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.

5 things to remind yourself of this Christmas

The festive season brings forth all kinds of emotions; excitement, anticipation (constipation if you’re not careful), stress, sadness, depression, love. It can be easy to get bogged down in any one of these, whether it’s the run up to the big day stressing over whether you’ve got every last present right, the wishing a loved one was with you, wishing you had more loved ones (dark, but for some this is a sad reality), or even get so caught up in the excitement of it all that you forget to appreciate the smaller details, casually overlooking something that should actually be crucially important. The most important thing, however, is to make the best of what you have and be sure to appreciate it. Really appreciate it.

TV adverts this time of year come out in brute force making us feel guilty, gluttonous and regretful that not everyone is fortunate enough to have a warm meal and people to share it with. The killers for me are the RSPCA adverts and this year’s WWF elephant adverts which remind us that despite recent (absurd) political changes, animals are in fact sentient beings and deserve just as much love as we humans do. With all this going on, it’s important to remember a few things in order to make the most of our own Christmases:

1. You can’t donate to everyone

Personally I find this one hard to swallow but it depends on your own individual beliefs and/or situation. I always feel plagued with guilt from all the emotional adverts and charity cases exposed to us at Christmas but it’s important to remember that whilst you may be more fortunate than many, you can’t give everything away. Yes, by all means give to any and as many charities as you practically can (also not forgetting street singers and musicians because often they’re doing it for a great local cause as well as a bit of fun), but don’t feel bad that you can’t give to everyone because you simply can’t. It’s not practical nor sensible. Just give to whatever causes you can or wish to, be kind and let that be enough.

Side note: if you’d really like to do more, have a sort through your wardrobe and donate jumpers, gloves, thick socks that you perhaps don’t need any more to a homeless charity or individual. Food banks always need extra supplies too – it’s not all about giving money.

2. Write down or organise your gifts

This is important if you’re buying on a budget. Make a list of everyone’s gifts (or dig out the original one you wrote months ago when you swore you’d finally get organised this year) and do your best to tick them off as you go along. This way, you can be sure you’ve got everything (and ‘enough‘) without panic-buying unnecessary things last minute and costing yourself a bloody fortune. If you do this in advance too it can really help spread the cost out over time – bearing in mind many of us have a long wait ’til January’s pay cheque…

3. Don’t be afraid to buy presents early

Basically, buy things when you see them and don’t be afraid to be that person that starts buying Christmas presents in September, because that was me this year and I have absolutely no regrets. As stated earlier, this is cost beneficial and there’s almost nothing worse than going back to buy something you’d seen before and it’s gone. Just, don’t take the risk.

4. Edible/intangible presents are as good as anything

It’s not a cop-out, it’s actually much more likely to be useful if you don’t have anything specific in mind. Moreover, this is immaterial and so can reduce your Christmas waste. A lot of restaurants now have vouchers available in-store or online so treating someone to a free date night could actually be much nicer than a typical box of ‘smellies’ all in single-use plastic bottles, covered in plastic packaging, tested on animals and that will probably take them until next Christmas to use up – if at all.

Alternatively, buy them an experience such as cinema vouchers, zip-lining, wine tasting, spa treatments, whatever their bag. You could even use the Christmas markets to pick up the chutney, cheeses and nibbles for the big day so that you know it’s going to be used and not wasted or forgotten (I do this for my parents, works a treat). As I said, this not only reduces waste in terms of packaging and excessive amounts of wrapping paper (there’s all sorts online about more sustainable ways of gift wrapping) but can also be more beneficial to the recipient anyway (unless you’re an insanely good gift-giver). Not to criticise anyone’s gift-giving abilities, merely a planet-friendly suggestion with everyone’s best interests at heart.

5. Let go and relax!

Whether it’s easing up on your time-managed schedule to make sure you fit everyone in, or taking a care-free approach to (and simply accepting) the serious amount of calories to be consumed; please, please just relax and enjoy the ride. Both are equally as important as each other. I’m a terrible culprit for the first as I’m usually only at home for a few days over the festive season and I like to have my annual traditions, stressing out a bit when the agenda changes. It’s so important, however, to just embrace those changes and enjoy everyone’s company, making the most of everything on your to-do list without worrying about meeting self-inflicted time deadlines.

IMG_6563Secondly, Christmas calories don’t count. I know, it sounds ridiculous and is completely untrue, but what I mean is that restricting yourself on a day we Brits have centred around indulging to the absolute max is just not going to give you joy. Eat that chocolate, those few extra mince pies; crack open that new bottle of booze now & not later because at the end of the day Christmas only happens once a year. Is the January workout going to hurt? Yes. Without a shadow of a doubt. But, once it’s done, it’s done and it’s pointless wasting time regretting anything consumed over the festive period because it’s not healthy to never take a break. (This last point is as much aimed at me as it is you because I’ve conveniently forgotten how to gym lately and it hurts, but no point worrying this side of the big day – what good is that really going to do?!).

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So, there you go. I hope this is useful for at least a few of you, to be honest it’s more of a note-to-self. But I wrote it because I know it can be easy to lose perspective over Christmas of what’s actually important, which is not how many gifts under the tree are yours to unwrap or getting upset over things you can’t control, but doing what makes you happy and appreciating what and who you do have.

Nadolig Llawen pawb; Merry Christmas one and all

Charles xx

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Meal prep top tips; Charlie’s cheats

#MealPrep has become a huge thing recently with the boom in food and fitness on Instagram and throughout our current culture; this is not to say that it didn’t exist before, of course it did, but getting people thinking more about their food can surely never be a bad thing.

Personally, I go a little bit nuts if I don’t plan my meals out. Not only because it results in spending way more on my weekly shop without a set shopping list, but also because I like to be organised and know what to expect and when. Plus, reducing your food waste is a huge bonus for your pocket and the environment if you plan it right. So, how do you begin to make it part of your routine?

Cook in bulk

I don’t mean you have to make a cottage pie for 8 and freeze the entire thing, but if you usually cook for one then cooking a little extra is usually easier because most recipes IMG_6227cater for two anyway and you can then have dinner again for lunch the next day without any extra fuss. Simple and effective.

The best dishes to do this with tend to be pastas, casseroles, curries, soups etc. but to be honest the key for me is rice. Simple, white rice (purely because it cooks quicker than whole grain, but it’s up to you) is super easy to cook a big batch of and can last you a good few days if you don’t mind eating it cold. If you do want to heat it up be very careful and be sure to absolutely zap it! If you have a steamer as well then you can chop your veg and have that steaming away at the same time, perfect. As I said, this for me is key because I can cook four lunches worth of rice & veg in one go (simply add tuna/chicken/protein of your choice), all whilst cooking my evening dinner at the same time. [Pictured is a Gousto halloumi salad which I’ll come back to later].

Keep it simple

IMG_6030As stated above, tuna, rice and mixed veg is a pretty simple, balanced lunch to prepare. But it works. Don’t get me wrong, it can get boring after a while! In these cases, however, I like to mix it up by sometimes roasting some butternut squash, parsnips, chickpeas etc. instead or having Quorn sausages as my protein rather than fish. This is only a base meal, there’s nothing to stop you having leftovers once or twice a week instead. Have a play around and find what works for you, something that’s easy to prepare but also well-balanced and hits the spot.

Pick your meals by their ingredients

First off when planning your menu & shopping list, pick one or two meals you really fancy this week – spag bol, fajitas, or cottage pie for example. Then write these in for the appropriate day of the week (i.e. Tuesday dinner, Wednesday lunch) and base the rest on similar ingredients. Take fajitas for example:

  • mince/Quorn/fish (optional, beans & chickpeas would be a fine base for a vegan version*),
  • peppers,
  • kidney beans/black beans/tin of mixed beans,
  • chickpeas,
  • red onion,
  • fajita spice mix (I use Schwartz ‘cos it’s in a handy little jar),
  • butternut squash or sweet potato, if you like*
  • wholegrain wraps

Think about these ingredients, therefore, in relation to the rest of the week: peppers you could use again to steam or roast for lunches; sweet potato could be a mash with sausages or homemade chips or even form part of a hearty salad; sausage/meat/fish could go with the remaining sweet potato or veg; you could even use mince (or Quorn mince) and halve it between the fajitas and a cottage pie, allowing you to use the remaining peppers, beans, sweet potato and onion all in one.

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[Bad] example of my meal prep weekly calendar

At the end of the day it’s totally up to you, but personally I like to think about what I’m going to use the ingredients on my shopping list for before I buy them so I can make sure I use them all and there’s as little waste as possible. This week, for example, I’ve got fajitas on my menu but I’ve converted it to a burrito bowl with rice instead because I don’t think I’ll use a whole packet of wraps and from personal experience they don’t freeze well (plus they come packaged in plastic which I’m trying to reduce, but that’s another post for another day!)

