on my experience of reintroducing it. My digestion has never been all that reliable, I definitely have work to do on my gut microbiome (could be a number of things, one of the reasons for wanting to double-check dietary advice), but post-veganuary I do feel much better in myself – until having cheese in a couple of my meals. It could be a coincidence but my skin has been great lately and I don’t buy into the ‘veganism gave me more energy’ thing but if I feel good in myself and am having more normal digestion than I was used to, then why not carry on? Not prescriptively, I don’t think labels are helpful as you can probably tell, but enough rambling. Diet is a very personal and emotive thing. There are so many arguments for so many things but if you aren’t able to go plant-based and have the privilege to be able to make choices such as organic, free-range, responsibly caught or local then make those choices when you do decide to eat meat, fish or dairy. There will be some that disagree but that’s what makes us human.

As of the day of posting (which is much later than intended but better late than never), I am back to my milk chocolate addiction but do mix it up with vegan ones every so often and I’m going to blame some of it on the Covid-19 chaos because we all need to cut ourselves some slack right now. I am more consciously aware of what snacks are nutritionally preferable so it just depends on my mood on the day at the moment; doing #PEwithJoe helps me feel on top of things and make those healthier choices too (who knew it’d only take a global pandemic to get me back into fitness?! Sure I’m not alone there). Enough rambling – I hope this post was of some benefit to you and please let me know any questions via Instagram or the comment box 🙂 I’ll link some of my favourite plant-based recipe sources below just in case!

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

Plant-based recipe sources I love:

  • Zanna Van Dijk – as mentioned earlier
  • The Happy Pear – YouTube or Instagram & they have a new book coming out soon
  • The Food Medic – some great plant based meals in her Lunchbox Club IGTVs
  • BOSH! – I use their book every so often which is full of good ideas
  • BBC Good Food – Vegan Meals book, I use this regularly for all sorts!

And so many more…

National Vegetarian Week – My top 5 vegetarian dinners

A little earlier in the week than my usual blog post but I thought I’d take the opportunity to talk about my top 5 favourite veggie dinners this week, seeing as it is National Vegetarian Week, in the hopes of giving at least a few of you some inspiration to try something new or different!

First off, I’d like to add two disclaimers: a) I’m not full veggie but have become more so recently, only eating fish a few times a week, and b) some of these recipes are my own but I don’t claim to be any amazing chef or anything, I just like throwing stuff together to see what I can make. Take from that what you will.

1. Veggie risotto

This is one of mine and is detailed in its own blog post from a while back (click here for the recipe), but is brilliant for cooking in bulk or for feeding guests as it’s super easy to bulk out – just keep adding more veg! The trick here is not to underestimate how much stock is needed and to be careful to add it slowly and steadily, waiting for it to be absorbed into the Arborio rice before adding more.

You can also mix it up by using a different cheese of your choice or by using butternut squash instead of pumpkin, just see what you prefer or what you’ve got in the fridge. Don’t be afraid to experiment!

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Veggie risotto with pumpkin and halloumi

2. Quorn cottage pie

Some people really aren’t keen on Quorn and that’s fine. I used to be quite picky with it myself and actually went off it for a while, but when I realised I was eating a crazy amount of fish instead I decided to bring it back into focus and have rediscovered a love for its diversity.

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Mini Quorn cottage pie

Again, cottage pie is pretty easy to make a few extra portions of so I’d recommend making this on an evening when you’ve got a bit of time (it isn’t the quickest dinner in the world but definitely worth it) and saving the rest for lunches the following day if you can. It’s not only packed with flavour and goodness, it’s also proper comfort food if you do the mash right. My mash is something I take great pride in but, unfortunately for you guys, is and shall remain a secret recipe… Just trust me when I say that playing around with the ingredients a little can make a world of difference.

Quorn have their own recipe on the website which uses their mince and is the one I usually follow, making a few of my own tweaks along the way, but there are loads of recipes for it online too so have a Google and see what you most like the look of.

If you’re not into cottage pie their mince is also good for a bangin’ veggie spag bol (title photo of this post) – also a recipe on their website.

