28 things I learned when I went vegan for a month

Back in January I was cozily powering through those dark, winter nights accompanied by my best friends, red wine and Netflix. Faced with the nightly argument over WTF to watch, having exhausted all of the boxset options, attention turned to the many documentaries on there.

Vegucated was the first of its kind I had watched, late last year on maternity leave, pre-baby, whilst twiddling my thumbs – which isn’t easy when they resemble enormous sausages due to all of the baby weight I saw it as my duty to gain and then lose for your blog reading pleasure.

It struck a chord immediately. I was already pescetarian, but it was enough to make me quit fish immediately, and I LOVED seafood. I forged ahead with the veggie lifestyle and was happy to continue consuming dairy, mostly in cheese and chocolate form.

Until the Netflix war led me back onto the documentary path. Suddenly, I couldn’t rationalise my cheese addiction when it was stacked against all of the health benefits of a 100% plant-based diet. Prior to this, I knew very little about the animal welfare arguments against consuming dairy and animal by-products – I naively assumed there weren’t any. No cows were killed in the making of my pizza, so what was the problem?

I still consider myself to be far from an expert in these matters, I have literally just watched a few films,  read a little on the internet and talked to people. So I am not here to preach; live and let live and all that. I have no issues with other people’s choices, but I found myself struggling to live with my own.

As it was soon to be February, I resolved to take on a month-long, dairy-free challenge to see how I coped with and felt about the change in diet, outlook and habits.

And so, #fuckdairyfebruary was born.

Here are a few things I subsequently learned… 28 in fact, one for each day of the challenge which I will pretend was on purpose, and not just because I couldn’t think of 30.

1. I didn’t miss anything. Seriously surprising for someone who comes from a long line of cheese addicts.

2. Vegan doesn’t mean healthy. I had visions of becoming a member of that hated breed of people who just lose weight “without even noticing”. I put weight on after initially confusing things I could eat for things I should eat.

3. So in the same spirit, not all “treats” revolve around dairy.

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Little Barista, big vegan

4. Having said that, if you don’t choose your dining venues wisely, it can feel dairy is inescapable (quick pub lunch at the nearest carvery? Green tea and fries for me then).

5. Withdrawl is a b*tch. Sounds ridiculous, but I went through a hippytastic “healing crisis“. Coincidence? Possibly, but Jak was on the vegan train too and we were both ill for at least half the month.

6. I did feel better…. post-crisis. I can’t say I noticed a crazy surge in energy, but my skin has been good and to quote a vegan friend, Gem, I don’t feel quite so “stodge”.

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Who ate all the pies?

7. Vegan comfort food (or as our friend Katharine would call it, “nurture food”) is just as comforting. Homemade pie and chips, lasagne, mac and “cheeze”, all the carbs.

8. It can be a talking point – I had messages from old friends doing similar challenges, or forwarding recipe ideas.

9. Equally, it’s not as interesting as you may think to most (I became that Daily Mash militant vegan). In a good way, too. I felt guilty at times asking about ingredients or adaptions until I was reminded by several people that catering for different dietary requirements is standard for anyone who works in food, so any guilt was all down to my own desperation not to cause a fuss (my ultimate worst).

10. Breaking up with your milkman is hard. It took over a month, and even the mini member of the household who isn’t dairy-free doesn’t drink cow’s milk.

11. Substitutes work, some of the time. A couple of the cheese alternatives I tried were fine, others weren’t which makes you rethink recipes and habits – often in a good way. It turns out you can eat pasta which isn’t smothered in grated cheddar – who knew?

12. Bagels are your friend.

13. Tastebuds change – and I never really believed this prior to the challenge. Green salad had never tasted so fresh; dark chocolate now tastes like “normal” chocolate and former coconut hater Jak is now a Coyo convert.

14. 1kg tubs of peanut butter don’t go as far as they used to.

15. Virtually nothing is labelled up as vegan, I spent the month reading ingredient lists and now even my non-vegan friends are pros at scanning packs for milk powder.

16. And speaking of milk powder, it is in practically everything. Whyyyyyyyyyyyy?

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Pizza for everyone!

17. Chain places are great. I had my only vegan pizza of the month at The Brickworks. Incredibly for Accrington, it was one of two pizzas on the menu (as well as other vegan options). Chaz and I also enjoyed a #cheekynandos.

18. Vegan hotel breakfasts are easy. Fresh fruit, Marmite toast, granola, hash browns, beans and mushrooms saved me from a horrific hangover (it’s not a hotel breakfast without at least three courses).

19. You may find yourself shrieking “I can’t believe it’s not dairy!” when you discover a really amazing vegan product. I was sent these Pudology millionaires’ puds by Ocado as a review product (either cool or scary they know me this well) and was pathetically excited at how good they were.

20. People adapt. After my mum initially sent this Guardian article to our whatsapp group (apparently a joke but we learned our pass-agg skillz from the best), she soon switched the Wednesday night treat she leaves me after her childcare day, from Lindt to Bournville #bestbabysitterever #worstbossever

21. Indian restaurants and takeaways mostly cook in oil, not ghee, as it’s cheaper – so the majority of the veggie dishes are vegan. A top tip from our friend Jade and news to me – which made a curry house trip for my mum’s birthday a breeze.

22. Vegan fishless fingers are scarily similar. I know lots of veggies and vegans don’t like substitutes and I’d never bothered much until this month. Yet in the spirit of trying new things (and a #TBT to my former fish finger sandwich obsession) I explored a few bits and these were my fave.

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Love a bit of cake

23. Cake tastes all the sweeter when you eventually find one you can eat. Thanks to Little Barista in Burnley, I tried a coffee and orange cake and a chocolate coconut flapjack slice over the month, while my mum and Quincy tucked into buttered toasted teacakes (in San’s/Beyoncé’s own words, #iaintsorry).

