Meat Free Week

Ok, so this is a little late for a post on #meatfreeweek – but hey, I’ve just been enjoying not one, but two 4-day weekends. And now that’s nicely sinking in… 😉

Two weeks ago was indeed Meat Free Week. I heard about it through BBC Good Food Magazine, and as we are running a pretty low-meat diet anyway, and Dave wanting us to consider going vegetarian, I thought it would be a good idea to give it a go. We normally only have meat or fish two to three times a week, so it really wouldn’t be too much extra effort for us to cut it out completely, and it would give me an excuse to search out even more amazing veggie recipes.

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I’ll be honest – it didn’t pan out so well. We were eating round our parents twice that week, and whilst my parents are coming around to the idea of veggie meals being satisfying and interesting, Dave’s parents are more of a traditional ‘meat & two veg’ kind of family. This wasn’t about preaching or some kind of detox for me – so I wasn’t bothered about missing out on a couple of days. For me it was more about trying to spread awareness of the excitement of veggie food, and getting our friends to understand how much better we feel for having a low meat diet, and how much money we save. My friend certainly got a load of links to my favourite BBC veggie recipes, though he declined to give Meat Free Week a go himself.

Day#1 was a recipe I adapted from my Gino D’Acampo pasta recipe book – I share the Italian chef’s love of artichokes, and his recipe for artichoke & parma ham pasta is divine, zingy flavours with a really comforting, homemade feel to it. I had recently been talking (gushing) with a friend about halloumi, and he said that halloumi is like the bacon of the cheese world, and it seemed to me like that was a pretty spot on comparison! So I thought I would try swapping out the parma ham for some diced halloumi – fried separately and added at the end. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work 😦 the artichokes completely overpowered the halloumi, and the rubbery texture of the cheese didn’t really work with the soft pasta. But hey, you live and learn right!

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The meal for Day#2 was much more successful – fennel and red pepper chickpea salad! You can’t go wrong with chickpeas, and I am in love with fennel at the moment, it’s just such an unusual flavour that actually works with a lot of things. It was a fairly sweet meal, with the red peppers, fennel and onion, but the earthiness of the chickpeas rounded it of nicely. I was a bit concerned with how filling the salad would be when I plated up, but chickpeas are always surprisingly satisfying – worst comes to worse, add 50g couscous per person to fluff it up a bit.

Day#3 is an old lunchtime favourite – black bean & feta chimichurri. I love the way the feta cheese gets all over the avocado, and the contrast in texture between the slightly firm black beans and the juicy tomatoes. The only thing I should try and remember with this is to cut down on the onion – mixed with the cumin it just gets a little to sharp and vicious for my liking. To ramp this lunchtime salad up to a filling dinner, we simply served up with nachos and used the bowl like a really chunky dip – I couldn’t finish mine, it was so delicious but I was well and truly stuffed!

And finally, Day#4 was a meal I’ve been meaning to try for ages – chickpea and vegetable curry. Again, can’t go wrong with chickpeas, and I love how perfectly they work in a curry, soaking up all the flavours and creating nice texture within the sauce. This recipe was a bit of a learning curve though – whilst preparing the ingredients I found I was a little dubious about the amount of coconut cream I was instructed to use compared to the time needed to cook the broccoli – whilst the tomatoes would create a reasonable amount of liquid, there was barely anything else. I started out as per the instructions, but found I had to quickly improvise with some veg stock and keep adding more hot water. Even after doing that, I didn’t want to include the spinach at the last minute for fear of soaking up the last of fairly dry curry sauce and ending up with curry flavoured veg. The flavours were beautiful, but the recipe just needs a little tweaking to get a proper saucy consistency.

And there you have it! I must say I was a little disappointed with the lack of #meatfreeweek I found on social media – granted I mainly use instagram these days but there still wasn’t much interest for this particular hashtag, not even from the chefs I follow. Whilst I do think we are really getting there with the idea of healthy eating all round instead of these stupid fad diets and god knows what, I think the concept of veggie food being boring is still quite prevalent. I had so many people saying to me “Meat free for a week? God I couldn’t do that!” and whilst I do love my meat, I did find it a shame how few people were interested in giving it a go for just one week, just to broaden their horizons a little and discover some new food. I am a huge fan of veggie and vegan food even, and though I do believe we are meant to eat meat as omnivores, I think it’s an important balance to get as much green goodness into us as possible. The other benefits are that a low meat diet also means you can afford to be choosier with the meat you do buy, meaning better quality (food for us, quality of life for the animals)

And if anyone still says that veggie meals are boring, take a look at this I made the other day…

Yours,

The Vintage Housewife x

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Lovin’ a Lotta Lentils

I always love discovering a new ingredient – my only problem is that I end up getting a little obsessed with it and trying to find as many different recipes as possible to try out! But as there’s little that makes me happier than testing out a new meal (both in the cooking and the eating!) I guess that’s no bad thing.

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Today I was out for lunch in a recently discovered veggie/vegan coffee/chocolatey goodness cafe called Chocaffinitea – a wonderfully cosy and cool cafe that specialises in creating cakey delights for those with various allergy or dietary requirements, largely dairy and gluten. We were introduced by our vegan friends who know both me and Dave appreciate veggie and vegan food as much as anything a little more carnivorous, and we are in love! Not only is it the best coffee shop we’ve ever come across, with a specific menu detailing the flavour differences between different coffees from around the world, but as mentioned they also offer a gorgeous range of baked goodness, from salted caramel brownies to dairy free key lime pies. Definitely drooling just thinking about it all… I have found the best hot chocolate in Brighton…

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But that’s not all! They also have on offer a small selection of incredible looking sandwiches that I’ve been wanting to test out for a while now, and on this soggy Sunday, I finally got my chance. And I was doubly treated – with the gorgeous crunchy sourdough bread, thick slices of local cheddar cheese and sweet, tangy ale chutney, as well as part of the side salad being a gorgeous, salty and sweet lentil salad concoction, with peppers, carrots, and a beautiful dressing. My toasted sandwich was to die for – cheese melted to perfection, but I would have honestly been perfectly happy with just a bowl full of that lentil salad!

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Now whilst I’m no stranger to lentils – I cook up a very nummy red lentil ragu, and use it in my lighter moussaka and various veggie curries – I would love to discover some recipes for using green or puy lentils, that I can use for lunch time salads as well as our more veggie based diet for dinners. Lentils are well known for being very high in nutritional value AND low in calories and all the other nastiness, so by all accounts the more lentils we can get into our life, the better. Cue BBC Good Food!

Anyone who knows me knows how much I love BBC Good Food’s website/magazine – it’s so great to just type in a ingredient and be presented with such a wide range of recipes. I was delighted to find so many salads perfect for lunch boxes, with other ingredients like butternut squash, beetroot, carrot and my favourite soya beans! As well as that, it turns out lentils go beautifully with salmon – which I am so excited to try out for some dinners. Here are a few of my favourites that I’m looking forward to trying out – and a link to BBC Good Food’s ‘Lentil Salad’ recipe search, see what you think!

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http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/2608636/lentil-carrot-and-ham-salad

http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/1755649/warm-roasted-squash-and-puy-lentil-salad

http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/10204/salmon-and-puy-lentil-salad-with-olive-dressing

http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/search/recipes?query=lentil+salad

Yours,

The Vintage Housewife x

Back on the Food Wagon

This year seems to have been a real doozy for some pretty nasty colds – I don’t know anyone who has escaped completely unscathed. I myself have had three in relatively quick succession, its been awful! The first two were fairly basic colds, but just as I was getting over the second, I came down with a really fluey strain that I’m still working out of my system 2 weeks later – it was awful, I could barely move and spent two days off work just sat in front of the tv watching Stargate on Netflix, which is very unlike me even if I’m sick! But the worst thing for me when I’m ill isn’t how rough I’m feeling, or being housebound – its how being unwell completely takes away any interest in food 😦