3. Quorn sausage casserole

(Believe it or not, I’m not sponsored by Quorn, I just eat it a lot. If I was I’d be asking for some more changes to their packaging, but this isn’t a plastic post so I won’t go on).

Quorn sausages are my favourite of the lot and actually the most versatile, in my opinion, because aside from having them as classic bangers I also like to cut them up into chunks to have in fajitas, pastas and casseroles. Casserole recipes vary online including Quorn’s own, but personally the below is what works best for me:

  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • 4-6 Quorn sausages
  • 1 tin butter beans
  • ½ a leek, chopped
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 onion, diced
  • Italian herbs seasoning or similar
  • 1 red pepper, sliced

Method:

  1. Fry the chopped onions in a little olive oil in a large pan, at medium-high heat until beginning to soften. You can either add the sausages (cut into chunks) at the same time or grill them separately and add later.
  2. Once the onions are softened, add the pepper slices and leek and continue to fry for a few minutes. Drain and rinse the butter beans then add to the pan along with the chopped tomatoes. Stir around to mix it all up, then sprinkle the Italian herbs (perhaps two teaspoons or so, not too much) and add the frozen peas too.
  3. Reduce the heat a notch and let all that simmer away (with the lid on if you have one) for around 5 minutes, until the sauce starts to thicken and the peas have melted. If you didn’t add the sausage at the start, now add the cooked sausages cut into chunks.
  4. After simmering take off the hob, taste test the seasoning and serve. Save any leftovers for lunch the following day.

Alternatively, you can put all the ingredients in the slow cooker, no need to brown the sausages first, and do it that way but the sauce doesn’t thicken in the same way.

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It seems I’ve never thought to photograph my own casseroles so here’s Quorn’s. Source linked.

4. Chickpea curry

One of my own recipes, this is my go-to if I want to make a homemade curry. Super simple, very satisfying and easy to customise by varying the ingredients to include spinach, beans, sweet potato or butternut squash if you wish. My recipe includes prawns but for a vegetarian curry just omit those – it still tastes just as good!

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Butternut squash and chickpea curry

5. Burrito bowls

Finally, another one of my own concoctions but it’s one I make time and time again because it’s just so… you guessed it, quick and easy. Sometimes I chuck in some Quorn sausage chunks and sometimes I don’t, it’s completely up to you, and you can cook the exact same thing but enjoy as a fajita rather than a burrito I just haven’t been brave enough to make my own tortillas yet!

Best served with a little bit of mayo, yoghurt, or half an avocado (seasoned with salt and pepper), this is one of my favourite homemade vegetarian meals to date. Even my meat-loving other half loves it. Find the recipe within this blog post.

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Burrito bowl deliciousness

What about eating out?

If you’re not so confident in the kitchen don’t fear! There are all kinds of places in Cardiff offering fantastic veggie dinners that shouldn’t be missed: The Grazing Shed’s Naughty Shephard burger is a favourite of mine, anything and everything from Milgi (I’m still yet to try their Sunday roast but have been dying to for ages!) and Anna Loka is full of vegan delights, just to name a few. Many chains now also offer some great veggie and vegan menus including Wagamamas, Wahaca and The Stable.

Basically, you’re spoilt for choice whichever way you look at it so I urge you to try at least two new vegetarian meals this week – after all, variety is the spice of life! Who knows, you might even find something you didn’t know you liked until it was on the plate in front of you.

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

This post was not sponsored in any way, all opinions or recommendations are my own.

Getting Saucy in the kitchen with Saucy Affair

Saucy Affair Raw Sauces are new and coming to the UK market. I was fortunate enough to be invited to try their sauces for review, so the following post is kindly sponsored by themselves (however the opinions are my own).

So, what are these ‘raw sauces’? The idea is that they’re simply blended fruit, veggies and herbs, no nonsense, making it easy to cook up something healthy in the kitchen with their ‘just coat and cook’ slogan. Admittedly, it is as simple as that. Upon checking I was also informed that due to these natural ingredients all sauces are vegan friendly, gluten & wheat free, lactose and nut free too. However, the only potentially questionable ingredient is guar/xanthan gum as there is some debate over the fact that although both are derived from natural substances, they have to be processed in some way to make the gum; thus questioning their classification as ‘raw’… But, from what I can gather, despite being largely indigestible neither tend to have negative impacts on the human gut unless consumed in large quantities, and I can only assume that the gum is there just as a preservative. So personally, I’m willing to overlook it (it’s already in so many things, including many dairy products) but if you’d rather stay paleo maybe skip this one out.