24. Come prepared. Jade takes a Tesco falafel and hummus wrap meal deal to weddings and christenings in case she goes hungry – top tip.

25. Support is plentiful – I joined a Facebook group for local vegans who post really useful tips and experiences on an almost daily basis.

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Avo and hummus sandwich @ The Abel Heywood, NQ, Manchester

26. Eating out is a doddle… Mostly. Venture into Manchester and you’re laughing, nip down to your local garden centre café for lunch and you may be struggling. In which case…

27. If in doubt, call ahead. I ate lots of great food during the month and one such dish was a delicious veggie curry made especially at a country pub in the Lakes (the Stanley Arms in Calder Bridge) after I called beforehand. I’m sure I’d have found something to eat either way (salad and chips is always an option), but the chef was more than happy to accommodate my request.

28. It’s fun. I used to have a stupidly inaccurate perception of vegans as being sad and deprived, but I actually loved it and found it really easy. Which leads seamlessly to the question…

What’s next?

After an interesting month, I’ve decided to keep the vegan party going for a while longer. I am reluctant to commit to a label indefinitely, but I’m enjoying it so far and see no reason to stop now.

Honestly, I can’t say I’ll never eat (non-vegan) pizza again. But every time I consider it, I remember my reasons for starting this. OK, so health-wise I may not have exploited the benefits of the vegan lifestyle to their full potential just yet, but you only have to scan Peta’s Facebook feed for plentiful reasons to give this a try.

If you are curious about exploring this kind of thing, here are the documentaries that prompted my switch:

Food Choices

Vegucated

Forks Over Knives

And if you’re still interested after that, Peta do a free vegan starter kit which is a good place to start.

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Nobody say cheese: aka F*ck Dairy February

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Quitting meat and fish was a gradual process for me and the latest food group on my radar is dairy.

Influenced by both health and animal welfare factors featured in some eye-popping Netflix docs I’ve been watching lately like Food ChoicesVegucated  and Forks over Knives, I’ve decided to go dairy-free for a month. I’m calling it…

(drumroll)

#f*ckdairyfebruary (sorry Mum)

It’s not quite veganism as I plan to continue eating eggs from my own hens. As far as I can gather, the only health risks posed by eggs surround battery hens and the associated animal welfare issues (please correct me if I’m wrong, I’m still learning).

So, at the moment I feel fine about consuming eggs produced by the divas who trot around my garden, bully my dog and make Quincy to go “tssssss tsssss!” (baby for chicken) about 50 times a day.

The easy bits

Huge parts of my daily diet are already dairy-free so in some ways, it’s a straightforward challenge.

Breakfast is usually porridge or granola with almond milk or yogurt. Switching to dairy-free yogurt is no problem taste-wise (hello Coyo) but it will make more of a dent in the budget (£4.99 for 400g… yikes).

Work lunches and evening meals tend to revolve around batch cooking basics, many of which are vegan but I do plan to branch out with some new recipes to mix things up.

Last week I tried a cheesy butternut pasta sauce (a take on this recipe with added nutritional yeast and less cayenne and salt, so Q could have the leftovers for lunch).

Next on my hitlist are some Thug Kitchen recipes from a book Chaz bought me for Christmas. So far, their chickpea biryani went down well with our (meat eating) friend Lianne, who said she “never knew vegetarian food could actually taste good” (has she never had chips?).

The shopping

This week, I’ve ordered my third Wholegood organic uber veg and fruit box and I’m basing most of my meals around these.

After I deleted all of the cheese out of my first dairy-free Ocado basket (a sad moment), I added the following to see me through week 1 of the challenge:

I also ordered extra cashews (for creamy sauces, stir fries and granola) and avocados (because I don’t need an excuse to be even more of a basic b!tch).

And survive week one I did – and that even included a pub lunch (albeit in the v vegan-friendly Northern Quarter).

The obstacles

1. Cheese

I LOVE cheese and it’s the culprit behind many of my indulgences…. pizza, cheeseboards, grilled halloumi on veggie burgers, baked camembert with warm bread (thank god bread is vegan), grated cheddar on chilli or pasta…. I could go on but I’ll stop before I run to Tesco and lose my sh*t at the deli counter.

It’s a challenge, but changing habits is what it’s all about. I’ve never been one to give things up for Lent, I’m not religious so never saw the point. As I have proper reasons for doing this, I’m already finding it much easier than I expected.

And according to some, cheese is as addictive as crack, so going cold tofurky may be a smart move.

2. Cake!

A weekend coffee and cake date is one of our main joys in life and while we always opt for dairy-free lattes and vegan cakes where they’re available, the reality of living in a small town means they are seriously limited in places we frequent.

If anyone knows of vegan-friendly options in cafes round our way, please share them to save me from Costa soya lattes!

Now I’m practically a Ribble Valley resident (half a mile out, people!) I’m a big fan of the Benedict’s almond milk latte and we are planning a trip to Lolo’s vegan cafe in Ramsbottom because it looks amazing and people keep telling us to go… But any other secret tip offs will be much appreciated, as it’s sometimes good to have a surprising option in an otherwise “normal” place that keeps everyone happy.

3. Awkwardness

Feeling like a pain in the neck is one of the biggest downsides of being veggie and I do fear taking it to extremes will make me even more of a social outcast. February is already filling up with a wedding on the horizon and several other social occasions, so I plan to just do my best.

Exchanging messages with our vegan friend Jade, she’s enlightened me to the ease of vegan dining and added me to a Facebook group full of ace tips and tricks to navigate the Lancashire culinary landscape.

4. Expense

I get annoyed when people claim switching to healthier eating habits is more expensive as someone on a constant budget; I do my weekly food shop for around £40 for three of us and lentils, chickpeas and seasonal veg are affordable staples.

BUT when it comes to indulgences like vegan chocolate and coconut yogurt it sure adds up. HOWEVER, this list of 44 accidentally vegan snack foods has reassured me dairy-free treat times needn’t break the bank. Obviously one of the main points of this is to adopt (even) more of a plant-based diet, so I don’t plan to exist on Pot Noodles and Pringles, but it’s good to know I could grab a Bournville from the garage if the urge for chocolate takes over (UPDATE: I actually checked my local garage yesterday and they don’t even sell it… WTF Nightingales? So veganist!).

I plan to report back at the end of the month (if I manage to stay out of the cheese aisle for that long).

In the meantime, anyone for an almond milk latte and an Oreo?!

Making a meal of it: how to use up cupboard lurkers

Raise your hand if you’ve ever bought some obscure ingredient, trotting round Tesco on your lunch with big plans to be the next Gwyneth as you wow your friends and family with your carb/dairy/refined/nightshade/lampshade-free culinary style and generally breezy wellness … only for the weekend to roll around.

Now, you find yourself consciously uncoupling from, in fact downright ALOLing at your pretentious midweek self as you serve up a giant bowl of pasta as a side to your Friday night glass (bottle) of wine.

It can’t just be us.

My friend Marie is as food-obsessed as us, to the point where we send each other daily emails detailing our next three meals and weekend eating plans. She’s more of a wartime warrior when it comes to cooking style (and a meat-eater), but we often share recipes and ideas and there is some overlap as she’s health conscious and likes trying new things.

A recent email chat with her alerted me to the fact most of us have a cupboard full of lurkers and therefore a multitude of potential meals sitting there waiting to be discovered. Most of the time we probably ignore them and dash to the shop thinking we don’t have anything in.

Lately, an economy drive prompted me to use up all of those weird and wonderful lurkers, to the point where I now have depressingly empty cupboards.

(No joke, I am actually so skint I helped myself to a half empty – or half full, depending on your outlook on life – bag of quinoa when I was at Chaz’s the other Sunday).

It was actually an enjoyable challenge and a good way to shake up the standard repertoire.

In my inherent boringness, I got really excited thinking up recipes Marie could try but lurkers’ potential is in the eye of the beholder, so you may suggest something completely different based on the same set of ingredients.

So in a Masterchef Invention Test style exercise, we decided to upload the contents of Marie’s cupboards, show you a few things we would do with the lurkers and invite you to suggest your own.

As I mentioned, Marie does eat meat and fish, so while I haven’t suggested anything non-veggie please feel free to – I’m sure she will prefer your ideas to mine if you do!

Help Marie #makeamealofit (before I nip round and pinch those pine nuts).

 

1. Coconut chia pudding

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This recipe on Popsugar sounds easy and delicious, plus can be made on a Sunday and grabbed on your way to work.

 

2. One-pot olive and pine nut pasta

I am about to try my first ever one-pot pasta on recommendation of our friend Jade, who gets recipes from Pinterest so I’ve suggested one to Marie to try.

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PIC: barefeetinthekitchen.com

This recipe from Barefeet In The Kitchen looks really good.

3. Lazy pepper and tomato soup

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PIC: DeliciouslyElla.com

I haven’t tried this before, but I’m pretty sure throwing the following into the Nutribullet would create a decent soup:

  • Passata carton
  • Jar of roasted peppers with the oil
  • Tin of chickpeas/any type of bean for protein and thickness
  • Italian herbs – basil, oregano, herbs de Provence
  • Salt and pepper

Here are a couple of similar recipes which I think would work with their cupboard rather than fresh alternatives:

Deliciously Ella roasted tomato and pepper soup

Italian Food Forever roasted pepper and chickpea soup

All of these would freeze well for quick lunches.

4. Red pepper hummus

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PIC: BBC.co.uk

Not a meal in itself, but a good thing to have in to jazz up other meals or use as an afternoon snack with carrot sticks and celery. The peppers could definitely be blasted with a tin of chickpeas and some spices and seasoning to make a quick hummus.

This BBC recipe looks like a storecupboard masterpiece and I’m sure you could use jarred instead of fresh peppers.

5. Tropical breakfast smoothie

Whizz up the tinned pineapple with a dash of coconut milk, frozen banana, a tablespoon of chia seeds and your choice of milk for a quick morning smoothie.

6. Chickpea coconut curry

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PIC: jessicainthekitchen.com

I love a chickpea coconut curry combo and try a different variation practically every week. This recipe from Jessica In The Kitchen is now next on my list.

So, over to you. How would you combine Marie’s storecupboard lurkers?

Ideas in the comments please…

Chinese taste-away 

Chinese taster menus have been a bit like buses recently, you wait for ages then two come along at once. Plus, they were good value for money, local and you end up sitting with strangers and making small talk. But that’s where the similarities end.

The first was at Roots Restaurant, the new restaurant connected to Accrington and Rossendale college. Ric and I doubled dated with our friends Gareth and Becca (collectively known as The Breakfast Club FYI). This was a venture by level 3 learner Charlotte Benbow, a former pupil who was head chef for the night. She planned, prepped and produced an amazing 5 course taster menu for her qualification which was up to the standard of any fancy restaurant.


First up was the duck / veggie Spring rolls which went down a storm with all of us, washed down with lychee martinis. The veggie starter was a super tasty Vietnamese sweet and sour salad while the meat eaters dived into scallops and kale (I failed to mention I ate seafood and was slightly jealous of their dish but my salad more than made up for that.)

The palate cleanser of dragon fruit and lychee sorbet was just the tonic midway through the meal. The veggie main course came in the form of smoked tofu and shiitake stir fry which was so good I think I spied the meat eaters eyeing it up while they wolfed down their (equally yummy I’ve been told) char Sui pork.


We were all in agreement that the dessert was one of the standout dishes; lemongrass and chilli infused mousse with fruit sushi.


The whole night was a huge success and Charlotte’s passion for cooking shone through as she came and chatted to all the tables at the end. Service was very professional, the decor in the restaurant was modern and stylish and the presentation, not to mention the taste, was amazing.

The college have more speciality nights coming up including Greek, Spanish and French so get yourself booked in! Hopefully see you there 😊

Fast forward a week later and I was lucky enough to find myself at Chinese taster night number 2. This came courtesy of Jenny Phung  at Jade Garden in Accrington, where she’s hosting 6 weeks of supper clubs every Thursday. Jenny’s vision is to show that there’s more to Chinese food than your bog standard takeaway (although there is definitely a time and a place for these, they saw me through many a hangover / fear-filled Sunday during the Oakenshaw party years™). She uses fresh ingredients and caters for veggies, vegans and the health conscious without compromising on taste.

We were seated in traditional Chinese restaurant style, all grouped together (Wagamama style) and all dishes were served to share between us all. First up was the yummy Sichuan cucumbers and pickled mooli.

 

My friend Lianne and I were sandwiched between two couples with whom we soon bonded over the first course of garlicky green gyozas. I have not been able to stop thinking of these since that night, they were one of the tastiest things I’ve eaten in ages. My photography skills do not do them justice.


I was in serious danger of eating all of these until Lianne warned me we were only on ‘snack’ and we still had ‘share’ and ‘sweet’ to go. That’s what friends are for.


It’s a good job she did as the equally delicious tofu baos were up next. Luckily I got dibs on these as my newly found friends (Lianne not included under that title) opted for the chicken version first.


I could’ve happily eaten the whole plate but thought it was only fair to let the others join in after a while.

Next up were big tasty sharing dishes of chilli and ginger pak choi, ginger spring onion noodles and marinated bean sprouts.

The night was topped off by an amazing vegan chocolate and mango silk pie that Deliciously Ella would’ve been proud of. Some of my comrades fell at the wayside here and we’re unable to finish this from being too full but I dug deep and got the job done, it was far too tasty not to.


Another amazing local Chinese taster menu. Jenny has a few more supper clubs coming up over the next few weeks so I’d recommend you get yourself booked in if you like what you see!

 

 

Bake me off : Tasty treats for the GBBO finale

If, like us, you’ve been glued to the TV every Wednesday at 8.00 to watch GBBO, you’ll be equally sad and excited by the fact that the final is merely hours away. Whether you’re nuts for Nadiya, eager for Ian to win or rooting for tasty Tamal, I’m sure tonight’s last instalment won’t disappoint. In the spirit of tonight’s final we’ve compiled a list of our favourite healthy bakes should you be inclined to get your apron on and get baking…

1. Naturally Sassy’s peanut butter and chocolate cheesecake

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This is seriously good. Although it can be a faff to make (there are 3 layers and a lot of ingredients) it’s definitely worth it. The middle section is so good that I eat most of it before it even gets to the cake. I made this for Faye for her birthday last year and it went down a storm.

2. Secret Squirrel Food’s Choc banana chia pudding

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If you’re really sad for the Bake-Off to be over this dessert will really chia you up (sorry, I couldn’t resist). The cacao is full of anti-oxidants and the chia seeds contain lots of protein so there’s no excuse not to tuck in. If you make extra it can also be eaten for a tasty but fun breakfast the next day.

3. Fruit Crumble

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A favourite of ours growing up, Sandy used to make an amazing crumble. It’s the perfect dessert for a cold autumn night, I like to do a banana one and if you’re a cheapskate like Ali you don’t even have to buy your own apples (they were foraged, not stolen, she tells me). This Deliciously Ella recipe has a step-by-step guide on how to make it and you can vary it with whatever fruit you’ve got in.

4. Banana Ice Cream

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This has been a firm favourite of mine since the Bake Off has been on. I start every Wednesday evening with good intentions but as soon as the opening credits begin I start craving something sweet. You can knock this up in minutes, all you need to do is blend a few frozen bananas along with some almond milk, and vanilla essence if you have any. Then top it with whatever you’ve got in; I usually go for cacoa nibs, desiccated coconut and a squeeze of agave.

Let us know if there’s any healthy dessert recipes you think we should try, in the name of blogging we’ll give them all a whirl!

Pistou: a summer soup

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I’m a bit of a Rick Stein fan (I blame years of subtle brainwashing from my friend Claire who shares an obsession with her mum) though I have to admit I have never actually tried any of his recipes, I seem to catch re-runs of his shows and find myself drawn in as he gets over-excited about new places and cuisines.

I caught one such show the other night featuring his take on the Provençal classic soupe au pistou (sort of a French minestrone). It’s a light, summery soup perfect for this time of year – I gave it a whirl and it was a hit. I am not usually the sort who is satisfied with a mere bowl of soup for tea and admittedly this was accompanied by an entire loaf of sourdough with butter between two of us, but the soup itself definitely held its own and I had lots of admiring snapchat comments, so I thought why not share the discovery?

With beans and courgettes growing in the allotment it’s should be a cheap and seasonal dish with plenty of protein from the beans for midweek lunches and quick teas. I’m posting this on a Sunday as it’s the perfect thing to batch cook today (I think it would work in the slow cooker too though I’m yet to try so let me know how you get on) and enjoy through the week.

