Summer Is Coming

Summer

Subtle little Game of Thrones reference in the title there. Anyone else as obsessed as I am? I was a late starter and binge watched seasons 1-5 before catching up on the latest season but am now completely gripped. How is it the season finale tomorrow and what am I going to do when it’s all over. Suggestions on a postcard please.

I’m totally team stark. Do you like my spoon?

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Anyhoo, we’re not here to talk about Game of Thrones.

June 20th saw the official start of The Great British Summer. Not that you would know it. I’ve been wearing jumpers and slippers at home and having to revert back to wearing a coat when I go out. My poor kitty got stuck out in a thunderstorm last week and came back looking like a drowned rat. A very grumpy drowned rat.

Despite the soggy start to the summer season I am looking forward to the coming months. As always, my thoughts turn to food. Strawberries eaten outside, the warmth of the sun making the fruit even sweeter, served with cool cream and a sprinkling of sugar. Marinated meats seared on a hot BBQ, the smell of the smoky wood getting into your hair and stinging your eyes. Rushing out of the house with your purse as you hear the sweet sound of the ice cream van, pushing in front of the snotty nosed kids to get your 99 cone. Picnics enjoyed in the park with wasps buzzing around you and ants taking over your blanket. Nothing makes me think of summer more than eating outside whilst feeling the warmth of the sun on your skin. Or at least the prickle of slightly warm rain.

Summer isn’t all fun and games though. Us women have to get our game on and tackle the effects of a winter hibernation. It can take hours to carve through the forests that have taken root on our legs and don’t even think about looking at our toenails until we’ve had a pedicure. Hey, they’ve been stuck in winter boots and fluffy pink slippers for months, there’s been no need for nail art here. The thought of ditching the tights and going bare legged fills me with the same level of fear as a human sized spider crawling across my face.  Likewise, getting into a swimsuit for a summer holiday proves to be the most anxious event of the year. Would I have it any other way though? I love the change of the seasons, each one bringing with it new challenges and new things to look forward to.

Here’s a little summer recipe to get us all in the mood for summer fun and frolics.

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Strawberry and Lime Cooler

Make a sugar syrup by boiling 150ml of water with 100g of caster sugar and stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Leave this to cool and store in the fridge for use in cocktails and the like.

In a blender, combine 5 chopped strawberries with 2-3 tablespoons of the sugar syrup, the juice of half a lime and a large handful of ice cubes. Add a generous splash of water and whizz up to make a lovely cold, frothy summer drink to enjoy in the garden. Or do like I did and sit next to a vase of flowers for the ultimate summer setting whilst the rain trickles down your window.

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Hello Summer!

Recipe: Pimped Up Kidney Beans

When you’re not eating meat, or at least reducing the amount of it you consume, you have to find inventive ways to add flavour to your meals. Kidney beans don’t exactly evoke the same mouth-watering emotions that bacon rashers sizzling in a pan do, but they’re good for you and can be made quite sexy with a bit of special treatment. I learnt the trick of frying kidney beans from Jamie Oliver and now always cook my beans this way. They burst open, their deep maroon skins making way for their fluffy, pale interior, allowing them to take on any other flavours that you add to the pan. These are a great addition to a grain bowl or to chuck into any other recipe that needs a bit of extra pizzazz.

Serves 2-4 depending on what you’re eating them with

What you need:

  • 1 400g tin kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 clove minced garlic
  • 1 tsp tomato puree
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • Generous pinch of smoked sea salt (use normal salt if you must)

What you do:

  1. Easy one this. Heat up the oil in the pan and add the kidney beans, stirring and sizzling for a couple of minutes. Add the garlic, tomato puree and spices, stir well, and cook for a few minutes more.
  2. Add the maple syrup and smoked sea salt and make sure the beans are well coated in all the flavourings and are heated through. Sprinkle with a bit of parsley or coriander to make them look more Instagrammable.

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Bish. Bash. Bosh. Beans.Yum.

 

My Hero Ingredients

There’s certain ingredients scattered around my kitchen that I find myself continuously reaching for when conjuring up different recipes. I like to have a well stocked store cupboard so that I always have something to use as a basis for a nice meal and have found myself recently relying on the same few things. I’m calling these my hero ingredients and thought I would share them with you for something a bit different.

Salt

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Salt is an essential ingredient in 90% of recipes. I know that excessive salt isn’t good for you but I can’t understand people that don’t cook with salt. I can’t imagine how bland life would be without it. I have a tub of bog-standard cheap table salt which I use to salt water when I’m cooking pasta or potatoes, then I have a salt pig with Maldon sea salt in it next to my stove to use in day to day cooking. These little tubs from the Cornish Sea Salt Co are a little more special and are used as a finishing touch to lift a dish. I have smoked sea salt (amazing in desserts and chilli), lemon and thyme sea salt (great with buttered new potatoes) and sea salt with seaweed (delicious sprinkled on top of salads).