There are 6 sauce sensations to choose from: Teriyaki Malarkey, Cucumber Blunder, Smokey Cokey, Fiery Fiasco, Beetroot Cahoot and Tarragon Shenanigan. Each comes with recommended flavours and ingredients to pair with such as white fish, goats cheese, sausages etc. including several of their own recipes on the website. I chose to do a few of theirs and a few of my own in order to be a bit creative. Here’s what I found!

Teriyaki Malarkey

For this I used their Tofu stir fry recipe which was tasty, satisfying and very easy to do. All done in about 15 mins so really good for a quick, simple dinner and this sauce worked really well with both the stir fry and the tofu; all in all, I’d recommend and repeat this recipe. Tofu isn’t something we usually go for but I even got my boyfriend to like it for a change!

Cucumber Blunder

This one I did my usual trick of just chucking things together in a pan to see how it goes; I did follow their advice from the sea bream recipe and fried my cod fillets in the sauce on a medium-high heat, also throwing in some chopped peppers and green beans. I fried all this for 5-8 mins (by the end the cod broke apart into chunks but I don’t mind as long as it’s tasty) and served with creamy mash potato, which is my own secret recipe. It wasn’t very photogenic as you can see above but the sauce complimented the ingredients well without overpowering and the whole dish tasted delicious. Another thumbs up from me.

Smokey Cokey

A smoky BBQ-style sauce, I had this as a packed lunch stirred into pasta with chunks of Quorn sausages and some veggies in the mix. Some grated cheese on top would’ve been the icing on the cake to be honest but this sauce provided a good, smoky flavour without feeling too ‘meaty’ as I sometimes find with BBQ flavoured foods. I can imagine this sauce would go well with chicken wings (key word being imagine) though I wish I’d tried the mac ‘n’ cheese recipe on their website too, maybe next time.

Fiery Fiasco

Burrito bowls have been one of my favourite things to make recently for a quick, tasty dinner and easy meal prep for the following day’s lunch – you may have guessed from my Instagram. This time I used the Fiery Fiasco sauce instead of frying the onion & peppers in fajita seasoning, served with coconut rice and a dollop of mayo – recipe below. Take note of the two chilli rating on this sauce though, it gave a bit more kick than I was expecting! I really enjoyed this dish and the sauce worked well, but personally I don’t think I’d use it again as it was just a little bit hotter than I’d usually make. Perhaps if I tried their seafood fiesta recipe.

Ingredients (serves 2-3):

  • 3 Quorn sausages
  • 1 tin chickpeas
  • 1 tin black beans
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1-2 peppers, chopped
  • (1 medium clove of garlic, crushed – if doing with normal fajita seasoning)
  • Coconut oil
  • Basmati rice ~130g or 1 mug-full (also works with brown but that takes longer, or can substitute for cauliflower rice)

Method:

Boil a kettle. Heat a couple of teaspoons of coconut oil in a pan over a medium heat; once melted add in the rice and stir around so that the oil coats it. Add boiled water and reduce to medium-low, simmering for around 10 mins* until rice is fluffy and most or all of the water is absorbed. (Remember to stir occasionally to avoid any sticking to the pan, but the coconut oil should help with this anyway).

Meanwhile, cook the Quorn sausages to your preference (I like to grill them on our panini press), this should take around 10 mins so *try to time it the same as the rice.

Whilst the rice & sausages are cooking, heat a little olive oil in a pan on medium-high heat. Add chopped onion and fry until softened. Then add chopped peppers and fry until onion starts to turn golden.

Drain the chickpeas and black beans and add to the pan. Fry off for about a minute then pour in the bottle of Fiery Fiasco sauce and stir to mix. If your pan has a lid, put the lid on and let it simmer and reduce for around 5 mins. Keep an eye on it and keep intermittently stirring.

By this point, the rice and sausages should be done, or nearly there. Remove the sausages from the heat and put onto a plate to cool for a few minutes. Drain the rice in a sieve to remove any leftover moisture and allow to steam a little.

Next, chop the sausages using kitchen scissors and stir the chunks into the sauce, which should now have thickened and be ready to go; remove it from the heat whilst doing this.

Serve with the coconut rice and a dollop of mayo or yoghurt and enjoy!

Beetroot Cahoot

This is another one I decided to make my own recipe with; there’s a little note on this sauce saying that it can be enjoyed cold as a ketchup, which gave me the idea of pizza, substituting the usual passata for Beetroot Cahoot. Seeing as it was #Veganuary at the time, I also decided to branch out and try a cauliflower base (taken from letscookvegan.videos), so this whole recipe can be vegan (and gluten free) if you skip the goats’ cheese.

Ingredients:

  • 1 whole cauliflower (or cauli rice)
  • 2 tbs Olive oil
  • 1 tsp Sea salt
  • ½ cup oat flour (made from grinding GF oats in a nutribullet/food processor)
  • ½ cup GF self-raising flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • Sprinkle of thyme
  • Sprinkle of smoked paprika
  • Toppings of choice (chopped peppers, sweetcorn, goats’ cheese)

Method:

Preheat the oven to around 200 degrees C. Chop the cauliflower into florets and use a blender or processor to turn into rice. Blanch the cauli rice in hot water then drain into a sieve, shaking as much moisture out as possible before shocking with cold water and transferring to a clean tea towel or nut milk bag, if you have one. Twist and ring out the bag/tea towel until the water is pressed out, then empty into a mixing bowl.

Add all ingredients and mix well with your hands to form a dough. Next, either line a baking tray (circular if possible) with baking paper or grease the tray with olive oil. Form the crust onto the sheet/tray, gently pushing about with your fingers and palms to fill the tray.

Bake for 20-30 mins, keeping an eye on it. The video I used says to overbake it, which I would’ve done had I not been in a rush and so would recommend for next time.

Once it’s browning nicely, take it out and spread the Beetroot Cahoot sauce over the base, using the back of a spoon. Add your toppings of choice and put back in the oven for around 5 mins.

When the toppings look done, take out and enjoy! Be careful because this base is very crumbly – or at least mine was; if yours works like the video it should be fine. This worked well as a combination, the base was really nice and the goats’ cheese really complimented the sauce, however the slight kick of horseradish was not to my liking so I wouldn’t choose this one again. My boyfriend liked it though so each to their own.

Tarragon Shenanigan

I originally had another website recipe I was going to adapt for this one, using the basis of the aubergine bake but swapping out the aubergine for butternut squash and the feta cheese for halloumi. Sadly though, for various reasons, I didn’t manage to cook with this one before its expiry date so I’m unable to give a full review. It did sound delicious and I truly am gutted because I hate to waste anything, yet had I realised sooner that the sauces are actually suitable for freezing I would’ve done that to ensure full usage. My apologies here, guys. I will be looking to try it out when it becomes available in stores out of curiosity.

All in all, I enjoyed cooking with these sauces as a change from my usual routine. I don’t actually tend to use bottled sauces often and prefer to create my own, but as these are formed of humble, natural ingredients I made the exception. My personal favourites and those I would choose to buy in stores were the Teriyaki Malarkey and the Smokey Cokey; the first because the tofu stir fry was absolutely delicious and the second because I’d love to try it with mac ‘n’ cheese. I’d also have the Cucumber Blunder again to try with sea bass and roasted potatoes, so my advice to you is to have a browse on the website for some recipe ideas and pick up one or two bottles when you see them in stores and on supermarket shelves (which should be very soon!).

Have you tried any of these yourself? If not, which are you looking forward to trying? I’d love to know if you try one of the recipes above!

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

Special thanks to Saucy Affair for sponsoring this post with their tasty samples.

Charlie’s Crackin’ Curry

I love going out for a curry just as much as the next person, but when you’re trying to watch your portions and eat healthily, cooking them at home can be just as quick and easy to do – and saves on the pennies too!

It’s so quick and simple in fact, that I thought I’d share with you all my go-to homemade curry that you can chuck in the pan and job’s a good’un. It’s got great natural protein and can be tailored to your own individual preference by adding potato chunks, butternut squash and any vegetables you like.

Ingredients:

  • 1 onion, finely choppedFile_000 (53)
  • 1 large tin chickpeas
  • 2 packets king prawns/1 packet shrimp
  • red lentils, as many as you like
  • desiccated coconut (as much as you like)
  • 1 tin coconut milk*
  • 2-3tsp mild or medium curry powder
  • coriander (can be fresh or dried)
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic (to taste)
  • grated or ground ginger, to taste
  • 2 sliced peppers
  • olive oil
  • chilli flakes (optional)

Method:

  1. Chop/prepare all the ingredients. Then fry the onions & peppers in a pan with some olive oil until the onions start to brown
  2. Add the garlic and the curry powder, mix with the oil (adding a bit more if necessary) to form a sort of paste, let it all fry for another few mins
  3. Add the coconut milk*, chickpeas, lentils and any additional spices and stir in, reducing the heat and simmering – should be a light to medium brown colour
  4. Keep stirring and add in the coconut, coriander (a chopped handful if fresh, a large sprinkle if dried) and any salt and pepper and keep seasoning to taste
  5. In the last few minutes, add in the prawns (and the chilli flakes if you fancy) and mix altogether
  6. Serve with basmati or brown rice and enjoy!

*coconut milk can also be substituted with normal milk and some curry paste, just omit the curry powder if doing so [some may prefer this to avoid the xantham gum found in tinned coconut milk]

This is one of my favourite go-to recipes when cooking for friends as it’s so easily adaptable, however it’s also perfect if you fancy a treat meal without having to compromise your diet or break the bank! If you give this a try or make some variations for yourself I’d love for you to let me know by tagging the @charlieschapter instagram in your post or dropping me a message! Hope you enjoy 🙂

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

A Palm oil free Pancake Day!

“Are you dying for a cookie? ‘Cos orangutans are…”

If this was on your next cupcake or pack of cookies would you think again about your food choices? This was one of the little notes (although rather passive-aggressive) that some friends of mine and I had on home-baked goods at our recent palm oil free bake sale on Valentine’s Day – a Love Your Planet bake sale, as such. The simple idea was to make more people aware of the devastating impacts of palm oil and suggest some small changes to their food choices that can be good for you and for the planet.

This is a huge debate in itself and one which I’m still muddling my own way through, but here are the simple facts:

  • 85% of all palm oil originates from Indonesian & Malaysian [primary] rainforest
  • The industry is linked to major deforestation, habitat degradation, animal cruelty and indigenous rights abuses as land and forests are cleared for plantation development
  • Plantations themselves are set up using a slash-and-burn technique, devastating anything left behind and releasing huge amounts of CO2 when underlying peat is burned, significantly contributing to climate change
  • 1/3 of all mammal species in Indonesia are now considered critically endangered as a result of unsustainable palm oil development and habitat destruction
  • An estimated 1000 – 5000 orangutans are killed each year for this development, despite their being “a conservation emergency” according to the UN due to their vital role in the germination of rainforest ecosystems
  • Palm oil is found in approx. 40-50% of household products such as baked goods, confectionary, shampoo, make up, cleaning products and toothpaste

With this in mind, I’ve been working to try and cut out some of my own palm oil consumption where possible; one of the most straight-forward ways to do this is through chocolate and biscuits. Or so I thought… Turns out it’s next to impossible to find palm oil free chocolate unless you want to pay a pretty penny! BUT there’s such thing as RSPO Certified Palm oil which despite heavy criticism over its true ‘sustainability’ and certification process, at least it shows that somebody somewhere is trying to do something about it and that companies are taking some environmental responsibility.

For now though, here are my recommendations for a palm-oil free pancake day:

  • CHECK YOUR CHOCOLATE. There are many conflicting sources online but best thing to do is check the company website to be sure. More details below.
  • NO MARGERINE. Butter is usually fine but margarine contains palm oil as a preservative – some brands are RSPO certified but realistically, butter is better anyway!
  • Opt for toppings full of natural goodness!
  1. Banana slices & honey
  2. Berries & natural yoghurt
  3. Strawberry slices & nut butter (100% natural) – Meridian’s almond butter is my favourite and totally palm oil free!
  4. Or the all-time classic: lemon juice & sugar. (Okay, it’s not as healthy as the other options but it is lush I think we’ll all agree – and even better, it’s palm oil free!)

Nutella. This has long been considered one of the worst offenders for palm oil content; however according to their website it now only uses RSPO certified palm oil… “Ferrero’s achievement of the RSPO certification has also been praised by Richard Holland, Director of WWF’s Market Transformation Initiative.” WWF has a whole world of criticism itself from many environmentalists around the globe due to its involvement with a lot of major corporates, but that’s a whole other kettle of political fish. Personally, I’d say avoid if you can.

If you really can’t live without some chocolate in your pancake, then these brands are also RSPO certified: McVities, Cadbury’s, Oreo, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, M&S, Co-op. It’s hard to know who to believe and what to think with so many conflicting arguments, but my own guilty pleasure of RSPO cert. chocolate tonight will be a gooey melted Carb-killa in all its goodness.

For more information on palm oil, why it’s such an important environmental issue and what the debate over RSPO certification is all about then have a little look online – here are some links to get you started: the story of Palm Oil,Say No to Palm Oil, Orangutan Foundation International, Rainforest Foundation.

Happy Palm-oil free Pancake Day!!

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

*Note: header image from this website

My favourite healthy, simple & satisfying lush work lunches

Although we hear a lot about meal prep these days, I do believe it’s key to maintaining a healthy diet whilst keeping your food waste to a minimum. However, it can be difficult to know where to start…

Ideally, you can plan your meals for the whole week and write your shopping list accordingly, for which I have this amazing fridge magnet (below) that I was way too happy to find online! (Available on Amazon). Sounds like a lot of effort but I would really recommend doing this as much as possible because it means you can shop for meals rather than just as and when, whilst keeping your costs and food waste down as well. All good stuff.

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In my opinion, lunch is the easiest meal to plan and prepare for as you don’t have all the naughty temptations that can come of an evening “shall we just go out for food? Fancy popping down the pub? Do you want anything from the convenience store over the road?” which can lead to extra money being spent, naughty extra calories being consumed (be it biscuits or an extra cheat meal) and unfortunately this can also lead to some of your food ending up in the food waste bin when it hasn’t been cooked or frozen on time. This is not what we want for ourselves or for the environment. Lunch, however, you’re either out and about or sat in the office and despite there being a perfectly adequate canteen or sandwich shop nearby, it doesn’t quite beat the cheaper and often more convenient alternative of a healthy, home-cooked meal.

So, without any further ado – here are my top healthy lunches for you to easily prepare at home:

  1. Fish, rice & veggies
    This one can often require next-to-no cooking if you’re crafty with your meal and file_000-27shopping choices. As I’ve mentioned before, my microwave hot pot is an absolute dream for cooking fresh fish and/or vegetables at work; you just lay them in the pot, top with butter, lemon juice, salt & pepper and whatever other flavourings you like and microwave for 1.30 – 2 mins, depending on whether you’re doing veg or fish and the wattage of the microwave. Job done. Grab ½ a packet of microwave rice to go with it (you can save the rest for later) and voila! A healthy, happy lunch that has everything you need in terms of protein, good carbs and veggies. [P.S. my favourite microwave rice is the Tilda brown rice, quinoa & sunflower seeds packet, tastes amazing! You can cook your own but be careful with reheating this later]