The pistou sauce is made separately and either stirred in or added to serve. As the name suggests it’s similar to pesto, minus the nuts. Pistou is Provençal for “pounded” because that’s traditionally the sort of rough love they gave the veggies. But they also served it cold so I’ll be giving the rules a wide berth here.

I added the pistou to serve because I had 5:2 victim Chaz coming for tea on a fast day the following evening. It came in at 164 cals minus the sauce and was perfectly tasty on its own (I added bouillon to make sure of it).

I swapped parmesan for emmental in the pistou because it’s veggie, Tesco’s own hard cheese is too (v cheap). Some versions use Swiss or hard sheep’s cheese anyway. If you leave out the pistou it’s also vegan, use gluten-free spaghetti if you’re that way inclined.

Disclaimer: this is actually based on Jamie Oliver’s version (a few tweaks so you have exactly what I made) because it’s way shorter and easier which is what Kings and Greens is all about. So apologies Rick but thanks for the inspiration! Although easy, it does take a LOT of chopping to get the veg as small as they fail to state in the recipe but it invariably appears in pictures (Jo – you may want to download the entire Taylor Swift album to see you through).

This is a great option for 5:2 disciples dining with partners/friends/kids, because you can add the pistou and bread for them without having to faff about making separate meals (then weep silently into the bowl at the sight of those delicious carbs).

Makes 8 generous bowls.

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Ingredients

  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 leek, sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped (I used lazy garlic)
  • 3 potatoes, chopped (I used 6 small Jersey royals)
  • 3 carrots, chopped
  • 2 tbsp chopped parsley and thyme
  • 3 courgettes, chopped
  • 250g baby green beans
  • 1 x 400g can cannellini beans, drained
  • 1 x 400g can borlotti beans, drained
  • 1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp bouillon/vegetable stock
  • 75g broken up wholewheat spaghetti

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Pistou sauce

  • 5 garlic cloves
  • Small handful fresh basil leaves
  • 60g grated parmesan/emmental/alternative
  • 3 tbsp olive oil (I used more because this didn’t make it enough of a paste; just keep adding until it is)

Method

1. Heat the oil in your biggest pan over a medium heat and add the onion, leek and garlic for 5 mins. Add all the other ingredients except the pasta then cover with water, season well and simmer till the vegetables are tender. Add the pasta and simmer till cooked, adding water if the soup is too thick.

2. For the pistou sauce, combine the garlic, basil and sea salt in a mortar and pound with pestle until puréed, add the parmesan and olive oil to make a paste. Serve the soup with a dollop of pistou.

Nutritional info (per serving minus the pistou)

  • Calories 164
  • Fat 1.1g
  • Carbs 29.3g
  • Protein 8.5g
  • Fiber 8.3g
  • Vitamin A 6.4%
  • Vitamin C 36.8%
  • Calcium 2.1%
  • Iron 2.5%

Smack my batch up: be a summer meal prep maestro

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Batch cooking always feels like more of a winter activity, ideally accompanied by Spotify and a large glass of red, but chatting to our friend Jo has been reminding me lately of all the ways to update it for the summer months.

After hitting a bit of a cooking plateau a month or so ago Jo decided to start batch cooking different sorts of things to make up “bowl” lunches rather than the curries, stews and chillies that permeate a winter batch session. Spending a few hours on Sunday afternoon prepping a variety of options meant she could pick and choose bits she fancied that day and wasn’t as bored by the same old choices as she had been before. Useful inspiration for me so I thought it may help other people experiencing the same recipe rut.

Here are a few of Jo’s favourites and a couple of other ideas to form your rotating lunch/easy dinner plan.

Roasted veggies

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Absolutely anything you have in the fridge will do, but here are a few combos for ideas. Simply chop chunkily, season accordingly and roast in the oven for 25 – 45 minutes depending on the size and type of veggies.

  • Carrot, sweet potato and butternut squash with cinnamon and paprika
  • Red pepper, courgette and aubergine with oregano and basil
  • Fennel, tomato and leek with thyme
  • Beetroot, carrot and potato with rosemary and honey

Any of these taste just as good cold so make the perfect addition to a salad lunch bowl.

Kale salad

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An oldie but a fave, this works with just about everything and is great with added pomegranates, goji berries and/or avocado.

  • Bag of kale, stalks removed
  • 1tbsp tahini
  • 1tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1tbsp soy sauce
  • Juice of 1 lime

All you need to do is mix the dressing ingredients together (I use a mug and a fork) and massage into the kale until it starts to wilt. Unlike its cousin (in my head) spinach, this keeps really well so will last most of the week for lunch combos.

Protein punch

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If you eat meat and/or fish, you could always batch these up too to save yourself precious crashing on the sofa time during the week.

Chicken or turkey breasts, fillets of salmon, cod, trout or tuna – all of these can be easily oven baked wrapped in foil for 15 (thinner fish fillets) to 30 minutes seasoned as you like it. Chaz does a mean soy and agave salmon, you meat lovers could try a lemon and thyme combo in your poultry parcels (or please feel free to recommend more options in the comments as this isn’t exactly my area of expertise) and you could add some veg in with it too.

Kept sealed in Tupperware in the fridge, these will last a good few days if cooked fresh for desk lunches and can be eaten cold either artfully placed on top or shredded to mingle with your chosen salad components.

Cucumber salad

This is one of those mega simple things I sometimes forget to do but once again Jo reminded me. She chops up cucumber, cherry tomatoes and red peppers, seasons and keeps in Tupperware in the fridge all week to have as a side with everything. Not a fan of chopping, Jo likes hers chunky, you could do it tiny if you wanted to/could be bothered. This would also be great with a squeeze of lemon or lime, some chilli flakes, chopped fresh mint or basil.

Grab a grain

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Cooking up a big pan of brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, pearl barley, bulgur wheat or any other grain at the weekend will set you up with a good foundation for many a midweek meal. I add bouillon stock or various combinations or herbs, apple cider vinegar and sea salt to mine during cooking (Jak swore he didn’t like rice until he tried it with a bit of bouillon added, now I have almost graduated to those giant sacks on the World Foods aisle), then put some fresh lime or lemon in the Tupperware to squeeze over when I come to eat it. I actually prefer most of these cold so they work well for summer.

Dress it up

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Whizzing up a weekend dressing to see you through the week is a good way to add an extra zing to those salads (nothing worse than a bland salad). Store in old jam, olive or sun-dried tomato jars and you can easily transport to work to serve, no one likes a soggy salad. I have been meaning to try the one in the pic above for ages because I’m a not-so-secret Goop fan and I love Mindy Kaling so if it gets her seal of approval it must be good.

I’ve displayed the image as large as poss so you can have a good nosey, if this works out I may finally invest in the It’s All Good cookbook I’ve been threatening to purchase for yonks.

Gingery buckwheat granola

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As you can see above I somehow burnt this the first and only time I tried it despite staring into the oven the entire time to avoid such an episode, so I’m planning to make it again this weekend to satisfy my worrying granola obsession which is currently costing me far too much in fancy boxes of the good stuff.

This recipe is modified from Deliciously Ella’s. At first I refused to accept baking raw buckwheat would render it edible, but trust me it works.

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Makes one big container.

  • 2 cups of oats (220g
  • 1 cup of uncooked buckwheat groats (280g)
  • 1 cup of sunflower seeds (200g)
  • 1 cup of pumpkin seeds (200g)
  • 1 and a ½ cups of pitted dates (300g)
  • 6 tablespoons of coconut oil
  • 4 tablespoons of raw cacao powder
  • A piece of ginger (20g) – I actually just used a tbsp of ground ginger powder which worked for me

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C
  2. Place the oats, buckwheat and seeds into a large mixing bowl and stir well
  3. Add the dates and coconut oil into a pan and simmer for five minutes, until the dates are nice and soft
  4. While the dates cook peel the ginger and grate it onto a plate, once it’s grated mix it into the date pan
  5. When the dates are soft place them (including the melted coconut oil and ginger) into a blender with the raw cacao powder and blend until smooth. Then pour the mix over the buckwheat, oat and seed mix and stir well to coat
  6. Grease one large or two medium baking trays with coconut oil before spreading the mix out
  7. Place the baking trays in the oven and bake for about forty five minutes. After fifteen minutes remove the trays from the oven and stir everything well so that the top doesn’t burn, then keep doing this every five to ten minutes for the rest of the time it’s in the oven.
  8. Once it’s nice and crispy, but not burnt, remove from the oven and allow it to cool before placing it in an airtight container. It will keep for about a month if you’re that restrained; mine lasted less than a week.

Easy hummus

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I got the hummus.

A fail-safe fridge staple, I think I’ve made this most weeks for the past year.

  • 2 tins of chickpeas, drained
  • 2tbsp tahini
  • Juice of 1 or 2 lemons
  • 1tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed, or a tsp of lazy garlic (you know I’m that lazy)
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup water
  • S&P

Just throw everything into the food processor and whizz until smooth. I rarely use a recipe nowadays, just keep tasting until it’s right so use that as a base to go with your tastebuds. God bless the chickpea!

Spicy crispy chickpeas

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These are great for snacking, as a side or part of your bowl of goodness. I first tried them at the Assheton Arms in Downham, near Clitheroe, with piri piri swordfish and citrusy quinoa and I couldn’t wait to try them myself. My subsequent attempts are pictured above. Any spice mix would work.

  • 1 tin of cooked chickpeas
  • 1tbsp olive oil
  • 1tsp sea salt
  • Black pepper (however much you like)
  • 1tsp chilli powder
  • 1tsp paprika
  • Half a tsp teaspoon garlic powder

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 150
  2. Pat chickpeas dry between two pieces of kitchen roll to remove loose skins
  3. Pour chickpeas on a baking tray and drizzle with oil. Use your hands or a spoon to coat the chickpeas. In a small bowl, combine the seasonings.
  4. Sprinkle the mixture onto the chickpeas and toss to coat. Bake for 45 minutes, stirring the chickpeas at the 15 minute mark. I bake mine until they’re crispy but you can remove earlier if you like.

Friday fuel: a few ways with courgette

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I only ever used to buy courgettes to pad out a meal as a calorie saving initiative. I didn’t mind the taste but they were always just an addition to a meal that I could give or take. As Ali explained in her controversial and troll-enducing post about turning veggie, it was our first trip to Green’s vegetarian restaurant that made us realise that each vegetable deserves to be enjoyed in its own right and is more than capable of playing the lead role in any meal.

With that in mind we’ve taken on our next cooking corner challenge with the humble courgette and here’s what we did:

Courgetti with vegan kale pesto

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Courgetti is big these days – so big that Deliciously Ella even chose it as her cover picture meal for her cookbook. It’s so easy to make with a spiralizer (we got ours from UK juicers but if you want to be trendy Hemsley and Hemsley have released their own version too) but if you haven’t got one you can grate your courgette with a wide grater to make more pappardelle style strips.

