Veganuary – a month of being vegan

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My housemate and I have embarked on the Vegan challenge, named Veganuary for all of January. At first I was dubious because to be perfectly honest, I love cheese. We have a cheese night at least once a week – usually an ooey gooey baked camembert with crusty bread – so this was going to be a shock to the system. However, I decided to look at this with optimism and as a challenge to actually plan and cook meals better.

My first impressions is that there are a surprising number of vegan products on the market and you don’t need to go to a health food shop to find them! My second impression is that it’s also easy to be a ‘bad’ vegan – I could happily live off of crisps and jammy dodgers… but that isn’t necessarily healthy. Saying that my reasons for trying this vegan thing isn’t completely for health but more for seeing if I can accept the challenge and give up all dairy and eggs. Now we both don’t drink milk so that part was quite easy – I drink almond milk and my housemate prefers rice milk. I only tend to eat eggs at the weekend anyway, so going eggless for a month isn’t such an issue on that front.

I have to admit, we went out with a bit of a bang on New Years Eve with a huge serving of Quorn chilli nachos smothered in cheese and our cream. So delicious! New Years day morning we set about making a huge fry up – vegan style. I cooked up a big serving of tofu scramble (my second attempt), hash browns, baked beans, roasted tomatoes and veggie sausages (Linda McCartney range). We are full to the brim!

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Now we did go on an escapade to Whole Foods to stock up on a few vegan items you don’t find in a supermarket. Some of the products I picked up were CoYo coconut yoghurt (seriously delicious), Vegenaise, non-dairy vegan cheese and the most amazing chocolate bar, Vego.

Gin & Tonic Cake

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I wasn’t always a gin fan. I suppose as you grow up and become more of an adult you end up trying new things more – your taste buds change. It’s kind of fascinating, in a way, the way you can mould your taste buds. The bitter, refreshing tang – the sharpness of the gin cut by the fizz of tonic with a subtle twist of lime – terrific. It’s certainly my drink of choice now.

So when I stumbled upon a recipe incorporating one of my favourite drinks into a cake I had to jump at the chance to bake it.

For this I bought good gin (Bombay Sapphire) but that’s also because I was going to make a few drinks out of it too! The original recipe can be found here – I have made my own comments on the recipe below. This cake came back with great reviews from family and friends so I urge you to try it for yourself!

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Gin & Tonic Cake

You will need:

For the cake:

  • 4 eggs
  • Butter
  • Sugar
  • Self-raising flour
  • 2 lemons – zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 3-4 shots of your favourite gin

For the syrup:

  • 3-4 shots of gin
  • 150g granulated sugar
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • A dash of tonic water (I used a mini can)
  1. Preheat your oven to 180C. Prepare a loaf tin by buttering the bottom and sides or by lining with baking paper.
  2. Weigh the eggs – whatever weight the eggs come to on the scale will be the same weight as the butter, sugar and flour.
  3. In a large mixing bowl or mixer add the caster sugar and butter, cream together until the mixture is light and fluffy.
  4. Add the eggs in one at a time until fully combined. Sieve the flour into the mixture slowly and add in the lemon zest.
  5. Pour in 3-4 shots of gin and the juice of one lemon, mixing until the batter is smooth.
  6. Pour into the lined tin and bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes. Note: I allowed for 45 minutes but would personally aim for 50-55 minutes as my base was slightly underdone.
  7. To make the syrup: Mix the remaining shots of gin, granulated sugar, lemon juice and tonic in a separate bowl until you have a consistent mixture. The sugar may not fully dissolve. (At this point you can add extra gin or lemon juice to taste).
  8. When the cake is ready, place on a cooling rack and prick the surface of the cake with a skewer (or a fork if you don’t have a skewer). Spoon the syrup mixture over the cake and allow it to soak into the cake.
  9. Once the cake is cooled, slice and enjoy!

Spinach, Feta and Pine Nut Parcels

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These are seriously good. Lovely green spinach, salty tang of the feta cheese, a nice bite from the toasted pine nuts all encapsulated within a crackle of warm filo pastry. How can they not be good?! My mother was going on and on about these spinach and feta parcels she ate at a friends dinner party, so much so it was driving me a little bit mad.

