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.

Weekend workouts & waterfalls in the beautiful Brecon Beacons

This week I focus on fitness once again, purely because I wanted to make the point that getting in a weekend workout does not have to mean dragging yourself out of bed to the gym before 11 o’clock in the morning. I mean, great if you can do that but who’d rather have a lie in? Me, that’s for sure.

There are so many simple easy things you can do to make your weekend workouts fun, especially if you feel cooped up in work during the week and struggle to reach your 10,000 steps per day Monday to Friday. You don’t even have to think of it as a workout, just think of it of getting outside and getting some fresh air – the great outdoors!

If you’re a runner, fab. You’re already pretty much there, just do your thing. If you’re a cycler, that’s fab too. Just pack up your car and head off somewhere stunning for a ride, why not! But if you’re a gym bunny like me these may not be the right options for you. My weekend workout of choice was a humble hike through the hills of South Wales; I can’t imagine a better one. I’m a born adventurer and (as we know from my Iceland post) a very keen geographer, so I’ll happily take any chance to go exploring in nature. There’s a long list of things to tick off my Welsh adventures bucket list but this weekend I picked waterfall hunting in the Brecon Beacons National Park – the Four Waterfalls Walk to be exact.

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Looking down the path of Four Waterfalls Walk

One of the absolute beauties of living in Cardiff is that Brecon isn’t even an hour drive away, it’s quite literally on your doorstep. It’s also the place that gets all the cute snow and ice when we don’t see it down here in the city, which makes winter walks all the more enjoyable (I especially enjoy the crunching sound of thick ice, why wouldn’t ​

​you?!). The only issue with this walk was that we found it very easy to get a little bit lost on the trail, only finding our way to 1 of 4 waterfalls before the cold and dark started setting in. However, this added to the sense of adventure and was all part of the fun if you ask me! Nothing wrong with getting lost in nature just so long as we find our way home in the end.

Crunch, crunch, slop, slop. The other thing of significance to note was that appropriate footwear was absolutely necessary. My company thought otherwise until, much to his surprise, we found ourselves on a mucky, sludgy path for which my walking boots were perfect and his trainers were not so much… Let us at this point remember the Scouts motto: Be Prepared.

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Sgwd Yr Eira looking lush

Anyway, we clambered through the mud and found the first (and in this case, only) waterfall: Sgwd Yr Eira. It was stunning as the sun shone through the trees beginning toimg_3309 set. This is also the one you can walk behind (see photo, left), reminding me of Seljandsfoss in Iceland although on a much smaller scale – still seriously cool though! The steps to and from the waterfall were a challenge in themselves, however, (I might have slipped over… but gracefully recovered injury free, of course) and this is where the real workout came in; I deliberately took long strides up in order to make it more of a challenge for my legs, even a throwing in a few squat jumps, but I’d recommend doing this without DOMS next time – did not ease my soreness! (DOMS = delayed onset muscle soreness, the pain you sometimes feel after a cracking workout) Still, a good way to get your glutes, hams and quads working away. I’d also recommend power-walking part of it if you want to feel a bit more benefit and get your heart rate up a little, or even bounding (safely) downhill every so often if you like to be a giddy little kid like me.

All in all, this 3 hour winter walk adventure racked up 14,488 steps alone – making my total for the day over 16k – and burned a whopping 825 calories, according to my Fitbit blaze. I don’t know about you but I’d class that as a great workout, whether you feel sore afterwards or not! Even better if you don’t feel it and just enjoy the ride, which is one of the best things about going walking in my opinion.

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Views from the path

As I said, there are many other Welsh adventures on my list, Pen-y-Fan currently at the top, but this was a great one to tick off and I’ll certainly be back to find the remaining 3 waterfalls. It seems silly to me not to explore all this beautiful countryside when it is right on our doorstep/such a short drive away, just get outside and go wild! If you don’t live near a National Park then there are plenty of other beautiful parks to walk around of a weekend, Roath Park and Bute Park being just two beautiful examples in Cardiff city centre. Most importantly, the weekends are about relaxing and a workout doesn’t always have to be hard work, life is about balance after all…

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

Charlie’s Chunky Red Pesto

Pesto is such a simple, understated but amazing addition to a meal, in my opinion.  Originating from Ligura, Italy, it became a culinary staple in the 1800s with each family tending to have their own variation; hence there are now so many different recipes around today.

I started making it myself from scratch during my final year of university, when one day I fancied trying something new in the kitchen, looked at the label of a pesto jar and thought “bet I could make this better and healthier myself…”

My recipe uses mostly cashew nuts rather than the traditional pine nuts because I’ve found it gives a smoother texture and fuller flavour.  I also often like to add in extra flavours such as oven-roasted peppers or caramelised red onion, the latter of which gives it a much sweeter flavour and goes well simply on its own with pasta and a bit of feta.

Anyway, here’s my recipe for homemade red pesto for you to try at home:

Ingredients:

1 jar of sundried tomatoes ~ 285g
30g basil
lemon juice
salt + pepper
2 ½ tsp tomato purée
2-3 cloves of garlic (to taste)
80g cashew nuts
30g pine nuts
55g parmesan
olive oil

Method:

I recommend using a food processor for this recipe, but if you don’t have one it can also be done in a large mixing bowl with a hand blender (it’s just a bit messier!):

  • Put the nuts into your food processor/chopper and whizz until finely chopped
    • Alternatively, you could crush them in a pestle & mortar or whack in a bag with a rolling pin biscuit style.
  • Add the sundried tomatoes and a glug of oil and mix until chopped into small chunks.
  • Add the garlic (crushed/finely chopped), parmesan, salt + pepper to taste and a few sprinkles of lemon juice. Then mix up again until combined.
  • Then tear up the basil roughly and throw into the mix, include the stalks where possible as these contain loads of flavour! Whizz it up once more, adding more oil if needed to bind it all together and create a smoother consistency.
  • Take a small spoonful and review your flavour balances, adding more seasoning (or parmesan/lemon juice/garlic) if needed to suit your own taste.

Once you’re happy with it, transfer to a glass jar or tupperware with airtight locking and enjoy!

Please note: it won’t be as smooth as the stuff you buy in jars, chunky and funky is this pesto’s style.  It will last a week or so in the fridge in an airtight container or it can be frozen on the day and saved for later.

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I personally love this recipe because it’s so versatile and so simple!  Traditionally it’s perfect with pasta, especially with stuffed tortellini, but you can also try it layered on-top of salmon and baked in foil, or as a really tasty pizza base and layer it up with veg and cheese.  Whatever you’re into, there are plenty of ways to bring this into your favourite dishes – get creative!

Here’s my go-to: pesto with wholewheat pasta, prawns and salmon (I bake the salmon in foil in the oven then flake into the pasta and mix altogether at the end).

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I hope you enjoy; let me know what you come up with if you give it a go!

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx