Food: My #YearofVeganLunches Challenge

I’ve mentioned this more on my Instagram grid that on here, but one of my goals for the year is to aim to make all of my lunchboxes vegan throughout the year. I’m doing this for a few reasons – but mainly to prove a point after someone mockingly bet me I couldn’t eat many vegan dishes. I’m stubborn, me. It’s also to cut down on the amount of meat I eat, although a lot of my lunchboxes were veggie anyway, and to remove the unnecessary cheese. Lunch looks a bit boring, add a generous helping of feta. Pasta? Grate half a block of Parmesan on it. You get the picture.

 photo Vegan Lunches_zpsdg4bkab1.jpgThat said, I’m not being overly strict. I don’t want to end up dreading lunchtime and craving the canteen’s chips instead. I don’t want to give up on this challenge a few months in. And so it’s onto the self-imposed ‘rules’…

  • The challenge is for lunchboxes only, which means eating out, weekends and study days tend not to fall under the challenge. I’ve actually found myself picking more vegan options on these days anyway, but I needed to lift the restriction when eating out as vegan + tomato allergy ain’t as easy as you’d imagine!
  • Ignore pasta, as long as the sauces and accompaniments are vegan. I know you can get vegan pasta, but we have so much of it anyway (as we buy in bulk) so I’m not sweating it for this challenge. As long as I don’t serve up a mac’n’cheese (with proper milk/cheese!) I kinda feel that’s okay! Though I do have some vegan chickpea pasta to try out from my latest Degustabox (gifted) so we’ll see how that goes…
  • Avoiding waste trumps this challenge. Whilst I’m no longer creating my lunchboxes around planned leftovers (they go into dinners instead) I will still refuse to see waste just because ‘its not vegan’ if it can otherwise be thrown into my lunchbox. Case in point was a delicious yoghurt based dressing from a Taco Salad (this recipe) a few weeks ago. It went wonderfully over the bean mix I had in my lunchbox that week, but would have ended up down the drain if not. Likewise if there’s a bit of feta going to waste in the fridge (because it comes in packs that are generally far too big) then I would sooner eat it in a lunch than throw it out!
  • No meat substitutes (and I’m not crazy about the amount of sugar in the Oatly cream and creme fraiche substitutes either…). Though I have to say I’m curious about pulled peas…

And so far, this approach is working out really well for me. I’ve had some damn tasty lunches – highlights have been a mushroom and lentil stew/soup combo (I’ve since re-made this as more of a stew with borlotti beans and leeks and have five portions stashed in the freezer), an amaaaazzzzing chickpea soup with tahini and a surprisingly tasty throw-together salad of lentils, kale and roasted broccoli. The sort of thing I’d have thrown feta on top of without a moments thought, but actually was all the better without it.

Have you tried going vegan, or eating more vegan options?

Recipe: Curried Haddock Chowder

Chowder. My biggest food love of 2018. We discovered it on honeymoon, when I managed to eat probably 7 bowls of the stuff over the trip (and given food was a big part of the trip, anything repeated even twice had to be good!). Whilst I haven’t recreated the New England Clam version that absolutely has my heart, this version has become a regular on our meal plan.

 photo Curried Chowder_zpsryikvxl4.jpgIt’s fairly budget friendly, which gives it a big advantage over the clam version. It’s also fairly quick to make which makes it the absolute perfect afterwork supper. This recipe makes 2 massive bowlfuls, and it’s wonderful hearty. Chunks of veg and fish, and the most beautiful spiced broth. You can vary the spicing to suit your tastes, but I tend to go on the hotter end of the spectrum – mainly because every time I’ve made it one or both of us has been suffering from a cold. And the best thing is that it could be easily bulked up. Add naan bread if you’re super hungry, and a handful of prawns stirred in would be amazing too. In fact, I think I might have to try that tonight…

 photo Curried Haddock Chowder 6_zpsvvaboctk.jpg photo Curried Haddock Chowder 8_zpsgcizsct5.jpgRecipe (serves 2, or would stretch to 3 if served with some naan bread)

  • 2 fillets of smoked haddock (I used frozen and defrosted in the fridge during the day)
  • 1 onion
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 small leek
  • 1 celery stick
  • 2 medium potatoes (around 250g)
  • 1 red chilli
  • 1 tbsp of curry powder (if you don’t have any of the other spices, up this to 2 tbsp)
  • ½ tsp of ground cumin
  • ½ tsp of ground coriander
  • ½ tsp of turmeric
  • 400ml of stock (I normally use chicken, but vegetable or fish would also work well)
  • 50-1000ml of cream, depending on how creamy you would like it
  • Large handful of fresh coriander, chopped

First up, chop your veg. Finely dice the onion, carrot and celery, and finely slice the leek. Peel the potato and cut into dice, about 3-4cm cubed. In a large pan, heat a splash of olive oil and add the onions, carrot, celery, and chilli with a pinch of salt, and sweat for 10-12 minutes. When the vegetables are soft, add the spices and stir in. Fry for 2 minutes, then add the stock and diced potatoes. Simmer for 15 minutes until the potatoes are almost cooked.

Add the cream and bring back to the boil. Tear in the haddock and simmer for five minutes, then add the coriander and stir in. I sometimes stir in some fresh spinach too for some extra greens. Season well with plenty of black pepper, then serve in bowls.

 photo Curried Haddock Chowder 4_zpskiun775u.jpgThis Curried Chowder is perfect on a winter’s night, I think I’m addicted to it! So comforting and flavourful, it could also be made in a big batch and served as part of an informal dinner party.

Have you ever tried chowder?

Review: Nose to Tail Eating at St John, Smithfield

Perhaps one of the least pretentious Michelin-starred restaurants in London (to the point we were debating whether it had one – it does), the slightly shabbier decor both inside and out means it’s all about the food at St John. Very industrial, and I was worried as the bar area was actually cold as we walked through, but thankfully the dining room was warm and a little comfier.

 photo St John_zpst2dxrxgc.jpgWe started with some great bread (though the butter was a tad too cold – perhaps it has also spent some time in the bar area!) and ordered what turned out to be a couple of glasses of some very nice red. The menu also wasn’t what I was expecting – I was expecting meat, and a lot of it, but there was also a fairly decent balance of fish and veg on there too. Not a huge amount of choice, and some options just far enough out there to really excite me. I’m the type of person to order the offal, the rabbit, the thing that you have to google, and I’d been looking forward to this meal since booking a few months prior.

And it was worth the wait. Again, there was a complete lack of pretentiousness. No showy-off plating of ingredients. Nothing cooked in a particularly fancy way. Just excellent quality ingredients, cooked quite right, paired with exactly the right flavours, and in properly big portions to boot.

 photo St John Restaurant Review 2_zps51eir7gr.jpgI ordered what is perhaps considered to be their signature dish as my starter. I’d been day-dreaming about it since booking and was honestly waking up in sweats in case it wasn’t on the menu (daily menus are published at 5pm, so you won’t know what you’re getting when you book). Fortunately for me, and possibly the sanity of those around me, it was very much on there. Roast bone marrow served with a parsley and caper salad was served undeniably simply, with some more excellent bread grilled to a dry yet not burnt toast. It was very much a get-stuck-in type dish, I was pushing and scraping the marrow out onto toast, and adding salad and seasoning as I saw fit. I was in a greasy mess by the end of it (not a first date dish) but a very happy greasy mess. The bone marrow was rich and comforting, the salad sharp and cutting through it exactly right.

 photo St John Restaurant Review 1_zpsb1ye6gfb.jpgMy husband went slightly more refined with a Pork Cheek and Dandelion Salad. Crispy and crunchy hunks of meat, and really pepperly leaves in a dressing strong with mustard. It wasn’t a dish for the faint-hearted and I thought the dressing was perhaps a tad over-powdering, but it was 100% something I’d eat a whole plate of.

Once I saw the main courses on offer they was never any doubt in what I was ordered. I’ve loved faggots since childhood and find they near impossible to get hold of in London, so I said yes please and thank you to Kid Faggots with Mash and Onion Gravy. Greens on the side, because I needed to reassure myself I had eaten at least one of my five-a-day during the meal. These combined of a mixture of heart, kidneys and liver all wrapped in caul fat. I felt the outside could have done with some crisping up, but it was a heart, delicious plateful that I didn’t want to end. The inside of the faggots was nicely textured – certainly not mush, and you could just about pick out the differing tastes and textures of the different elements. And despite it’s wishy-washy appearance, the sauce accompanying the onions was packed full of flavour. Not that you need a sauce, because that mash was certainly creamy and buttery enough to hold it’s own! Greens were also spectacular, buttery and a little bitter. Not necessary, but given there’s no additional veg on the plate they did add some balance.

 photo St John Restaurant Review 5_zpsjtzbucbg.jpg photo St John Restaurant Review 4_zpstxjnl391.jpg photo St John Restaurant Review 3_zpskrigyy7j.jpgW went for a Saddle of Pork dish with Red Cabbage, and this is the reason why I’ve not been able to buy pork since. It was quite honestly the best tasting bit of pig I’ve had the fortune to try, and no Sunday Roast will ever be the same again. Was it fancy? Certainly not. But it was damn tasty. As we ate they sold out of the salad cut, so moved on to serving the same dish but with another cut of pork. Nose to tail eating at it’s finest.

Though talking about the sides, I’m still a little bitter I couldn’t talk my husband into sharing the Welsh Rarebit with me. Next time.

 photo St John Restaurant Review 8_zpsddv2rngo.jpg photo St John Restaurant Review 7_zpse4mq2yeh.jpgTo be fair to him, I was struggling at this point. As was he – to the point he looked slightly panicked when they surprising him with a birthday treat of some (absolutely wonderful) ginger ice-cream. I stole a good few spoonfuls as it went perfectly with my Ginger Loaf with Butterscotch Sauce (also served with vanilla ice-cream, but the ginger was better). Surprisingly this wasn’t over-sweet, and was pretty much everything I always hope a Sticky Toffee Pudding would be…Eccles Cake with Cheese was also a good choice, and we rolled out of the restaurant too very full, very happy people.

Have you ever visited St John? Where’s the best meal you’ve had of 2019 so far?

Recipe: Peanut Protein Pancakes with Degustabox [gifted]

One of the things I’ve become really conscious of over the last few months is making sure my diet contains enough protein. We’re gradually cutting down on the amount of meat we do eat, and my vegan lunchbox challenge means I’m avoiding dairy and eggs a large amount of time too – so I’m keen to find easy ways we can squeeze in an extra portion. It turns out that the January Degustabox* was perfect for this.

 photo Peanut Butter Protein Pancakes_zpsqoklx0au.jpgIt was full to the brim of all sorts of goodies – with the nice added touch that they squeezed in some extra protein into our diet. The Protein Crunchy Rye Breads from Ryvita were absolutely delicious, and perfect with a vegan soup as part of my lunchbox challenge (more on that next week!). We’ll definitely be picking up more of them in the future. I also loved that a variety of plain rice and lentil cakes were including – topped with peanut butter they’re my go-to rushed breakfast or quick study day snack and I’ve really enjoyed the branded versions. In fact they were so much nicer and the price point actually isn’t as extreme as I’d though, so I’m converted!

This post, however, is all about the PBfit powder. It really surprised me by being so delicious just made into peanut butter with water (think Reese’s and you’re not too far of) but I also found it such a great and easy thing to bake with. I also loved that it made pancakes actually fill me up for longer too – usually I’m ravenous after a couple of hours, but this recipe got me right through up until lunch. It’s full of peanut flavour, the pancakes themselves are nice and fluffy (and not too sweet) and it goes perfectly with the fresh raspberry ‘jam’ made with chia and some yoghurt. Save to say this is perfect for pancake day – or indeed any day!

 photo Peanut Butter Protein Pancakes 5_zpsifcvgcum.jpg photo Peanut Butter Protein Pancakes 7_zpsa0nwm6tb.jpgRecipe (serves 2 – the batter keeps in the fridge for a day, or you could make the pancakes in advance and reheat in a low oven)

  • 175ml milk (plus a splash more if needed – I found one batch was fine, but another needed a touch more)
  • 1 large egg
  • 75g plain flour
  • 25g peanut butter powder
  • pinch of ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • Vegetable oil or butter, for frying
  • For the ‘jam’ – a handful of fresh or frozen raspberries and a generous tablespoon of chia seeds

First off, make the jam. This can be made in advance, I find it keeps well in the fridge for about five days. Simply heat the raspberries in a small pan (add a splash of water if they’ve fresh) and once soft and juicy squish them with the back of a spoon. Stir in the chia seeds, and keep stirring until you have a sticky and jam like texture – if you want you can blend it at this stage but I quite like the texture from the seeds.

For the pancakes, whisk the milk and eggs in a jug, then set aside. Sieve the flour and the baking powder into a bowl, add the peanut powder and cinnamon, then stir to combine. Gradually add in the milk and egg mixture and beat well – don’t worry if it’s a little lumpy. Heat a little oil or butter in a frying pan over a medium heat and, when hot, pour half a ladle of batter into the pan. I go for pancakes that are a little smaller, say around 6-8cm in diametter
Cook until bubbles start to form and the underside is golden, then flip the pancake over and cook the other side for a few minutes. Keep warm in a low over whilst you use up the remaining batter – I usually get 6-8 pancakes out of this recipe.

 photo Peanut Butter Protein Pancakes 3_zpsi5yhsrnz.jpg photo Peanut Butter Protein Pancakes 6_zps1fdrffdf.jpgServe stacked, drizzled with the jam and some yoghurt. It’s also divine with some maple syrup for more peanut butter if you’re feeling naughty!

*I receive a gifted monthly subscription to Degustabox, but am under no obligation to post this recipe. This recipe wasn’t paid for and, as always, all opinions are my very own.

Will you be eating pancakes next Tuesday? Are you a thin crepe or fluffy American stack type of person?

Recipe: Ham, Pea & Apple Salad with Roast Potatoes

Over the past year or so I’ve developed a love for salads. Not just a sad bag of soggy leaves, but real meal-in-a-bowl hearty salads. Crunch, texture, different temperatures, plenty of flavour. There’s something about a good salad that I really, really love – and this Pea, Apple, Ham and Potato Salad is one of my favourites.

 photo Pea Salad_zpsowduhnl7.jpgThis sounds like a strange combination of flavours, but as a salad it really, really works. Peas add freshness, apple adds both sweetness and crunch. A base of mild flavoured salad leaves allows the flavours to really sing. Ham is almost used as a seasoning (we’ve also made use of leftover roast gammon in this recipe), whilst the roast potatoes add a contrasting temperature and brings bulk to the dish. It’s a real hearty main-meal salad.

 photo Pea Apple and Ham Hock Salad 5_zps7j2fty60.jpg photo Pea Apple and Ham Hock Salad 3_zpsxbfptlgt.jpgIt’s also really quite versatile. Like I said, we’ve made it with leftover gammon. We’ve used extra thick sliced ham. And we’ve used shredded ham hock. I prefer the ham hock version as you pretty much get some with every forkful, but all are good. If you’re short of time it’s also good with just some boiled new potatoes – it might lack a bit of depth, but it’s still tasty.

Recipe (serves 2)

  • 250g new potatoes
  • 1 garlic clove, skin on (omit if you’re just boiling the potatoes)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 green apple
  • 40ml cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds, toasted in a dry frying pan for a minute or two
  • 4 tbsp natural yogurt
  • 1 bag of pea shoots or lamb’s lettuce (or a mix of both)
  • Ham – either 1 thick slice each, a pack of shredded ham hock or some leftover gammon
  • 125g frozen peas, defrosted

First off, roast the potatoes. Toss them in a large roasting tin with the garlic, oil and some seasoning, then bake at 200C for 50 minutes. Meanwhile slice the apple into thin slices (no need to peel) then place in a bowl with the vinegar and a pinch of salt for 15 minutes.

Crush half of the cumin in a pestle and mortar, and add to the yoghurt along with 1 garlic clove from the roasting tin (let it cool for a few minutes, then squeeze the flesh from the skin). Drain the apple (discard the vinegar) and toss the potatoes, apple, leaves and peas together with the ham. Pile onto plates, drizzle with the dressing, scatter over the remaining cumin seeds and eat immediately.
 photo Pea Apple and Ham Hock Salad 4_zpsd7cay5ig.jpg

Are you a salad fan?

Recipe: Haggis Carbonara for Burn’s Night

I love haggis, but I totally get that it isn’t for everyone. Particularly if you’ve never tried it, yet you’ve googled what’s in it. I’m of the opinion that if I’m willing to eat meat I should be willing to eat all meat, so things like haggis, black pudding and offal don’t bother me at all – but I still understand that it can turn people’s stomachs a tad! With this in mind I wanted to create a Haggis dish which is perfect as the ‘introduction’ to haggis. Haggis for beginners, if you will.

 photo Haggis Carbonara_zpsglm4oomv.jpg photo Haggis Carbonara 9_zps39wa1lek.jpgAnd so Haggis Carbonara was born.

Instead of a lump of haggis you’ve got crumbled up bits throughout the carbonara sauce. You’ve got cheesy creaminess to break up the strong pepperiness of the haggis. And pasta, because you can’t go wrong with carbs. In fact the haggis pasta combo is a winner in my book. This dish is rich, hearty and unbelievably comforting. Perfect for a Burn’s Night supper in – and great if you want to give haggis a go this January.

 photo Haggis Carbonara 8_zpswhef8xoo.jpg photo Haggis Carbonara 19_zpssc66rv8s.jpgRecipe (serves 2)

  • Decent knob of butter
  • 2 rounds of haggis (I used patties – cheaper and less scary than getting a ‘whole’ haggis!)
  • 2 eggs – one whole and one yolk only (freeze the white for making meringues)
  • A good handful of cheese – I went for parmesan and a good grating of a Scottish cheddar
  • 180g pasta – spaghetti or tagliatelle is best really

First of put the pasta on to boil. I find 10 minutes is about right for most pastas. Meanwhile fry your haggis in butter – I crumbled mine up completely, but you could leave it in bigger chunks. I’d say crumbled is easier if you’re just starting out with haggis though! While that’s frying beat the egg and yolk in a mug and add your grated cheeses (keep some back for sprinkling on top!).

Now my secret for carbonara – take a tablespoon of the boiling pasta water (while the pasta is still cooking) and dribble it into the egg-cheese while beating with a fork. Do the same with another spoon – and repeat until the cheese has melted and you have a smooth mixture. Not only does this lighten the sauce but it also seems to reduce the risk of ending up with scrambled eggs.

Once the pasta has boiled, drain (reserve some water), and tip straight in with the haggis. Toss together. Turn the heat off, and wait a few minutes. Add the egg mixture gradually (tossing well between additions) into the pasta. If it starts to scramble don’t add any more; wait another minute but stir through some cooking water. Once all the egg is in, if its not quite cooked enough to your liking (I’m not fussy about really runny egg!) put the pan back on a very low heat. Then serve, sprinkle with extra cheese and eat as quickly as possible. Trust me, cold carbonara isn’t a good thing!

And if you want to make my (legendary) carbonara without the haggis, simply fry a little bacon until crisp and follow the same recipe, adding plenty of black pepper. I personally think haggis is peppery enough so wouldn’t add any to this particular dish.

 photo Haggis Carbonara 15_zpsy1awggq5.jpg photo Haggis Carbonara 20_zpsg7llbs9q.jpg photo Haggis Carbonara 13_zpss4wzzeso.jpgI originally posted this recipe a good 5 years ago now (with some pretty wonderful photos I must admit) and it’s been one of my most popular posts. So much so I thought some up to date camera skills were needed!

*In the interests of complete disclosure the post was originally in collaboration with Sykes Cottages, but I’ve not had any request to rewrite the post! 

Have you ever tried haggis?

Restaurant Review: A Double Brunch at Home SW15 (Putney) ft. The BEST Brunch Dish I’ve Ever Eaten

Home SW15 is our local ‘go-to’ – it’s where we head for a few drinks, dinner (when we have the pennies) and now brunch. Admittedly it’s taken us over a year to go for brunch but after repeated poor service at The Dynamo even the eggs couldn’t quite let me forget the unwelcoming vibe. Home SW15 is the complete opposite.

 photo Home SW15_zpsafygi6v0.jpgAs the name suggests, it’s like going home. Someone will always rush to greet you at the door. They’ll ask about your day if you’re dining in the evening, enquire about your plans at brunch. It’s friendly, it’s relaxed and it just feels comfortable. It’s not only the service that I love about this place though, the food is pretty damn good. We’ve had a couple of dinners there (my first review is here – bad photos!) but we also managed to squeeze in two brunches in the space of about three weeks recently.

 photo Brunch at Home SW15 1_zps6exrjxri.jpg photo Brunch at Home SW15 4_zpspscqghmf.jpgThe first was a treat from my dad in exchange for sleeping on our floor after his Christmas party. It was on this occasion that I ordered the best brunch dish I’ve ever had. I know that sounds a bit click-baity but quite honestly I could and would order this again and again, despite the high-ish price-tag. At £16.50 the Crab Cakes are pushing the purse strings, but oh my are they worth it! Two fair-sized crab cakes, packed full of crab with it’s instantly reconnisable sweetness. Two perfectly poached eggs. The most glorious hollandaise. Some crunchy chilli and spring onions for even more flavour and some texture. Yum. Yum. YUM.

 photo Brunch at Home SW15 7_zpsucgfhrls.jpgThe boys both ordered the Shakshauka. Obviously this isn’t something I can steal a mouthful of, but it smelt delicious and they seemed happy. The portion was also exceptionally generous, with plenty of toast for dipping. Nothing worse than not getting enough toast to soak up runny egg or sauce!

The second was for W’s birthday and, in true Home style, we were greated with on-the-house minosas (the freshly squeeze orange juice was divine) and even a hand-written birthday card from the team. It’s those kind of details that really do make it our favourite local.

 photo Brunch at Home SW15 11_zpshxk9inlo.jpg photo Brunch at Home SW15 14_zpsydhfndqm.jpg photo Brunch at Home SW15 13_zpso0qrwbv0.jpgOn this occasion I ordered the Eggs Benedict. It’s one of my favourite brunch dishes and generally I would always order it if I saw it on a menu – and this came with a bit of twist. Instead of using bacon or a slice of ham, the muffins are piled high with shredded ham hock before being generously drizzled in hollandaise and topped with poached eggs. Now I’ve had the ham hock as a main course for dinner at Home before, so I knew it was tasty. But I really wasn’t expecting quite so much of it for breakfast. It was absolutely delicious and I’m not sure a standard Benny will do it for me again! The only complaint I do have is that my eggs were quite lukewarm as opposed to hot, I have a feeling they made have stood for a few minutes.

 photo Brunch at Home SW15 9_zpsdtiggly0.jpgW also ordered well, with the French Toast, Banana, Maple Syrup and Bacon. I can’t quite get over the banana-bacon combo, but the piece of French Toast I stole was the best I’ve eaten outside of the US. Gooey and soft in the right places, crisp in others, wonderfully sweet but still light. I was quite tempted to order another plate of these after I’d finished my dish!

So yep, Home SW15 is a solid brunch spot, and one I’d whole heartedly recommend. Even if you’re not local it’s well worth the trip just for the crab cake dish alone… Uou also have to go for ‘bar snacks’ if you can. Their Cauliflower Cheese Croquettes are deep-fried balls of dreams. I’m not sure there is a limit to what I would do to get my hands on a plate of these…

Where’s your go-to brunch choice? Do you stick to one place or do you like to explore?

Food: Making Entertaining More Sustainable

I’m a feeder. It is well-known that I love food, but it becomes even more obvious when I’m feeding friends and family. I’d hate for anyone to leave my house hungry and we’ve been known to feed dinner guests so well they’ve forgone breakfast the next day. I do, however, want to do this in the most sustainable way possible. Not buying food for the sake of it and keeping waste to a minimum. I thought I’d pen up a little post on how I keep dinner parties sustainable without letting anyone go hungry!

 photo Sustainable Feasting 1_zpsijs4ciie.jpg photo Bonfire Night Feast 2_zps9envtjdt.jpgCook Seasonally

This is my main tip for any kind of sustainable cooking. You can be as green as you like, but if you’re shipping in foreign strawberries during the winter it’s never going to be good. Stick to in-season ingredients and everything will be tastier, fresher and quite possibly cheaper too!

Bulk Out Meat

Again, this is something I recommend you do anyway for both budget reasons and to up those veggies. A really good example is the starter I enjoyed at a Bonfire Night Feast with Leisure Living (cooked up by Dan Doherty and attended by Ruby of GBBO, I was fan-girling all night!). Rather than serving up each person with a piece of pricey fish, it was instead broken up and served as a spiced chowder with plenty of vegetables. It was SO tasty (I’ve since cooked it at home), super filling and used much less fish than other recipes. You can see more of Leisure Living’s sustainable cooking tips here.

 photo Bonfire Night Feast 5_zpslkc6tdft.jpg“Make Your Own” Courses

This is perfect for a more informal dinner party – just pile everything in the middle and let guests help themselves to what they want. It means nothing goes to waste, as if they don’t like it they aren’t forced to take it. Think build-your-own tacos, create your own ice-cream sundaes or even pizza making. I only wish I’d seen the make your own candied apple idea before our autumnal wedding!

Buy Local

Always, always always! If you’re lucky enough to live close enough to buy your meat directly from the farm, do it! It will have a much lower carbon footprint, and you’ll be supporting your local economy to boot. But it’s not just meat that you can buy local. Instead of getting a nice smelly French brie from Sainsburys, pop into your local cheese shop and get a British equivalent – we go to Hamish Johnston and their Waterloo is far nicer than most brie I’ve tried! You’re also likely to get much better-for-the-environment packaging by shopping local. Just think about milk – plastic bottles in the shops vs glass if you get it delivered. That’s certainly on my to-do list for 2019…

 photo Sloe Gin Venison Ragu 7_zpsbmbingda.jpg photo Sloe Gin Venison Ragu 6_zpst3axdh4c.jpg photo Sloe Gin Venison Ragu 4_zpssuvdkils.jpg photo Sloe Gin Venison Ragu 24_zpsjijf0zys.jpgChoose an Easily Freezeable/Reheatable Dish

Another tip to reduce waste is to cook something that, even if there’s loads left, won’t be thrown away. A giant stew, a bubbling dish of mac’n’cheese all work well. I recently worked with B&M to create a Sloe Gin Braised Venison Ragu which is perfect for this. It is something slightly different and tastes a bit special (the juniper really compliments the gaminess of the meat). Wonderful over pasta, mash or a cheesy polenta, not only can you make it ahead but it also freezes beautifully which means some rather gourmet after dinner meals!

 photo Bonfire Night Feast 7_zpsvlcvhhr8.jpg photo Bonfire Night Feast 15_zpsuygmzwim.jpgNo Single-Use Plastics

I get it, it’s SO tempting to use plastic cutlery or plates to cut down on the washing up! But it’s also obviously not the best choice for the environment, so best to pop on the rubber gloves and get scrubbing. I’m also looking to take this one step further in 2019 and pick up some nice linen napkins to cut down on waste even more. And, y’know, they’ll make my table look more Instagrammable…

*This post includes a few links, but it isn’t an ad and none are affiliate. No payment was made for the mention of any of these companies or events and, as always, all opinions are my own. 

Do you have any tips for cooking more sustainably?

Recipe: Vegan Lentil & Mushroom ‘Stoup’

What makes the difference between a stew or casserole and a soup? I like to think it’s a fine line, and this ‘stoup’ kinda sits in the middle. You can add more stock or some vegan milk to thin it down for a soup, or blend it up more and reduce it for a stew-type dish. Whichever you choose, it’s absolutely delicious and I think one of my favourite winter lunches.

 photo Mushroom Lentil Soup_zpslbz1od61.jpgIt’s creamy, it’s comforting, real soul food. It’s garlick-y and slighty herby. There’s a kick of black pepper and a slight tang from a splash of vinegar. It’s not vinegar-y as such, but it helps to add a little bit of complexity that makes this really feel like a meal, and not just something you’ve thrown together. Add some toast or a bit of sourdough bread and this is a real hug in a bowl.

It’s also vegan! If you follow me on Instagram you’ll know I’ve set myself a challenge in 2019 to make as many of my lunchboxes as possible vegan. I’m not constraining myself too much by this, and if I’ve got meat or dairy that needs using then it will be thrown in, but I’d like to keep the majority of them vegan. And frankly, if they all taste as good as this it will be an easy job. If you’re not vegan, however, additions which could work well would be bacon (always), or simmer with a parmesan rind to add some extra flavour.

 photo Vegan Mushroom and Lentil Soup 10_zpsethbwgep.jpgIngredients (makes 4 lunch-time servings)

  • 150g dried Puy lentils
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • 1 pack of mushrooms mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 cup vegan-friendly stock
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened plant-based milk—I used Oat milk

First up, cook your lentils. I tend to add boiling water and bring to a rolling boil, before reducing the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Add plenty of salt, cook for another five minutes and then drain.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a medium pan and cook the shallots until slightly softened and translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the sliced mushrooms to the pot, turn up the heat and stir fry for a few minutes. Add the garlic and thyme, and continue to try for 1 minute before adding the vinegar. Stir until evaporated, then add the drained lentils, vegetable stock and  milk to the pot. Stir and bring to a boil, before using a stick blender to whizz to your desired consistency. Add more milk or stock if you want a soup, or reheat and simmer until thick and stew-like. Check for seasoning, adding plenty of black pepper.

Serve hot with toast or bread. I also like to stir through some spinach – for lunchboxes I add a cube or two of frozen spinach in the morning before I leave the house.

 photo Vegan Mushroom and Lentil Soup 8_zpsdzcibo5b.jpgFor something so quick the result is so flavourful and cosy – it does taste as though it’s been simmering away for hours. It also makes my flat smell super good, so I’m down with that…

Do you have any lunchbox friendly vegan recipes?

Food: Kitchen Goals for the New Year

The fact that we’re now in 2019 has escaped me somewhat – I feel like I’m still stuck in November, the festive period whizzed by and I can’t quite wrap my head around the fact that it’s the start of a brand new year. It’s meant I’ve been a little slow in thinking about what I want to achieve as we go through 2019, but over the last couple of evenings I’ve put together a few aims and goals. Some are more lifestyle themed (the knitting will happen one day!), but the majority are foodie focussed…

 photo Kitchen Essentials_zpslhepukqi.jpg1. Cook at least one new recipe per week.

This was one of our resolutions as a couple in 2018, and quite possibly is the only resolution I’ve ever actually kept all year. Okay, there were weeks we didn’t do this (purely because we were either ill or on honeymoon) but otherwise we did, and many weeks we made multiple new recipes. It was one of the best things we’ve done, we ate so much more variety, found some *amazing* recipes and discovered ingredients which we now love (preserved lemons, tahini and sesame oil…).

2. Get use out of all of our kitchen equipment.

Given we live in a one-bed flat we have a ridiculous amount of cooking equipment. Some of it gets virtually constant use (if we make dinner without any of our Le Creuset it’s very unusual!), others rarely see the light of day (the pressure cooker for instance) and some are still in their packaging (hi bamboo steamer!). I’d like to use everything we have at least once this year, preferably more. Bao buns are definitely on my list to try making in the steamer…

 

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3. Bake more ‘challenging’ bakes.

We both love baking, but we’re both equally gulity of either sticking to the same recipes (hey cookies or brownies with added extras to ‘make a change). The things we do stick to are absolutely delicious, but I really want to challenge myself in the kitchen this year and bake things that are a little more complicated. We got a couple of exciting tins and moulds for both our wedding and respective birthdays/Christmasses so watch this space! I actually kicked this off this weekend with a Hazelnut Nutella Bundt for W’s birthday…

4. Produce less kitchen waste.

Whilst I think we are pretty good at not making *loads* of waste, we could definitely do more. I’m a little too fond of freezer bags (I find it much easier to cram the freezer full that if we use washable boxes) and cling-film is definitely something I’d like to remove from our cupboards this year.

 

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5. Eat more ‘Nose to Tail’ when consuming meat or fish.

Or vegetables for that matter! Admittedly full Nose-to-Tail eating is slightly tricky in a non-commercial kitchen, but when I cook meat I really want to make sure I use every single scrap. Whether it’s spooning off beef fat to make dripping, making stock from the chicken carcass or thinking up ever more inventive ways to use up leftovers, I’m all for it. And the same principle applies to veg too – those onion tops, carrot peelings and celery leaves? Freeze them and use them in your next batch of stock. Potato peelings? Follow Katy’s lead and make crisps!

Related to this point, I also want to cook and eat more offal this year. I have always enjoyed the ‘ickier’ parts of meat and a trip to St John at the weekend really brought that home. I absolutely love faggots for example, but just can’t find them in London – so it looks like I’ll have to give making my own a try!

6. Make use of our more unloved cookbooks.

We have a LOT of cookbooks – like a whole bookcase full. For the most part we are really good at using them, we’ll always flick through one or two when planning our weekly menus but there are some that barely ever get used. I’d like to change that this year and, if I’m still not convinced by the book, donate it to charity. I’ve started a list on my phone of all the recipes I want to try. Let’s just say it’s going to take a lot longer than 2019 to get through it…

7. Eat seasonally.

Eating by the seasons is so important to me, more so than any other kind of eating ‘trend.’ It’s all very well and good cutting down meat “for the environment” but if you’re eating strawberries all the year round and avos every day your carbon footprint is gonna be high. I’m not saying my way of eating is the best (far from it) but I think there’s so much to gain from eating seasonally. Ingredients will be fresher and tastier, your food bill will likely be cheaper too. Plus it makes it so much easier to plan meals!

8. Pack vegan/vegetarian lunchboxes.

I’m not about to go vegetarian or start doing Veganuary as, for me, it’s not particularly achieveable as I just enjoy cooking and eating all food too much. I do, however, want to cut down on the amount of meat I eat and lunches seem the easiest and best way to do this. I take a lunchbox to work 99% of the time so want to make these vegan or vegetarian as often as possible. I’ve started off last week with a comforting Mushroom & Lentil Soup which I’ve really enjoyed! This week I’ve got a Bean Chilli for a few days, then I’m planning on doing an oven-baked Daal for the second half of the week. I’d like to work on the vegan recipes the most, so please send inspiration espeicially if you’re taking part in Veganuary.

9. Grow my own herbs.

I’ve worked out we spend over 10% of our weekly food budget on fresh herbs – and that’s just insane. It’s a pretty significant amount of money and also a huge amount of plastic (I’ve noticed ASDA do stock open bunches of herbs so if you’ve got one local there’s an easy way of reducing waste). I received an indoor garden for my birthday last month and I’m excited to get growing! Even if I can just have a ready supply of coriander I’d be happy…

10. Wash up more.

We have definitely gotten far, far too reliant on using our dishwasher over the last few months, so we’re taking it back to basics and washing up (shock horror!) by hand most nights. I’ve actually really enjoyed taking the time after dinner to clear up, it’s a good time to really catch up on our days.

There’s obviously some non-kitchen goals I’d love to achieve. Knitting is STILL on the list, as is getting into some form of regular exercise. I’d also love to raise money for charities close to my heart over the year, and also encourage young people into STEM based jobs. Oh, and the small thing of qualifying as an actuary too…

What would you like to achieve in 2019?