Stock your cupboards

The best thing I find to reduce your spending and food waste whilst getting in a good, balanced meal is to have well-stocked cupboards. Think tins; tuna, mixed beans, red kidney beans, black beans, baked beans (I like my beans… we get it), chickpeas, chopped tomatoes, and rice pudding in case of emergencies. Also frozen veg can be a life-saver. Whilst I’m not an advocate of using frozen veg all of the time – I personally think that frozen broccoli and carrots bags are gross and remove most of the actual flavour – but frozen peas and sweetcorn are real saviours in my house if I’ve run out of fresh veg or I’m trying to stretch it out ’til payday. Even better, if you happen to have a few packets of microwave rice in the cupboard for emergencies then if you’re ever caught off-guard you can just grab a tin of tuna, a packet of micro-rice and chuck some frozen peas in a small tupperware. Boom! A convenient, healthy lunch with no fuss! (For some more healthy work lunch ideas refer back to my previous post which also touches on food prep).

Finally, keep it exciting!

No one wants to eat exactly the same meals every single day of the week! Whilst it’s great to be consistent, it’s also great to try new things or make small changes to make all the difference to your meal time satisfaction. One of the ways I like to do this is to order Gousto boxes from time to time [examples below], where you can pick your meals for the week online or on their app and all the ingredients come readily weighed out and carefully packaged delivered to your door. Yes, I have mentioned these boxes before and no, (sadly) I’m not being sponsored to do so, I just genuinely find them a really good way of trying new foods, cooking new foods and they can take the hassle out of dinner times because those meals are then planned for you and all you have to do is sort out lunches and breakfasts. The minimum portions you can get is 2 but even if you’re only cooking for yourself, have one for dinner and one for lunch!

My only gripe with these is that the packaging is pretty over-the-top. They can also get pricey week-on-week so personally, I’ve had a break; but I definitely recommend them to anyone wanting fresh inspiration!

IMG_4427.JPGOne last point to remember: don’t forget snacks. If you’re a snacker then factor this in too else this could end up being an additional cost over the week you hadn’t initially planned for. Whether that’s making your own healthy snacks such as protein balls [pictured left, a #LeanIn15 recipe] or fresh fruit and yoghurt, or adding a box of energy bars into your weekly shop, it’ll all help in the long-run!

 

So, there you have it. My top tips for introducing successful meal prep into your own lifestyle 🙂 once you get into the swing, you get so used to it that it feels normal, trust me! Any other tips and tricks you have or if you find the above useful, feel free to comment below and let me know. Best of luck!

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

Self care essentials: my own personal top tips

I realise this isn’t a food post, but sometimes I feel the need to vary it a little and this is a subject that’s been talked about a lot on social media recently (for good reason) so I quite fancied chucking my two cents in and contributing somehow. It’s also something I’ve been trying to be more mindful of in my own life at the moment as I’m always trying to do fifty-million things at once which can lead to me feeling run-down, stressy and drained.

So, without further ado, here are my super simple tips on self-care (the things I do to help me stay relatively sane):

Make a to-do list

It’s something we’re taught to do from a very young age and may seem a bit obvious or juvenile, but if you’ve got a lot on your plate and you’re worrying about where it’s all going to fit in writing a bullet pointed to-do list can really help. I pretty much live on them.

Try to prioritise things in order of what needs doing first, you’ll likely find that you naturally prioritise things better as you’re writing them down anyway. If you’re like me and you need to write things down more than once to remember (I dread to think how many notepads I went through during revision and exam prep etc) then do. Write as many of the same list or as many different lists as you want. The key thing is the prioritisation and forming a clear, visual plan of action. Setting your head straight, providing a clear focus.