So I had to make them. Partly because of the fact I wanted her to shut up about them and partly because, well, who doesn’t love feta cheese? If you don’t like feta cheese then I’m not sure we can be friends… then again I’m friends with someone that doesn’t like chilli OR cinnamon which are practically staples in my diet. I’m not sure how that happened (they have a general love of food and eating otherwise so I think that’s where the mutual boundaries lie).

Anyway! The filling for these guys don’t take long to make so if you’re planning ahead you could make it a few hours ahead or even the day before. The assembling and making of the parcels take a bit more time so not necessarily a last minute dinner idea if you’re in a rush. I warn you, these are rather addictive – my family of four got through about 10 of these guys in one dinner. I ate the leftover two cold the next day for lunch (just as delicious).

Spinach, Feta and Pine Nut Parcels

Makes 12 parcels

You will need:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 kilo of spinach leaves, fresh
  • 1 block of feta cheese
  • 75g of pine nuts, toasted
  • 2 packs of filo pastry (6 sheets in each pack)
  • 100-200g melted butter
  • 2 teaspoons paprika (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste (1/2 teaspoon each)
  1. Begin by heating the olive oil in a large pan over a medium heat, add in the onions and cook until soft and translucent, about 10 minutes.
  2. Add in the spinach and cook down until just wilted. Incorporate the seasonings and remove from the heat and place in a large bowl. Chop or crumble up the feta cheese with the spinach and leave to the side. Don’t worry if the feta starts to melt a little. Toast the pine nuts in the same pan and add to the mixture.2014-10-07 18.24.09
  3. Now for the filo pastry. Remove the sheets from the packaging and place on a clean work surface (no need to dust with flour). Carefully pick up the top sheet and place on the counter in front of you with the shorter sides facing you – using a pastry brush cover the surface with melted butter and gently place the next filo pastry sheet on top in the same manner. Repeat this step one more time. Cut the pastry into three equal strips.2014-10-07 18.43.17
  4. Take a bit more than a tablespoon-full of the spinach and feta mixture and place on a corner of the rectangular strip. Carefully fold the slice over itself and again following the bottom line of the last fold. This should create a samosa-triangle effect. Here’s a good visual how-to2014-10-07 18.46.29
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 with the remaining pastry sheets and filling. Place the triangles on a baking sheet. Top each parcel with melted butter.
  6. Bake in a preheated oven at 200C for about 15 minutes or until golden brown.2014-10-07 19.23.242014-10-07 19.15.55

Leave to cool for about 5-10 minutes before serving. I ate these with a lovely quinoa, pearl barley, lentil dish with chargrilled artichokes and roasted red peppers.

 

Happy Halloween!

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Halloween is one of my favourite holidays! I love everything about it, the costumes, jack-o-lanterns, ghoulish food, parties, trick-or-treating and best of all an excuse to watch as many horror movies as you want! It’s probably because I’m a massive horror movie fan – it’s pretty much how I was brought up and slightly inevitable with two older brothers (and the fact that my mother also loves a good horror/thriller). Movies of my childhood include: Chucky, It, Gremlins, Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th and Psycho, to name but a few. From there it’s extended to many many more.

Anyway, I encouraged the office to do something vaguely Halloween-y and unfortunately, despite originating in England, Halloween is not so big here, but some brought in treats and have some form of head decoration, so I’m happy with any effort! I’m dressed as a sort of modern witch in a wool grey-black dress with burgundy polk-dot tights, green eye shadow and of course a witches hat!

I brought it graveyard chocolate cupcakes, complete with little R.I.P tombstones, cheesy ghoul fingers, swamp guacamole, and vampire-proof dip (onion & garlic). I can’t say everything is home-made because I didn’t have enough hours in the day to make it all from scratch. The ghoul fingers are ‘home-made’… I bought the pastry but assembled & baked them myself.

2014-10-30 20.26.02Tombstones ready for icing! I used melted white chocolate.

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I used green food colouring to give the almond nails a creepy ages look.

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Finished tombstone cupcakes.

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Finished creepy ghoulish fingers.

Photo on 31-10-2014 at 10.44

Me as a witch!

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Butternut Squash, Chestnut Mushroom and Thyme Soup

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Autumn is well and truly here. It’s been rainy. Very rainy. Now, I’m not a huge ‘I hate rain’ person because I tend to just get on with it, usually without an umbrella because, well, am I the only person to find them annoying to carry about? And am I the only person that can’t seem to use the damn things because the wind likes to tip them inside out, pretty much every single time? So I give up. But my coat does have a hood. The cold? I don’t mind that so much. The beautiful leaves and colours? That I definitely love.

This soup is terrific for coming in from the cold, as a mid-week lunch or dinner. You can make a big batch at the weekend and freeze them into portions to eat when needed. Lastly, this soup is perfect as a starter for Thanksgiving dinner.

Butternut Squash, Chestnut Mushroom & Thyme Soup

Serves 4-6 as a main meal and about 8-10 as a starer. Feel free to halve the recipe if you don’t want a huge batch of soup.

You will need:

  • 2 medium-sized butternut squashes, cut into large chunks (peeled or unpeeled)
  • 6 stems of thyme, leaves removed from the stems
  • 400g (2 boxes) of chestnut mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 small onions, diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • 2 vegetable stock cubes (or fresh stock if available)
  • 1.5 litres water
  • 150ml single cream or a vegan alternative (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon chilli flakes (optional)
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Preheat your oven at 200°C. Lay your butternut squash chunks on a large baking tray along with 3 tablespoons of olive oil, paprika, 3/4 of the thyme and chilli flakes. Roast for 25 – 30 minutes until they are soft but still hold their structure. Once slightly cooled it is easier to peel off the skin at this stage, however, I have made this without peeling the skin and you don’t notice any difference in texture once everything is blended together. P1000490
  2. In a large pot over a medium heat, add the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil followed by the onions and garlic. Allow to cook for about 10 minutes until the onions are soft and translucent. Be careful not to burn the garlic – if they are starting to brown then reduce the heat slightly.
  3. Add the mushrooms and cook for a further 10-15 minutes, until soft and slightly browned. Add your roasted butternut squash. P1000497
  4. Meanwhile, boil your kettle and make your stock in a large measuring jug or bowl. Add the stock to the pot and simmer everything together for a few minutes.
  5. At this point, I added extra paprika, chilli, thyme, salt and pepper. Take your hand-held mixer and blitz the mixture until blended without any lumps. If using a stand-alone blender then do this is small batches to avoid over filling your machine.
  6. Taste for seasoning and add as desired. If serving immediately, stir in the cream and enjoy. If freezing into portions I would do this before adding the cream. Of course, the cream is entirely optional but it does give the soup a lovely rich flavour.

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I hope you all enjoy this recipe – it has become a much-loved staple in my house since Thanksgiving last year when I created it. Let me know if you give this a try!

A Day Out at VegFest!

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What on earth is VegFest, you may ask? Well, VegFest is a vegetarian and vegan festival which now has three locations across the UK: Bristol, Brighton and London. This was it’s second year in London and also the second time I’ve been to the Festival. For a first-timer, it can be a little overwhelming when you walk through the doors as there is so much to see and do. Due to the fact I went last year, I had an idea of how vast the Festival is and what to expect. On the ground floor there were hundreds of stalls, from veggie food, clothing, raw products, coconut this and that and an array of animal charities. They also had a section of food stalls – everything from Caribbean cuisine to burgers and salads. Upstairs were more stalls and outlining the room were the Talk areas, from lifestyle, campaigns and even comedy and performances!

P1000465 This little pineapple guy on the smoothie and juice stall

Unfortunately, VegFest is large and it’s not possible to do everything but I definitely wanted to check out a few more talks this time round.

P1000472Running for the Animals – Fiona Oakes

Fiona Oakes is a Vegan Marathon runner in aid of her animal sanctuaries and as a way to bring about more media attention to being an athlete on a plant-based diet. She has run in the North Pole and the Sahara Desert. More information about Fiona Oakes can be found here and here.

P1000468Vegan Cupcakes

One of my first stops was the Ms. Cupcake stall which sell some amazing vegan cupcakes and cookies. They didn’t have my favourite cinnamon cookies from last year but I bought four cupcakes to take home. Because of a greedy family I only got to try the Specaloos, but it was very tasty!

P1000470Magpie Stall

I fell in love with all of the sets from the Magpie stall, especially all of the birdie orientated sets. If it’s one thing you can know about me is that I love bird related clothing and jewelry. Yes, I own birdie dresses, tops, earrings and even a bag (which used to clash with the birdie dress haha).

P1000487Sushi Wrap!

I ate this fantastic sushi wrap – sweet potato, avocado, brown rice, wasabi, teriyaki sauce and sesame seeds. So good! Definitely going to use this for dinner/lunch ideas. Who says you need to cut sushi into little bite-sized pieces?

So all in all, it was a great day out. It was good to see lots of new raw products coming out and to generally be in a room of people that were veggie/vegan and shared the same ideas and ideals.

“I accept myself unconditionally, right now.”

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For a few years now I have been watching documentaries about nutrition, our food systems, culture and the implications of all of this in terms of diets, disease and our Western lifestyles. Now let me tell you that when I first went vegetarian at 16 years old, I did it for moral reasons only. I had some health concerns but at the forefront was the thought of not hurting the animals – I have always been a huge animal lover – one day it dawned on me that my love for animals should not stop at pets or wild animals: what about cows? What about pigs? What about chickens? What divides them, besides the fact that we have industrialized animals with factory farms, to our dogs and cats at home? To me, the answer was simple. Nothing. Nothing divides them. And that was the point I went vegetarian and honestly have not looked back since.

Over time it developed into learning more about the vegetarian diet which subsequently led to learning about vegan diets, as well as new recipes and how to be a ‘good’ vegetarian. This is what led me to watch documentaries on the subject – starting with Food Inc. and Earthlings. I urge everyone to watch Food Inc. as it’s a very good starting point to understand a lot of what is happening to our food systems (especially in the USA). I also suggest watching Earthlings, however, I caution that it is not an easy watch by any means. I struggle to watch most of it without covering my eyes at certain points, and that being said I can watch some gruesome stuff without being affected by it. This also led me to read on the subject, one of the first being Fast Food Nation and a great one that I absolutely recommend: Pure, White and Deadly by John Yudkin. I am now reading The China Study by Colin T. Campbell, among a few books currently on the go.

Now, aside from a huge number of issues raised from these films, is the astonishing fact of how much people still don’t know. As a Western culture, we are still obsessed with diet, losing weight, becoming someone else, in every sense of the word. We aim for the next diet (a word I really don’t like): Atkins, South Beach, Carb this, Protein that, Low Fat all the time, no matter what. In this way, we are ignoring: 1. what our bodies actually need and 2. Simplifying our bodies nutrient needs into reductionist thinking – taking one element out of my diet will make me thin… If I eat this and not that I will get the results I want. We live in a culture of abundance and we only think of what we lack. In fact, we are very spoiled by the choices on food we have, however, many are not even food at all but food-like substances.

I want to ask you this: when did it all become about losing (or gaining) weight and stop becoming about being HEALTHY?

I have to outright admit, I am not a nutritionist, so I can’t tell you what to do on a nutritional basis, but I am putting what I know and what I have researched in my own time. In my experience, a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts and legumes – a whole foods, plant based diet is the best one. And yes, I said diet, but I don’t mean diet in the sense of the word ‘Oh! I’m on this new diet where you lose 10lbs in four days, but I lose the will to live and I’ll be extremely tired, irritable and yeah…’ but in the sense of what you should eat every single day.

However, if you are on a diet, I urge you to not think ‘how many calories does this have? how much fat is in this?’ but think about how is what your eating contributing to your health? One way I like to do this is to center a meal around at least one vegetable or fruit, even at breakfast. Juicing is another great way to add micro nutrients to your body in a fast and effective way. I suggest including vegetables first, which isn’t always easy, but it curbs your thinking and hopefully makes you a bit more creative on meal ideas.

Last night I watched a another documentary, Hungry For Change, which opened up new ways of thinking for me in terms of health, life and loving yourself.

I believe that above all, we should be looking at ourselves with love. If we aren’t loving ourselves and our bodies, we are never going to make a change. Hence, I ask you to say the phrase “I accept myself unconditionally, right now.” to yourself every day (at least for 30 days) in front of the mirror. As it is only when you accept yourself can you learn to better yourself, from the inside out. When you are striving for HEALTH you start to look at food in a completely different way – you look for nutrients and vitamins and you stop looking at yourself as someone who needs to change something about themselves.

So try it, accept yourself! 🙂

Top with Cinnamon Book Launch

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On Thursday 18th September, I headed to London with my mother to West Elm for the book launch of Top with Cinnamon by Izy Hossack. She is a vivacious young lady who started her blog in 2011 and has only grown in success since then. The evening was informal – there were homemade snacks on the table such as buckwheat banana muffins and sweet and sour chickpeas, followed with sparking wine. And I got my book personally signed! Needless to say, I’m excited to try out some of the recipes from the book.

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Leftovers for Breakfast

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I currently have a lot of time for being a little bit creative with food, especially with different breakfast options. When I’m working I usually don’t allow myself much time for a ‘proper’ breakfast which means I tend to grab a banana or eat something from work. I work in the catering industry so it’s easy for me to pick up a scone or similar. At the weekends, however, I like to cook up a nice late breakfast or brunch – this tends to be eggs, pancakes or french toast. This weekend I decided on a mixture of Huevos Rancheros and a Southern American country-fried potato recipe. I used leftover potatoes from the dinner before (baby new potatoes). If you don’t have leftovers, I’m sure you can fry them from raw – otherwise boil them and wait for them to cool slightly before using them in this recipe.

I haven’t thought of a name for this yet, but I do have a recipe.

You will need:

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 8-10 small potatoes, chopped into small pieces
  • 5 chestnut mushrooms, diced
  • 3 spring onions, thinly sliced
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon paprika (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon dried chilli flakes (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 50g grated cheese (e.g. cheddar, also optional)
  1. In a large frying pan over a medium-high heat melt the butter and sauté the potatoes and mushrooms for about 10 minutes – until the mushrooms are soft and the potatoes start to become crispy. 2014-09-07 10.43.32
  2. Add in the spring onions and seasoning, allow to fry for 5 minutes Crack in the 4 eggs and allow to cook for a further 5 minutes.
  3. You can either put a lid on your pan or place your pan under the grill until the eggs are fully cooked through. Lastly, top with the grated cheese, making sure it fully melts.

I served this with baguette toast and homemade guacamole (also a leftover from dinner the night before) and enjoyed eating this al fresco outside in the garden.

2014-09-07 11.03.042014-09-07 11.13.54What are some of your favourite breakfast options? And your favourite way of cooking eggs? Let me know 🙂

I Bought a Blender

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I went a little crazy a couple of weekends ago and spent a small fortune on fruit, vegetables and all things healthy in the supermarket. You could say that’s better than unhealthy cakes, biscuits, etc. But still. I then went to Curry’s and decided to buy a blender on a whim. It was pretty cheap so I’m quite happy with my spontaneous decisions. I’ve actually wanted a blender for some time, I could just never justify buying one because it would be a waste of money (why on earth did I think that?) and we have no space for another appliance. But I did it anyway! It currently lives on the counter top which means my beloved juicer has been temporarily banished to a cupboard and my fancy Kenwood mixer, Aretha (yes, I named her) is upstairs on a dresser table.

So I share with you one of my favourite combination smoothies – blueberry and banana, packed with a whole bunch of other healthy yummy ingredients.

Banana & Blueberry Smoothie

You will need:

  • 1 – 2 bananas
  • 1/2 a punnet of blueberries
  • 1/2 a large pot of natural yoghurt (not the low fat kind, just the regular stuff – you can also use a non-dairy variety)
  • 1/2 cup of unsweetened almond milk
  • 2 teaspoons flax seed, milled
  • 2 teaspoons of chia seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon powder
  1. Start by adding your liquid ingredients – almond milk and yoghurt. Add the flax, chia and cinnamon. Turn on the mixer for about 1 minute until the flax and chia become more fine and blended into the mix.
  2. Add the bananas and blueberries – blend on high for about 2 minutes.
  3. Serve and enjoy!

This can easily serve two or one person for a massive full breakfast option.

And if you didn’t already know, flax and chia seeds are great add-ins for your diet – they contain great amounts of omega 3’s, protein, zinc, and much more.

And now for a silly picture of me with my morning face enjoying my smoothie!

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2014-08-17 11.42.35Let me know what you think if you try this recipe! What is your favourite smoothie?