Spices

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I have so many jars and packets of spices in my cupboard which range from adventurous sumac and Thai 7 spice mix to the more classic cinnamon and mixed spice. I use spices a lot, pretty much daily in fact, and I couldn’t cook without them. I use cinnamon in smoothies, desserts and in coffee, cumin goes into curries and Mexican style dishes and paprika goes into pretty much everything. Garlic granules and Herbes de Provence are fairly new discoveries but are both used liberally on roasted vegetables and potato dishes. These 5 little jars are a gateway to a world of amazing flavour. I use all the spices I have in my cupboard but I would literally be lost without these superheroes.

Lemons and Limes

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I pretty much always have lemons and limes in the bottom drawer of my fridge, ready to jazz up pretty much anything. Limes are great with avocados or as a finishing touch to a chilli or other Tex-Mex concoction, and lemons are great in risottos, pasta dishes and puddings. Rightly or wrongly, I always have lemon and lime juice in bottles in case of emergency and these get used a lot.

Aromatics

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My fridge always contains some fresh garlic to use whole for roasting, and occasionally some fresh red chillies when they are needed to finish off a dish, but I absolutely always have jars of garlic, chilli and ginger on hand to use whenever I want. Which, in fact, is all the time. I reach for these jars more than anything else in my fridge and we get through a jar of garlic each month. All three are needed in stir fries and curries and are so much easier and quicker than having to use fresh stuff all the time, and I can’t say I ever notice a difference in flavour. Absolute life savers.

Tins

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One of the shelves in my cupboard is buckling under the weight due to the amount of tinned tomatoes I keep in there. A tin of tomatoes can be the basis for so many different dishes, from shakshouka to spaghetti pomodoro, and I like to have a plentiful stash on hand ready to create some magic in the kitchen. I also like to keep tins of beans in my cupboard to bulk out meals and provide some additional goodness. Chickpeas are the main ingredient in humous so I always keep those close by too. Coconut milk is a great ingredient to have handy as it’s delicious in curries and desserts. I think there’s some stigma attached to tinned food but there really needn’t be, they’re great for convenience and last for ages.

Oils and Vinegars

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On a day to day basis I use an inexpensive mild olive oil for cooking which doesn’t really affect the taste of the food and is suitable for most cooking techniques. I like to use coconut oil when making curry and it’s lovely to use in baking too. I save my expensive extra virgin olive oil to use for salad dressings, humous and for dipping bread into. There’s also some toasted sesame oil within my collection which I use for Asian dishes and love it’s nutty taste. It really provides some authenticity to Chinese cooking, as does the soy sauce which I’m never without. I use white wine vinegar or cider vinegar in dressings and marinades and balsamic vinegar is used frequently with tomatoes, bread or added to stews and sauces to provide depth of flavour. I love vinegar, I could drink it by the glass, but I don’t as it also gives me crippling tummy ache!

Sweet Things

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I like to have the wherewithal to make something sweet so always have a well stocked supply of sugar and syrups. Maple syrup is one of my all time favourite things, I love it in all it’s smoky glory, and incorporate it into a lot of dishes from granola to pancakes. I use honey and golden syrup less but they each have their place in the kitchen. I then always have caster sugar ready for basic cake making, soft light brown sugar for a caramel flavour, icing sugar for, well, icing, and demerara sugar for crumbles and in coffee. My teeth hurt from just looking at all this sugar but what is life if you can’t treat yourself from time to time.

Other Store Cupboard Essentials:

  • Flour (plain, self-raising and wholemeal)
  • Baking Powder
  • Cocoa/Cacao Powder
  • Chocolate
  • Peanut Butter
  • Nutella
  • Mustard (English, Dijon and Wholegrain)
  • Tomato Ketchup
  • Brown Sauce
  • BBQ Sauce
  • Nuts
  • Pasta (I always have penne and spaghetti as a minimum)
  • Rice (brown, white and basmati as a minimum, arborio too, ideally)
  • Couscous
  • Quinoa
  • Marmite
  • Stock Cubes
  • Worcestershire Sauce
  • Tomato Puree
  • Black Pepper

Let me know if you have any ingredients that you just can’t live without and I will be happy to try adding them to my list!

 

Recipe Review: Leon’s Lemon Cake

Tyler’s just had a birthday. To celebrate I told him I would make him any cake he wanted, his choice. Anything at all. He chose a lemon drizzle cake. I’ve made a few lemon drizzle cakes in the past, they’re generally easy to execute and delightful to eat, but the one I’ve made more often than any other is the lemon cake from the Leon Family & Friends cookbook. That’s Leon as in the healthy fast food chain restaurants that are often found near train stations and the like and who do the most awesome pink lemonade. This isn’t a healthy recipe (I did suggest trying a vegan cake but it was quickly dismissed) but who wants healthy on their birthday. Tyler’s birthday was all about a good breakfast, watching football and eating cake. Any man’s dream, surely?

Not only is this cake ridiculously good, it’s also ridiculously easy and (possibly my most favourite point) makes very little washing up. Read on to find out what you do.

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The recipe uses ounces which is odd but I always stick to it so will carry on doing so here. You need 4oz soft butter, 6oz self raising flour, 6oz caster sugar, 2 eggs, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 4 tablespoons milk and the grated zest of one lemon. You simply bung all the ingredients into a food processor and whiz it up to make a smooth batter, then pour it into a lined loaf tin and bake for around 50 minutes in an oven pre-heated to 180°c. It’s done when a skewer comes out clean.

My food processor has decided to go to kitchen appliance heaven so I used the old fashioned method of creaming the butter and sugar together then adding the eggs, giving it a good beat then folding in the rest of the ingredients. A workout as well as some kitchen sorcery. Win-win.

Once the cake leaves the oven, let it cool a little before pricking all over then drizzling over the icing which is simply 12 tablespoons of icing sugar mixed with the juice of one lemon. Leave it to set and devour, slice by delicious slice.

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I really love this recipe. A child could make it, nay, my dad could make it, it’s that easy. The Leon cookbooks are totally worth buying too, they’re great for good , honest family food.

Recipe: Sweet and Salty Pecans

There’s something about the combination of sweet and salty that really gets me excited for life. These little pecans with their maple syrup and smoked sea salt crust are a delight for the senses and only take a few minutes to make, perfect for a nibble with a drink or a snack whilst watching a movie.

Makes enough for a lengthy snack sesh

What you need:

  • 100g pecans
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp smoked sea salt

What you do:

  1. Pop your pecans onto a baking sheet in a pile and drizzle over the maple syrup then the cinnamon and smoked sea salt. Give them a good mixing with your hands making sure that each nut is nicely coated then spread them out in a single layer and whack into an oven pre-heated to 180°c.
  2. Bake for 8-10 minutes, tossing half way though and being very careful not to let them burn. Leave to cool and enjoy them as they are or used in other recipes.

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These are a great vegan snack as they’re full of protein so fill you up but are a little naughty and sweet too. Trust me though, they’re addictive!

 

My Vegan Week

I have reached the end of my trial as a vegan. Do I feel like I’ve changed the world? No. Do I feel full of energy and vitality? No. Do I crave cheese? A bit. Being a vegan isn’t actually as hard as I thought it would be. Yes, it is restrictive but as long as you plan your meals it’s pretty easy to find a wealth of suitable foods to create tasty recipes with.

I’ve realised that veganism, like most radical life choices, can open up a whole load of debates that I didn’t know existed. There’s the whole honey debate, should vegans have honey or not….I didn’t go too far into it in fear that I would get confused but decided to have honey as Deliciously Ella does. If it’s good enough for her then it’s good enough for me. Veganism also largely divides opinion. I had work colleagues trying to tempt me off the wagon with offers to buy me burgers. The office also saw a few heated arguments about the pros and cons of a vegan diet. Thankfully I had support from a real life vegan colleague who helped me along the way.

I should probably mention that I was only fully vegan for 5 full days from Monday to Friday. On Saturday I ate a doughnut which contained milk powder and also forgot about my trial and had chips with burger sauce in the evening, which I presume was not vegan. As I had already blown it I had milk on Sunday in the form of three lattes (yes I missed coffee! – I only have it with milk) and I also had a fried egg with breakfast, but did have vegetarian sausages and resisted the bacon. I don’t think I did too badly.

I shall share with you my thoughts in the form of a good old pros and cons list.

Cons

  • I spent the entire week feeling incredibly tired and very grumpy. Even my cat knew to stay away from me as I was pretty vile to be around.
  • Bowel trouble. I will not go into detail but anyone who has tried a vegan diet no doubt knows what I mean.
  • I couldn’t just grab a snack or lunch from a normal shop and had to spend ages each day cooking all my meals from scratch which I am used to doing for much of the time, but doing it all the time was a bit of a chore. Everything I made also seemed to generate so much washing up too. So much.
  • I got bullied by work colleagues.
  • Tyler often ate a different meal to me and we didn’t eat together very much.

Pros

  • I have thoroughly enjoyed all of my meals as they have been full of flavour, texture and colour. If you think about it there are a lot more types of vegetables than there are meats so you can have more variety in a vegan diet if you put your mind to it.
  • There’s a great vegan community out there and by blogging and using social media to share my journey I have felt really well supported.
  • It was ridiculously easy to get my suggested allowance of 5 portions of fruit and veg a day and I mostly had around 10 servings.
  • Amazingly, I lost 5lbs during my week on a vegan diet which is an amazing amount considering I was never hungry and didn’t follow any calorie constrictions or portion control guidelines.
  • I admit I felt quite good about not eating any animal products and found myself getting a bit preachy towards the end of the week. It’s definitely made me think more about where my food comes from and how it gets to my plate.

So what did I eat?

Breakfast was usually either a smoothie, wholemeal toast with cashew butter and banana or, my favourite, coconut yogurt with fruit, homemade granola and coconut flakes. I had no trouble finding suitable breakfast foods and am in love with coconut yogurt despite the ridiculous price tag.

Lunch was either grain bowls or leftovers from dinner. I consumed a lot of quinoa, brown rice, sweet potato, roasted vegetables and humous during lunch. I made my own humous at the start of the week but my food processor broke in the process (great timing) so I had to resort to shop bought. I found a really nice red pepper version in the Co-Op which is really delicious.

Dinners varied quite a bit. Again, I had lots of sweet potatoes as I just love them, plus quite a lot of other vegetables, avocados and kidney beans. One of my favourite discoveries was a new way to cook kidney beans which I will share with you soon and I became rather creative with the spice rack. I made amazing pizzas by spreading a toasted pitta bread with some red pepper humous and topping it with vegetables. Not exactly Dominos but a girl’s gotta try.

I mostly snacked on fruit but did discover towards the end of the week that bourbon biscuits are suitable for vegans. I’m not yet sure if this is a good thing or not. I’m also going to be giving our a recipe for sweet and salty pecans soon as these are darn good.

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So, time for the all important question: will I be a full time vegan?

In a word, no. I have enjoyed my food, am made up with my weight loss and am starting to feel the benefits. However, I don’t like the idea of having to cut out so much from my diet and I hate having to eat a separate meal to my partner. So, I’ve decided to go 75% vegan and 25% non-vegan but to concentrate on eating less meat overall and to keep the focus on plant based products. That means I will mostly continue to eat a vegan diet but allow some flexibility for days when I either can’t be bothered of fancy a treat like a bar of milk chocolate. Some hardcore vegans might turn their noses up at my plan but I still feel like I’m doing good for making an effort to consume less animal products.

I shall continue to share some vegan recipes and ideas on my blog (but the occasional meaty treat will be there too) and will re-assess in the future if I want to go fully vegan full time. For now, burgers.

 

 

 

 

What I Ate In A Day #10 – Vegan Edition

As part of vegan week on The Gammon Kitchen, I figured it only right that I take you along for the ride and share everything I eat in a day on a vegan diet. I’m halfway through my trial and I’m feeling tired, grumpy and in desperate need of a McDonalds. I kind of want to give up but I’m not going to. I’m just eagerly waiting for the day when I bound out of bed full of vigour with wonderful glowing skin and a new found zest for life. Please God, let it be soon.

Breakfast today was of the liquid variety. I made my chocolate and peanut butter milkshake that was featured on my blog earlier in the year, but used cashew butter rather than peanut and coconut milk rather than almond. Anything goes really. It was delicious and set me up for the day.

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The 11am slump was fixed by a few dates. Ugly little things aren’t they? Medjool dates are amazing, like soft, chewy toffees. They’re more expensive than other varieties but totally worth it.

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I’ve been making the most of leftovers for my lunches and today was a classic example. It’s great to have a fridge full of things that you can just throw together to create a pick’n’mix lunch bursting with flavour and nutrients. Today was brown rice, roasted vegetables (peppers, onions and courgettes), garlic and herb roasted sweet potatoes and some homemade spicy, smoky humous (made smoky by smoked sea salt – AH-MAY-ZING.)

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I snacked on some fruit between lunch and dinner. Doughnut peaches, or flat peaches as they’re sometimes called, are my favourite fruits ever. I had a plum too but ate it without thinking so didn’t take a photo.

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The biggest hurdle I’ve faced during this trial is having time each night to cook a healthy meal, prepare my lunch and tidy up all the mess made along the way. It’s hard. I can’t just order a pizza now and it means every night is chore night. Tonight I decided to go for the easy option. I’d bought some ready made bean burgers in my weekly food shop to have on stand by for when this day came so we had those with oven chips, homemade guacamole and a bit of salad. It’s the first night Tyler and I have had the same dinner since I started my vegan journey. The bean burgers were alright but I probably could have made better myself.

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As an evening snack I had a slice of wholemeal bread, toasted and spread with cashew, cinnamon and honey butter and topped with a sliced banana. Snack heaven.

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I ate a little more today than I have been to see if it would help my energy levels. Here’s hoping! I love having such colourful, vibrant meals and I’m not really missing meat (apart from that McDonalds craving) but I would give an arm for a bit of cheese now and then.