Breathe deeply

We don’t all have to sit and meditate for hours on end with our legs crossed, nor am I suggesting that we ever actually forget to breathe during the day, but when your mind is racing and you’re starting to feel overwhelmed in my opinion the best thing to do is honestly just breathe. Take a minute, maybe even close your eyes if you like, and go back to basics: in through the nose, out through the mouth. Clearing the mind. Take a few deep breaths, feel your heartbeat start to lower and everything will seem just a little bit less hectic, you’ll feel a little bit more in control, I promise you.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it

The whole reason for making the list is to realise what you can do now and what you can leave until later, or maybe it doesn’t even really need doing at all. Ask someone else and don’t be afraid to, whether it’s asking your house mate or significant other to do one or two extra chores around the house or asking a colleague for their input on a project you’re working on. This will free up some valuable you-time that you’re clearly in need of. Believe it or not you don’t have to do absolutely everything by yourself.

Note, this is also relevant for some more serious struggles. If you’re worried that you may be suffering from depression, anxiety, or anything else that may be holding you back or exacerbating the problem then don’t be afraid to seek help if you need it. You may be surprised at how many people will share their experiences with you and how important this can be. Support is always there if you ask for it.

Make time for the things you love

This follows on from the above; if you’ve called in the troops or realised that some of your to-dos aren’t as essential as your worried mind initially thought, then you’ve freed up some extra time just for you. It can be anything from taking a hot bath with Netflix & candles (although be careful to keep these well away from the bubbles as they’re highly flammable), having a lie-in and treating yourself to a super lazy day or film/tv binge, going to the gym or for a run and not worrying about what time you have to get back, or even taking that extra time to paint your nails or soak your feet like you’ve wanted to do for so long. Pretty much anything that you want to do for no other reason than because you just want to is something you need to make ‘me time’ for. For example: myself, I like to do any of the above when I have the chance depending on which I feel I need most at the time, especially if I have the flat to myself. But making the time in the first place is the really important thing. Having said that, it doesn’t have to be something you do alone; use this time to catch up with a friend you’ve not seen for a while or cwtch up with your other half, the world is your oyster in these precious moments.

Indulge in your hobbies or even try a new one

I can’t believe I didn’t mention it earlier but cooking (obviously) is a great way to take some time out from the world and just do your own thing. You don’t need to be an accomplished chef, that’s the great thing about cooking is that you learn as you go along or you can follow a recipe. Something I’d really recommend if you’re not so confident in the kitchen, or even if you are and you’d just like to mix things up a bit, is trying Gousto or something similar which delivers fresh, local and perfectly portioned ingredients straight to your door along with step-by-step recipe instructions. I’ll talk more about Gousto another time but personally I’ve found it a great way to try new things, get back in the kitchen, take time out for myself and all using environmentally friendly ingredients whilst reducing my food waste. What could be better? You could even use this opportunity to get your other half involved with the cooking, making for a cute little date night without any extra cost.

Cooking may not be your thing, but whatever it is don’t be afraid to branch out and try something new, get out of your comfort zone, try that gym class you’ve always fancied but never had anyone to go with – screw it go on your own! And you’d be surprised how much fun doing things on your own can be. I’ve become quite accustomed to it when I feel like it and find that you make new friends along the way, grow in self confidence and absorb more of the experience.

Most importantly…

Rest and recover

This, again, sounds so simple but can be overlooked so easily. We’re told from a very early age that ‘rest and relaxation’ is a key part of human development, so why then do we forget about it when we get older and have our own responsibilities? We neglect our well-being because we’re too busy being busy. Stop. You need rest to recover and carry on else you can do yourself some serious harm in the long-run. Yes, there’s not really any scientific such thing as catching up on sleep but that doesn’t mean you should sacrifice sleep to make way for other things. Staying up once in a while is all well and good but if you’re constantly burning the candle at both ends it may affect you a lot more than you realise. That all important ‘rest day’ from the gym is actually a lot more important than you may think. As much as we have things to do on the weekends try not to make every one busy else you’re not getting the rest you really need to head back to work refreshed and ready on Monday morning.

The point is, sleep and rest is important. We can’t all be seasoned nappers like me, but making sure you’re getting enough down-time is essential for so many reasons. And I guarantee you’ll feel much better once you’ve slept on your worries and allowed your mind and body to relax a while.

 

So there you have it. Nothing ground-breaking I know, but these are just a few things I try to bear in mind when I find myself feeling overloaded and things some of us can unfortunately forget to take seriously enough sometimes. Self-care is never something that should be neglected and I hope that you, like me, can use the above as reminders to take a step back when you need to and take time out from our busy, crazy world.

What are your favourite things to do to look after yourself? What makes you feel 100x better when you’re stressed or run-down? Was this post useful to you? Let me know!

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