It’s a great alternative to spaghetti and if you’re just dipping your foot in the whole health food thing a great way to start is by replacing the spag of your spag bol. If you’re following the 5:2 diet as we are at the mo, courgetti makes perfect fast day fuel too as it’s about 18 cals for a medium sized courgette (enough to fill a decent sized bowl). Most importantly, spiralizing is REALLY fun to do. Jak swears he’s never seen Ali happier than she was the day her spiralizer arrived and she ate courgette for lunch every day for about a fortnight after (snapchats from our friends Kate and Mark recently suggested they had a similar experience).

If you’d rather keep it raw then it’s ready as soon as you’ve spiralized, but I prefer to sauté some onions, peas and mushrooms then add the courgetti to the pan for a few minutes. I usually use one courgette per person but if you’re extra hungry you can make two and you don’t even feel like you’re being greedy, the more the merrier when it comes to veg! Once it’s warm all you need to do is stir in the pesto (find our recipe for that here) and if you’re not avoiding dairy, pop a bit of goat’s cheese on top.

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Courgette and halloumi falafel

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We first had this at our friend Amy’s house as she’s an amazing cook. When Ali turned veggie rather than being put out she was actually excited by the challenge and has served up some delicious plant-based meals since then, which we invariably end up copying, like her beetroot and goat’s cheese risotto and these incredible falafels she whipped up from her Abel and Cole veg box using one of their recipes.

Al has made this a regular fixture on her weekly meal list ever since. It’s gone down so well in her house that it was the only meal Jak wanted to eat at one point (his record is 11 in one sitting), and the fact that she isn’t sick of it already after that is testament to how tasty they are (they were even given the thumbs up by our friend Jo’s veg loathing husband David so they are the perfect dish to convert a hater).

Ingredients:

  • 200g courgette, coarsely grated
  • 150g halloumi, coarsely grated
  • 100g breadcrumbs (we whizz up some wholemeal/gluten free bread in the food processor/Nutribullet but you can also use oats if you don’t have any bread in)
  • A large handful fresh mint, finely chopped
  • 1 lemon
  • A pinch of chilli powder/flakes or finely chopped fresh chilli
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Olive or sunflower oil for shallow frying
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Method:

1. Grate the courgette then stick in a sieve with a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper, squeeze out some of the water with your hands then pop it into a large bowl.
2. Grate the halloumi in next then whizz up your breadcrumbs and throw in with the chopped up mint (lazy tip no 1: Al often uses the food processor for the mint too). Grate in the zest of the lemon then add a squeeze of juice, some chilli powder/flakes and the beaten egg (lazy tip no 2: Al also buys halloumi with added chilli to save herself an extra second).
3. Roll the mix into little falafel sized balls, smaller is better so they cook more evenly, the mix should make about 15 – 19 small ones or 10 larger ones. If it’s too wet, add more breadcrumbs. If it’s too dry, add more grated courgette.
4. Chill the falafels for a bit if you have time (they’ll cook better – you could make the mix the night before if you’re organised enough), if not don’t worry. They’re best pan fried with a bit of olive oil, it takes 5 minutes of turning them until all sides are golden. Alternatively, you can oven bake for around 15 minutes turning regularly. Ali serves these with wholemeal pittas, sweet potato wedges, sliced avo and homemade hummus but they’d go nicely with a quinoa salad too. Apologies for the rubbish pic, they never last long enough to take a decent one.
(Recipe taken from Abel and Cole)

Lastly on our courgette hit list are courgette fries which we’ve had at Gusto and Piccolinos but are yet to attempt ourselves and courgette cake, which we have tasted at various healthy cafés but is still on the K&G to do list. Keep your courgettes and eyes peeled for the results of these coming soon. Have you got any new courgette recipes we can try?

courgette and lemon cake

Picture from pinterest
Picture from pinterest

 All pictures taken by us or from Pinterest

Superfoods with attitude: what you need to know

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Superfoods are everywhere and it’s hard to know where to start.

If you’re dipping your toe into the world of wholefoods I’d start by saying you don’t really *need* to know your matcha from your maca as the basics are just about good, honest caveman sort of grub that you can pick up anywhere like fruit, vegetables and grains.

There may well, however, come a time when the call of the super supplements beckons you down this colourful path on the baobab-brick road to healthy harmony.

We’ve put together a top 10 cheat sheet to tell you what you need to know about the latest buzz food.

1. Cacao

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Not a typo, cacao proves chocolate really IS good for you if you stick to its purest unrefined form. Buy from Amazon, add to smoothies, porridge or crumbles for a choco-hit or use to bake brownies, cakes, mousses and cheesecakes guilt-free. Naturally bitter, you will have to sweeten it up a bit with honey, maple or agave but it’s packed with antioxidants, is a rich source of magnesium, iron and zinc and even reduces your blood pressure and risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease.

It’s raw because it’s made by cold-pressing unroasted cocoa beans – a process that takes out the fat and preserves the living enzymes (aka the good stuff). Cocoa, on the other hand, is raw cacao roasted at high temps, which takes away the healthy stuff. It’s a natural mood-enhancer minus the comedown. Do I need to go on?

2. Chia seeds

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One of the first “health foods” I bought was a pack of chia seeds which are now widely available at supermarkets as well as health food stores. Turned out to be a smart choice because they’re insanely good for you.

These teeny weeny seeds native to Mexico were used to fuel Aztec warriors for good reason – they pack a powerful punch in the nutrition stakes. They’ve long been lauded as a natural source of energy – the word itself is ancient Mayan for “strength” – and just a 2tbsp serving contains 4g of protein, 11g of fibre and 5g of Omega-3 fatty acids (great way to get these if you don’t eat fish) and are a great non-dairy source of calcium.

Super-hydrating and loaded with antioxidants, chia seeds are easy to throw into smoothies, porridge and sprinkle on any meal for a boost. They can also be soaked to form a jelly-like egg alternative for vegan baking (they expand to 12 times their size – this frogspawn type situation isn’t for everyone but if you fancy trying it I enjoyed this chia pudding from Deliciously Ella).

3. Maca

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Not to be confused with our deep sea diving mate or indeed the Beatle, maca is a malty-tasting root belonging to the radish family that is popping up in powder form at a health shop near you. Dubbed Nature’s Viagra, I can vouch for its energising properties after adding it to afternoon cacao milkshakes before regularly sprinting the 7 miles home with a spring in my step since ordering some last month (though I wouldn’t like to say whether it has the same effect on pensioners’ bedroom antics).

Great for skin, bones and teeth, it’s also said to boost your mood and alleviate cramps, aches, anxiety and mood swings you may be unfortunate enough to experience while surfing the crimson wave. A word of warning – it’s powerful stuff so 1tbsp a day will be quite enough and best to avoid if pregnant or your hormones may not forgive you.

This ancient Peruvian superfood loses its superpowers in the face of heat (maca’s personal Kryptonite) so use in smoothies, energy balls and no-bake puds.

4. Matcha

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Next time you buy green tea (if ever) look out for one that includes matcha as it’s 10 times more nutritious than the standard stuff.

Not to be confused with maca, matcha is a cancer-fighting, metabolism-boosting, fat-burning wonder leaf. Thousands of years ago, Japanese monks drank matcha to stay calm yet alert – two things most of us strive for but generally fail to achieve on a day-to-day basis. All the benefits of coffee without the headaches and twitchy energy.

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Defiant enjoyment of a matcha green tea latte after the hipster barista warned her it was a very “niche” beverage

5. Spirulina

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I’ve started adding a spoonful of spirulina (the lesser known Mary Poppins mantra) to green smoothies after discovering this microalgae (I know, ew) is 65% protein with amazing weight loss and anti-inflammatory properties, which means it’s packing a punch in the disease-prevention stakes.

As well as fighting physical diseases, super spirulina is said to aid mental and emotional conditions like anxiety, stress, depression and ADHD, not to mention alleviating PMS. It also makes your smoothies a really cool shade of green, so there’s also that.

6. Bee pollen

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Loved by Victoria Beckham and preached by Gwyneth Paltrow, bee pollen is the latest superfood to hit the headlines and comes in granule form which you can easily sprinkle onto smoothies, oats and salads if you’re that way inclined. These teeny honey-coloured granules contain just about every nutrient the human body needs, including amino acids and folic acid.

Trying to get pregnant? Bee pollen is an aphrodisiac, stimulates ovarian function and boosts hormones so when you add the folic acid to that dream team of benefits it’s a quadruple threat in that department.

Another great source of vegetarian protein, it’s good for runners as it increases stamina and fights fatigue. It can be used for skin conditions like eczema and even has antibiotic type properties to fight against disease.

7. Nutritional yeast

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Not to be confused with normal yeast and now available in Accrington’s One Planet store thanks to demanding Hyndburn vegan Jade, nutritional yeast came onto my radar about a year ago as it was included in a lot of the recipes I was trying out. I found omitting it wasn’t a massive issue, but when I started adding it I discovered its delicious cheesey tang is probably what stops vegans craving a giant baked camembert.

Full of vitamins, protein and all 18 amino acids (important), NY is naturally free of dairy, soy, gluten and sugar. All of the B vitamins here help depression, insomnia, fatgiure, PMS, skin, hair and memory, so heap it into savoury dishes like risotto, veggie burgers and soups.

Just don’t sub it for normal yeast in baking (Home Alone cat emoji).

8. Hemp seeds and powder

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The ultimate in hippy living, hemp seeds and powder are yet another great way to get your plant protein if you don’t eat meat or fish. A 2/3tbsp handful is easy and inoffensively tasting enough to add to porridge or smoothies and gives you a whopping 10g protein. Hemp is actually a not so distant cousin of cannabis and is an excellent way to get a fibre and magnesium high too (for healthy hearts).

9. Baobab

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My first experience of baobab was at the Eden Project last summer. I was determined not to enjoy my visit because I was desperate to get home from a Cornish getaway to catch up with friends, while my nature freak boyfriend insisted on “making the most of the journey” by taking in the sights on the way home (I’m firmly in the early start, Starbucks and Kindle-fuelled travelling camp). My mood lifted (predictably) at lunch when I saw the amazing healthy food on offer, by the time it came to ordering a coconut baobab ice cream for pudding I was all for running away with the tree huggers.

I scream for ice cream: refusing to raise a smile after being told I was "looking and acting like the biggest baby at the Eden Project",

I scream for ice cream: refusing to raise a smile after being told I was “looking and acting like the biggest baby at the Eden Project”

Get this iron-rich super nutritious fruit in powder form for alertness, energy, immune boosting, hydration and healthy skin.

10. Acai

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This berry has attained superfood status because of its antioxidants (which fight diseases like cancer), vitamins, fatty acids and fibre. I invested in some acai berry powder last month after drooling over a series of purple smoothie bowls on Pinterest and though I’m yet to experiment fully its flavoursome inclusion in one of my favourite fruit teas bodes well.

No need to go nuts, though, acai berries have most of the same health benefits as more common fruits like blueberries, pomegranates and mangoes.

Is it worth it?

I love a health fad but I would not advising splashing out on all of these in one crazed payday Amazon spree. I’ve accumulated a modest collection over the past year or so and I enjoy trying them out, but they are not necessary for a healthy lifestyle, they’re just nice additions to work your way up to in my book.

Have you tried any of these? Or have you got any others we should check out?

Images from Pinterest, Amazon or taken by us