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.

Brilliant breakfast at Big Moose Coffee Co.

You may have seen a post of mine about my top 5 favourite breakfast spots in Cardiff a while ago; this is a place that deserves a new spot on that list.

Big Moose Coffee Co. is a new coffee shop tucked away in Cardiff’s city centre offering sandwiches, omelettes and some seriously tasty breakfasts with a twist. Crowdfunding exceeded all their expectations and allowed this charitable group to make their dreams a reality without becoming a charity; these guys have the sole mission of ‘leaving the world a better place than we found it’ and intend to do so by employing homeless or disadvantaged youths through Llamau, training them up for the world of work with the customer service and transferable skills many of us take for granted.

Not only that, but their offerings in the café are serious contenders in the Cardiff food & drink scene. I’ve been twice already and will not hesitate to return time and time again, not just because of the incredible service and perfectly executed breakfast, but also because the coffee shop itself has such a welcome, friendly and relaxing feel to it that you simply don’t want to leave. It’s a large space but it feels warm with the right lighting, not to mention the pleasant greenery on each table and potted planters on one of the walls, adding both a decorative touch and a strange sense of peace – perhaps all the hoo-hah about plants being good for the mind and soul is true after all?

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As well as all of this, there are two extra features I feel I have to mention which make this place really special: firstly, the stairs are incredible, serious home-deco inspiration I intend to recreate one day when I’ve a house of my own. Mix & match tiles sounds so simple but it’s so effective in my opinion, donating a very personal touch which large open spaces like this so often lack yet make you feel at home, comfortable, content.

Secondly, the toilet is uniquely kitted out with a grass-like wall, fairly lights and a wall print reading “Be kind” which is perfect for toilet mirror selfies but also serves as a reminder for everything Big Moose represents. Embrace it, welcome it and let yourself feel at home in this coffee shop and I can confidently say you’ll enjoy the whole experience.

Menu options vary from sandwiches to omelettes, toast to tea & cakes but the two breakfasts I’ve had there so far have been easily two of my favourite breakfasts in a while. Big Moose is already right up there with Milk & Sugar (the old library) in my go-to city centre brunches. First to be put to the test was my classic, ‘basic b*tch’ breakfast of avocado and poached eggs on toast which has become my solid point of comparison for all new breakfast/brunch experiences [see aforementioned top 5 Cardiff breakfasts post for evidence].

The yolk was the star of the show, running perfectly over a lovely thick spreading of smashed avocado and presented on a wooden board for extra pizazz. I was invited to season it with salt & pepper myself so as to suit my own taste, which I liked, and on the whole this breakfast was a dream. I was especially excited that somewhere was mad enough to be open at the absurd hour of 8am on a Sunday which I found myself walking through town in. So, whatever the time or occasion I’d certainly recommend giving Big Moose a try, you may just be in luck as I was!

Second time around I took my parents along and ordered the other thing on the menu screaming my name: the banana, walnut, maple and coconut cream toast. Sound strange? Trust me, it’s a stroke of pure genius. Also totally vegan, by the way. I still can’t quite decide (or perhaps I’m just scared to admit) whether this superseded my beloved avo & eggs on toast and became my new breakfast heaven. It very well may have.

This is one for a sweet tooth, I will warn you, but the texture contrasts were also amazing with the crunchy walnuts and toast against ripe banana and smooth coconut cream, maple syrup marrying it all together in perfect harmony. I’m seriously hungry just thinking about it again; if you like bananas then you really, really need to try this. For the sake of your tastebuds. For the sake of your soul.

And that, my friends, is why you should visit Big Moose Coffee Co. next time you’re in Cardiff city centre. Yes, the food is brilliant. Yes, they’ve designed the café with environmental awareness in mind, taking the no straw stand and encouraging everyone to help themselves to free tap water, both to drink in and fill up your water bottles. Yes, the décor is brilliantly cosy, homely and welcoming. But most of all it’s the culmination of all of these things that makes this place so special and good for the soul in every way.

Treat yourself, treat others, take some time to relax and unwind and all whilst supporting an incredible, local cause. Big Moose, you know I’ll be back soon.

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

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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.

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

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

Kayla meet & greet and a healthy fast-food treat @ LEON

Saturday 14th January. The day I met my idol, Kayla Itsines. It was so surreal and I had no idea what to say! But luckily I made friends in the queue and we all supported each other (and calmed each others’ nerves). It was lovely to experience the BBG community that Kayla has created and to meet her in the flesh was a dream come true! Here’s my goofy happy face for us all to laugh about:

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Not only has she created this incredible community and made fitness and healthy living accessible to so many women, regardless of previous experience or lifestyle, but she’s also become a great role model for learning to love yourself, exercising because you love your body not because you hate it. 2017 is going to be the year to body confidence she says, and I surely hope so.

Anyway, enough about that. Food time!