Don’t get me wrong, I can still eat, but I’m only eating because I know I have to – feed a cold, starve a fever as the old saying goes. But it’s been a few weeks now where I’ve just not been enjoying food at all, and I find that really upsetting. I recently read a review from Gizzi Erskine about a juice detox retreat she did, and whilst she felt the benefits, the biggest drawback for her was the total absence of food, and as it is such a massive part of her life, it felt like there was a gaping hole she couldn’t fill. I think it’s similar to me – whilst food isn’t my career or anything, it’s a massive part of what makes me happy and what gets me excited and passionate. Hell we even plan our holidays and daytrips around food!

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Normally when I’m ill, I will have the Food Network on in the background as a pretty accurate indicator of when I’m starting to feel better – the food begins to look appetising again. As I mentioned, I didn’t even have the energy to think about changing from Stargate on Netflix to anything else, and even this past week as I’ve started feeling better, I’ve been in a bit of a foodie slump. I’ve picked a few duff new recipes, which is bound to happen now and again, but seems to be compounded by the fact that I’m just not enjoying the food anyway, and don’t quite have the brain function to see around the problems and work out how to fix the problems in the recipe as I go.

It’s not all been doom and gloom though – I’m trying to remember to cook more of my basic, classic recipes now and again, just so that I don’t have the stress of doing something for the first time every night. Last week I made mum’s bolognaise; a good, rich chunky beef bolognaise with extra pancetta and porcini mushrooms… I definitely don’t make it often enough 😀 and the best bit was, now we’ve discovered the perfection that is gnocchi, we can have half the portion with pasta one week, and the rest with gnocchi the week after! Heaven! The other thing that is got me through the past couple of weeks is the wonderful foodie memory of the soup my dad made for lunch on Boxing Day – it was without a doubt the best soup I’ve ever had. Butternut squash, leeks and potatoes, with all sorts of earthy spices like cumin, some chickpeas, then just to top it off some gorgeous caramelised onions, feta cheese and a delicious herby drizzle… My mouth is seriously watering just thinking about it. So, melodrama aside, at least I know through some weird side effect of my stinking cold my foodie obsession hasn’t been lost, I just need to get back on the foodie wagon again.

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On that note, this week I shall be making my all time favourite meal – it ends up being several meals actually – halloumi couscous salad, with courgettes, cherry tomatoes and chickpeas. It is just beyond perfect – the saltiness of the halloumi against the sweet cherry tomatoes, the soft couscous against the firm chickpeas… And can be dished up immediately after serving for a warm salad dinner, or popped in the fridge for a few days worth of lunches that you will just never get bored of. The garlic and lime dressing finish it off beautifully, and it’s one of my favourite meals to make if I’m feeling a bit naff, it really is the best pick me up and I could eat it forever if I had to. Thank you BBC Good Food for introducing me to this foodie feast! http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/2394/summer-couscous-salad

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I’m also going back to something I’ve only made once or twice before, but the effort and flavour left it reserved for more special occasions – and I think that the endeavour to get me back on the foodie wagon deserves such a meal – slow cooked Thai beef curry. It has such an intense variety of flavours – and I think one of the first Thai meals I ever made. From what I gather it’s unusual to to have beef as the main meat ingredient in a Thai curry, particularly a green one, but it really works so well when it’s slow cooked and the beef is that tender. I’m really excited for the weekend so I can get cooking it, which is exactly what I need right now! I miss the excitement I get when cooking recently, as well as the eating of the food itself. So, I’m going to stick to some good favourites, play it safe for a little while, so I can fully recover and get my foodie mojo back 🙂

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I’ll let you know when I start discovering more delectable delights!

Yours,

The Vintage Housewife x