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.

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

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

Juno what’s going on in Roath?

You’ve had a long, tiring day at work: Juno is there.  You’re hanging out of your arse after a heavy night out: Juno is there.  You really just need a good old pick-me-up, even better if it’s just healthy enough not to feel guilty about: Juno is there.

Living within easy walking-distance of this little local gem has definitely been a factor in my falling in love with Cardiff.  Aside from the convenience, the staff are always so friendly and helpful even if you’re there just to get some work done with a few nibbles and a nice atmosphere.  They’re also very accommodating – you’re never too much of an inconvenience, which culminates in the laid-back, super friendly and above all cosy vibe of the place that makes it so special.

The warm, cosy interior of Juno Lounge, Roath. [Photo credit: Trip Advisor]

Menu: burgers, salads, hangover breakfasts and specials; Juno has it all.  Whether you’re a meat-eater or a fussy eater, there’s no shortage of incredible options, including a whole menu of vegan and gluten-free.  For meat-lovers: the Hero Burger.  Highly renowned as one of the best burgers in Cardiff, this beast is composed of a 6oz beef patty, chorizo, mature cheddar, fried red onion, chimichurri, chipotle mayo and marinated chilli.  10/10 for sure.  For veggies: Yossi’s Falafel Burger.  Full of flavour and goodness, this isn’t your standard veggie burger!  A wood-roasted pepper, rocket, tomato, red onion, basil pesto and garlic mayo all accompany the falafel to create this fantastic, fresh feast that will surely keep you coming back for more.  9/10 from me; close but not quite as good as the following…

Specials: I’ve had the last two special burgers in a row (I’m basically a regular now) and I can safely say both were incredible.  The first, a spiced hummus and halloumi burger, was stunning.  I’m a huge fan of halloumi anyway especially in burgers, trying new variations whenever I get chance (e.g. Street Food Circus).  On this occasion I wasn’t sure how the spiced hummus was going to work but it was perfect – salty meets sweet & spicy, with a juicy roasted pepper in the middle, whilst the all-important salad balanced it all out.

The second, a butternut squash and edamame bean burger, featuring halloumi (obviously) and served in the beauty that is a brioche burger bun, I went back for twice because I loved it so much.  I just want to be clear on one thing… this was a chunky-ass burger.  I mean it was more than just a two-hand job…  This is the first time in my life I’ve ever had to be one of those bell-ends that cuts their burger using actual cutlery instead of our God-given hands; like those people who insist on cutting pizza with a knife and fork despite the fact that it was MADE to be eaten with our hands – even cut into portions to do so!  Anyway, this burger was huge, but it was so so good.  Packed full of veggie goodness (butternut squash being rich in fibre, vitamins & minerals, antioxidants and very low in calories, similar to pumpkin) and well-balanced flavours, it’s a solid 10/10 from me – for both of the specials, in fact.

Burgers aside, I can honestly say I’ve enjoyed every single meal I’ve had at Juno (hungover or otherwise).  The Avocado Brunch is perfect for that hangover fix due to its cheeky sprinkle of chilli flakes; the Grilled Halloumi & Falafel salad is great for those days when you want to eat out but don’t want to stray too off-plan; the Triple-stacked Buttermilk Pancakes with banana, strawberries, peach sauce and Greek yoghurt are a very filling but very rewarding breakfast to bring you back to life after a heavy night or a stressful week (also available with smoked streaky bacon & maple syrup); and lastly, but by no means least, the classic poached eggs & smoked salmon on toast which has saved me on some of my darkest days.

One of the things I especially love about this place is that the friendly chilled-out vibe is also reciprocated in the staff, meaning that when the struggle is very real and the waiter or waitress can see it on your face, they give that service with genuine smile and you know that they know what you’re going through.  (Sort of like a Friends “we know that they know, we know” situation).

My cute & cosy set up whilst writing at Juno

 There’s so much more I could say about Juno Lounge; I haven’t even mentioned the Cruiser Atlantic pale ale they serve on tap, specifically a Loungers brew, or the cocktail menu I’ve been dying to try for ages, or even the tasty-looking tapas menu!  But I will certainly be back time and time and time again.  I’d recommend it to any of my fellow Roath residents and Cardiffians: embrace it as your local/regular because that’s half the beauty of the place.  It’s convenient and it’s cosy, but it’s also really good, reasonably priced, wholesome food in a place you’re always made to feel totally welcome.

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

*special thanks goes to my fave waiter Juno George for the genius title suggestion!

P.S.  I don’t actually know if his name is George