A few simple Google searches was all I needed to come across this exciting new development residing in Birmingham’s recently refurbished New Street Station. Leon restaurants offer healthy, simple fast-food with the view to making it much easier to eat well on the high street than currently tends to be the case – ‘why can’t fast food be good for you too?’ Exactly.

IMG_0675.JPGLeon are so dedicated to being as healthy and good for you as possible that they work with resident nutritionists to ensure the menu caters for gym bunnies and couch potatoes alike, as well as for every possible allergy or dietary requirement you can think of (well, that I can think of) be it wheat free, gluten free, dairy free, vegan, vegetarian, nut allergies and even low glycemic load for diabetics. The same applies to their children’s menu where the focus is on keeping sugars, salts and saturated fats to a minimum, which I think is absolutely fantastic! Surely the best way to get into a healthy lifestyle is to start off young so it becomes natural habit? (I know, I feel sorry for my future children too).

Besides their impressive – and thus far unique, in my experience – dedication to nutritionally-balanced food that’s super good for you, it was their equally unrivalled dedication to sustainability and eco-friendliness which really drew me in. As a very keen geography graduate I’m all about sustainability where possible and so are these guys; they are founding members of the Sustainable Restaurant Association (awesome) which helps restaurants learn to source their ingredients, engage with local communities and manage their environmental impact in an environmentally and economically sustainable manner.

img_1766Turns out that restaurants account for almost half of what British people spend on food, which is a hell of a lot when you think about it! However, this means that if we take action to encourage restaurants to become more sustainable in their behaviours and practices, this will eventually permeate through the food chain and have significant positive impacts on the way food is farmed and the way we consume. Which can only be a good thing! I mean, think about it: if we spend over half of our food money on eating out, just imagine what the impact of the restaurant industry is on food production and the food chain as a whole. When you go to a restaurant you want everything on the menu to be readily available, right? All that food has to come from somewhere. Let’s not get into the whole global food crisis thing because that’s another debate for another day, but if we can make small changes in the way we shop and eat and manage our food sources then this can have a huge impact and ultimately help to secure our foodie future.

Now, obviously there’s also a big focus on recycling, water saving, waste management andimg_9123 energy efficiency but I could go on all day. Let’s get to the food itself. As per usual, my mother chose something I could happily dip into as well: the Sweet Potato and Falafel Hot
Box which also contains chickpeas, a grilled red pepper and lots of herbs and spices to form this kick-ass Middle Eastern style classic. The falafel was soft and crumbly but not too dry, the flavours were perfectly balanced and to be honest it was an absolute joy to eat.

fullsizerender-5For my brother: the Chicken Burger composed of a chargrilled butterfly chicken thigh, an assortment of fresh salad and an olive oil mayo in a sesame seed bun. He also chose the baked fries to accompany this and I can’t even describe how good these were – like nothing you’ve ever tasted before and something I’d go as far as to say you shouldn’t die without trying. Much healthier for you than normal fries due to the baking rather than frying and they’re sprinkled with a special Leon seasoning that is just a taste sensation. Every time I visit Birmingham from now on it won’t be complete without some of these fries!

Moroccan Meatballs Hot Box was my father’s wise choice, where grilled meatballs in a spiced tomato sauce met Italian brown rice, toasted seeds, fresh herbs and a lovely fresh coleslaw. Baked fries made another appearance here and much to my delight, my father & brother couldn’t manage to finish both portions… What a shame! All the more for Charles. My actual main course, however, was a perfectly spiced Sweet potato, Kale and Okra stew in a spiced peanut butter sauce – a modern twist on a West African classic that was an absolute dream in a box. A fully recyclable box, of course. I would happily eat this over and over again; even just the rice was a job very well done. This recipe actually features in their new cookbook Fast & Free which I’m now seriously tempted to buy – if so, keep an eye on the Instagram for my attempts at recreating this.

We also had a couple of smoothies to go with our meals – whilst my dad tortured me with every sip of his Camden pale ale (Dryathlon hurts when eating out, I’ve discovered, but if you’d like to donate you can do here!). The Clean Green Shake was really nice, sweeter than I anticipated but not sickly by any means. I’ll go for that next time I think! This time I had opted for the Blueberry & Elderflower Kefir smoothie which was nice and tasted very good for you, I’ve read up a little about kefir before, but I did prefer the green shake to be honest. I’m just more of a sweet person, it’s a personal thing. I did indulge in a couple of their sweet treats to take home later which were delicious – a pistachio and sweet potato Fronut and a type of healthy brownie thing. Yum.

Overall it’s a 9/10 from me, only deducting a point because I would’ve liked my table wiped down before sitting but I guess that’s fast food. There are so many things on the menu I want to try, I’m really hoping that Leon comes to Cardiff pretty soon so I can do! They’ve said their vision is to have one in every capital city so let’s keep our fingers crossed people… Definitely recommend!

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