  2. DIY Quinoa salad
    The beauty of salads is that you can chuck anything and everything in, whatever you’ve got a hankering for. Personally, I love my salads to have quinoa, roasted sweet file_000-43potato or butternut squash chunks (for good carbs), sliced tomatoes, cucumber, chickpeas (for protein), pomegranate seeds (gotta love those superfoods) and some avocado and/or cheese (for the good fats). Okay, so cheese may not always be a ‘good’ fat necessarily but I love finding small chunks of it in my salads as a cheeky little comfort food!
    You can also add things like falafel, sausage chunks, tuna, Quorn pieces or shredded chicken to this salad to bulk it up and add more proteins, so it’s really versatile and really simple to make! Quinoa only needs to boil for around 10 mins until its popped open and you can chop the rest whilst it’s cooking, just allow a little extra time for the sweet potato/butternut squash.
  3. Fajitas
    These are great if you want to use up any leftover veg but also if you want to have a bit of fun cooking! Chop up some onions and peppers and fry in a little oil with some crushed garlic and ½ a packet of fajita mix, the spices should mix in with the oil to create a sort of paste. Chuck in some chickpeas, mixed beans and whatever else you fancy; butternut squash or pumpkin chunks work really well, or you can bake and flake in some salmon (obviously you can also add in some chicken at the start if you’re a meat-eater). Wrap up in a wholemeal wrap with some guacamole and sour cream/mayo and job done! Perfect for a quick easy dinner with enough for lunch leftover – just wrap your wraps in foil and keep in the fridge until eating. (It’s a good idea to wrap these up as late as possible because the wrap itself will go a little soggy overnight, but this doesn’t take away from the taste!)

    Lastly, what to do if you’re caught short and have to dash to the shops…

  4. Fish & a funky salad
    Sounds simple, but if you’re lucky enough to have a supermarket nearby your work which I’m sure many of us do then you can still stay healthy even when you forget tofile_000-42 prepare or accidentally leave your lunch at home. Pick up a tin of tuna or mackerel and then head over to the chilled foods section and their selection of prepared salads (usually near the dips etc.) My personal favourite salads to grab on-the-go are ASDA’s edamame bean salad, minty bean salad (both full of natural protein), sweety drop pepper cous cous salad, or my favourite mixed grain salad. These are usually on offer 2 for £3, so pick a bean salad and a grain salad and have half and half along with your fish to create a good, balanced meal that still tastes yum! Alternatively, you could get a packet of microwave rice and have ½ of that along with just one of the salads, totally your choice.

And there you have it! A few simple, quick and easy lunch ideas to keep you entertained through the week. If you can cook enough of your dinner to give you some leftover for lunch the following day then that’s even better. I’ve got a bit of a reputation amongst my colleagues for my fancy work lunches and was even bought a lunchbox recipe book for Secret Santa, so when I get trying some of these I may well write about this again! [I’ll continue to upload ones I’m particularly proud of to the instagram as well so stay tuned] But I really believe it’s important to have a proper lunch to keep your brain well fuelled during the working day and to keep you ticking over until dinner time. Go on, get creative and get prepping!

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

My two top tricks for a happy, healthy new year: salmon & squats

The festive season is over and let’s face it, we all feel a little larger than before. That’s totally okay – we’ve earned it! But if you’re looking to improve your lifestyle this year, “new year, new me” an all that jazz, or just generally kick yourself into being a bit healthier, there are my two top tips: salmon and squats.

I know this sounds simple, but that’s because it is! Bringing a little more of these two things into your life can only be a good thing; I honestly can’t imagine being without them.

Firstly, the salmon. I’m giving you my top five ways of cooking this beautiful, beautiful fish. It’s packed full of natural protein (as much as 25g per 100g fish!), is nutrient rich, and is a fantastic post-workout meal choice for these exact reasons. It’s also really good brain food due to its naturally incredible homing mechanism. So go ahead, try a few of the below:

  1. Lemon & butter – the simplest way of all to make your salmon more than just a fillet of fish – a taste sensation. This particular method keeps it full of its natural freshness and flavour:
    Simply dash over some lemon juice OR slice a half or whole lemon (depending how big a fillet/portion you’re cooking and how lemony you like it) and place in atop the salmon, season to taste with salt & pepper and place a dollop of butter on top. Done! This works best all wrapped up in a foil parcel and oven-baked for 20-25mins on ~180 degrees. You can also whack in a few herbs for extra seasoning if you like, thyme being my personal recommendation for this.
  2. Cream cheese & garlic – this is my personal favourite when I want to indulge without being too unhealthy.
    Cut a few small incisions (around 2cm long) into the salmon fillet itself and push in some crushed garlic [photo 1], then smear your favourite cream cheese on top – as much or as little as you like but enough to get an even covering [photo 2]. Sprinkle with a little salt & pepper (and lemon juice optional) and you’re done! Cook as above. 

     

  3. Soy & ginger – a great Asian-style option to go with a stir fry or just add a little heat to your meal.
    Chop some fresh ginger and grate over your salmon fillet – you can use the same method as above by pushing it into small incisions or just leave it on top, dash over some soy sauce and a tiny bit of oil (Frylight is ideal) and cook as above.
  4. Pesto crusted – the best pesto to use for this, in my humble opinion, is my own red pesto recipe you can find on this blog. However, if you’d rather buy a jar than make it the idea is still the same.
    Simply smear an even covering of pesto on top of the fillet, sprinkle with some additional season if required and cook as above.
  5. Honey-glazed with almonds – this idea I got from a really lush seafood restaurant whilst visiting friends in Boston, MA. The trick is not to overdo this one though as burnt honey just isn’t the one.
    Arrange some sliced almonds evenly on top of the fillet, then drizzle the honey gently over the top trying to get as much coverage as possible and making sure it comes out as runny as possible in order to do so. Then wrap up and bake in foil as above but be careful not to go over time, the salmon should just be flaking the the honey shouldn’t be burnt. 

And there you have it, my top five ways to cook salmon! These can all be oven-baked in foil parcels for 20-25mins on 180 degrees, or you can purchase a microwave hot pot like mine and microwave it for 2-2.5mins on high heat. This gadget is brilliant, it’s like a microwave tagine and steams things perfectly from raw in just a few minutes! Perfect for healthy work lunches!

Next, the squats. Arguably the best all-round body exercise there is, squats strengthen your lower back, legs, glutes and abs all at the same time – so there’s literally nothing not to love! They hurt, don’t get me wrong, but are so worth it and will have you toning, fat burning and boosting overall performance in next-to-no time.

Here are five simple but very effective squats to get you started, or to give you something new to try in your next workout [filming credit goes to #getabswithabs]:

  1. Bulgarian split squats – if you sometimes suffer from lower back pain these are good ones to try; it reduces the overall stress on your lower back whilst focusing all the weight and resistance directly on your quads, hams & glutes and building up your single-leg stability. It’s also great for mobility and flexibility, so what’s not to love? (The pain, obviously)
  2. Kettlebell squats – like front squats but without the awkwardness of trying to balance the bar on your shoulders. Great for mobility and building strength in your lower back, legs and hips. Squeeze your glutes on the way up to build that squat booty too! I’ve gone for the sumo stance with legs wide apart, feet pointing out, as this gives me greater range of motion (allows me to squat lower, really engaging all leg and butt muscles).
  3. Goblet squats – again, the same awesome benefits as above. Keep your core and butt tight and you’re onto a winner, but be careful not to lean too far forward and focus your stability into your heels as these should stay firmly on the floor while you’re squatting.
  4. Jumping squats – absolute killer for me! But these are great as part of a high-intensity/HIIT workout. Not only do these build strength and muscle in your legs, they also promote an anabolic environment which helps to build other muscle groups during the rest of your workout, whilst the high-intensity nature of this exercise means it’s great for fat burn! (Just what we all need after the festive season) As well as helping to prevent injury by improving your balance. Bloody brilliant, right?
  5. Back squats – these are the standard squats but are by no means easy! Be sure to keep your back straight to prevent injury and keep the focus on your legs as this can also be great cardio while your heart is racing! Especially if you’re brave enough to try pause squats… I’d get the hang of the above first. The hormones released while squatting can also increase your upper body strength if done regularly – basically, squats are great.

Special credit goes to my girl Abbie Barton #getabswithabs for help with this fitness feature (including the video), for being a great inspiration and for being my kick up the arse when I need it the most! She’s also one of the best friends down here I could’ve asked for. If you’re looking for a great PT in Cardiff ladies, I know where to find one!

That’s all for now folks; I hope these ten simple suggestions give you some food for thought and some fresh ideas to try! Salmon & squats really are health hacks to live by, in my humble opinion, I love them both and I hope you will too. Here’s to a happy, healthy new year!

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx