Sunday, 24 January 2016

Going Vegan at Chico's

I don't know about you, but where I live vegan eats are hard to find! Unless you live in a large town or city your choices are extremely limited where to go out to eat. I'm lucky to have a pizza express in my town which is my normal go to place but we have no Wagamamas or Yo! Sushi here. So you can imagine my excitement when I heard about a little Mexican restaurant in the next town that had its own vegan menu!

Chico's is a small restaurant in Stone, which is decorated fabulously giving you a Mexican vibe while you are dining. The staff are extremely attentive without going over the top and the manager, Jimmy has everything running like clockwork. The bar was well stocked in fact I doubt there was a drink which they hadn't got!

After being shown to our table, I was handed their vegan menu and the dishes were explained to us. We asked Jimmy why they had decided to create a vegan menu. He explained that the team included two vegans and a coeliac and whenever the team wanted to go out together on their night off or hold team building days it was almost impossible to find anywhere that would cater for them all. So after a few miserable attempts to find somewhere to go they decided to stay in the restaurant and the chef created food to suit everyone. The chef isn't vegan himself but the kitchen used to have a vegan sous chef who has since left. Between them they started experimenting with ingredients and created a vegan menu and a gluten free menu. Any time the team wanted a night out the team stayed in the restaurant, where they knew their dietary needs could be catered for. The menus then grew from there. Jimmy explained that there was no cross contamination of food in the kitchen, and they used a separate fryer for anything vegan. This alleviated my fears as I often wonder what happens when you order fried foods like chips, which is why I never do.

I was in heaven my own vegan menu to choose from and that included all three courses - yes there was a dessert menu which was vegan too! I'd deliberately not eaten much throughout the day as I wanted to try all three courses. 

There were 7 choices on the vegan starter menu, some of these included fake meats, which I am not a massive fan of but there were other choices. You could choose from; Tacquitos, Nachos (with 5 different topping choices plus jalapeno's sour cream, cheese, guacamole and salsa), Quesadilla, Taco Shell, Potato skins (with two topping choices), Mexican Flatbread or Empanadas. My sister and I decided on a bowl of Tacos and a Mexican Flatbread to share.

We seriously couldn't believe the size of the starters, we knew we were going to have to pace ourselves! The Tacos were to die for, extremely tasty toppings, we just couldn't wait to dive in. The chef makes his own vegan sour cream from tofu and the guacamole was so creamy everything was delicious. The Mexican flatbread was huge, all flatbreads are baked fresh to order and ours used a homemade dairy free roasted garlic, cilantro and aubergine butter, cheese, herbs and red pepper flakes. We struggled to eat everything and reluctantly left some of the flatbread as we didn't want to fill ourselves up, we'd got a long way to go yet. Our eyes were definitely bigger than our bellies!

For the main course I had a selection of 14 choices, including all your usual suspects; fajitas, enchiladas, burritos and chili. I decided on the cajun vegetables fajitas, I mean how could you not after all your in a Mexican restaurant! Plus I wanted to see how they compared to my own fajita recipes. I was not disappointed! 

The chef makes his own top secret fajita spice mix which was not too spicy but extremely flavoursome. The amount of vegetables that arrived on the smoking hot skillet was awesome. The mix included onions, red onions, yellow peppers, red peppers, mushrooms, aubergines, courgette and sweetcorn, topped with a lemon wedge. The fajitas came with 5 flour tortillas, guacamole, salsa, sour cream and grated cheese. I'd also ordered a side of refried beans as I am a sucker for these! 

I'm not ashamed to say I was defeated! I simply couldn't eat all the food that came out! But it wasn't a problem, my leftover Cajun vegetables and refried beans were packaged up separately in take out containers for me to bring home. And I enjoyed them the next day!

Neither of us had any room for desserts, which was a shame as once again there were 6 vegan options including fruit Enchiladas or Burritos, Churros or ice cream. We did wait for a while in case our bellies allowed for another course but it was no use, we were stuffed. On my next visit I will try a smaller starter or have the nachos for my main course, but with plenty of other options I can see myself going time and time again.

It is absolutely fantastic that a small restaurant in a small town caters so well for those who choose a vegan lifestyle and it was music to my ears as throughout our stay I heard cries of "can I have the vegan menu please?". A massive congratulations to Chicos and I look forward to my next visit, which will be soon!

Chico's don't have an up to date website but please visit their facebook page which has photos of their menus. Go book yourself a table and enjoy a night out with delicious vegan food.

Jasmine x

Sunday, 10 January 2016

International Year of Pulses (IYP)

Did you know that 2016 is the United Nations International Year of Pulses (IYP)? No? Nor me until today! But how cool is that? A whole year devoted to pulses. It has even got its own hashtag - #IYP2016 

The IYP has been launched to increase the awareness of the general public of the benefits associated with pulses. This includes nutrition, sustainable food production and working towards securing food for the future. Did you know that pulses can improve soil fertility and promote biodiversity?

So what food is included? Pulses are part of the legume family which include edible beans, dried peas, lentils and chickpeas, all of which are nutritional powerhouses! Low in fat, high in fibre and B vitamins, a good source of iron and a great source of protein.

To celebrate the launch of IYP, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) have even created a short video highlighting the benefits of pulses. Food Tank have put together a list of how individuals can get involved too and celebrate the IYP2016. You can check out there list here. One way is to pledge eating pulses 1 day a week for ten weeks so to help I've put together my collection of pulse recipes, 30 in total. 

Bean Dhal                                                        Bean Potato Cake

Black Bean & Spinach Chilli                            Black Bean Fajitas

Borlotti Bean Hash                                                Butternut Squash & Lentil Curry

Cabbage Rolls                                                 Chickpea & Lentil Tacos

Chickpea Oatcake                                           Chilli Non Carne

Courgette & Lentil Roast                             Falafels

Five Bean Tacos                                             Hodmedod Chilli

Houmous                                                         Kale & Lentil Roast

Leek, Kale & Butterbean Soup                       Lentil Stuffed Mushrooms

Refried Back Badger Peas                             Three Lentil Soup

I hope you enjoy some of the above dishes during the International Year of Pulses

Jasmine x

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Cheezy Cauliflower Soup

The day started well with the sun shining and once again it is very mild for this time of the year. Marco and I went out for our daily stroll, it was that warm I considered taking my coat off! We passed the allotments but my plot is still very water logged so decided to leave digging up the parsnips and leeks till another day. I hope they'll be OK! By the time we finished our walk about an hour and a half later the skies had gone black and it had started to rain, so much for the sun coming out to say hello!

By the time we'd got dried off the heavens had opened and it was pouring down, yet another dark, dank, miserable afternoon ahead. So, I decided to make some sunshine in the kitchen instead! I haven't been shopping since before Christmas, and the cupboards and fridge are getting rather bare. But nothing goes to waste in this household, so I opened the fridge door to see what treasures I could find or more correctly what needed using up ASAP!

Sitting in pride of place was a dirty, tired looking cauliflower, that had seen better days! It was crying out to be used so I reached in and plucked it from the shelf, turning it round and round wandering what I could turn it into. I glanced outside and immediately thought it's weather for soup!

1 Cauliflower
750ml Vegetable stock
3 Tbsp Nutritional yeast
2 Tsp White miso
1 Tsp American mustard
1 Tsp Garlic powder
1 Tsp Lemon juice
¼ Tsp Turmeric
Salt & Pepper to taste

1) Cut the cauliflower in half and then each half into 3 pieces

2) Pour 300ml of the vegetable stock into a saucepan and add the cauliflower.

3) Simmer the cauliflower for 10 minutes until al dente.

4) Pour the contents of the saucepan into a liquidizer or food processor, I used my trusty Vitamix. 

5) Add the rest of the ingredients to the remaining vegetable stock and pour over the cauliflower. Blend until you have a smooth and glossy soup.

6) Serve in bowls and sprinkle with black pepper and parsley, perfect for dunking crusty bread into.

Perfect lunch for the dark, dank and miserable weather we are getting at the moment. I don't know about you but dunking crusty bread into comforting soup is one of lifes little pleasures!

Jasmine x

Friday, 8 January 2016

Adzuki Bean Curry - I Love Leftovers

Now, I don't know about you but I absolutely loathe food waste. Its just down right ridiculous, food is precious so I try not to throw any away although mishaps do happen. Like when I forget something in the back of my fridge and it wouldn't do me any good to eat it! But this is rare, very rare. 

It helps to plan what you're going to eat over the coming week, which I try and do. However, there are times when you have left overs and the odd vegetable in your fridge and you need to come up with a plan. Soup is always a good one, with a few herbs and spices you can make wonderful soups out of left overs. I've made soup with left over ingredients lots of times like the pea, spring onion and mint soup. I've also turned leftover soup into a curry, like my curry in a hurry recipe.

Today I'm showing you again how I've turned leftovers into another meal, most of the time my leftover creations actually double up in portions, which is even better. Remember my lentil stew from last Friday well that also turned into a curry and a delicious one at that, it must be a combination of all those wonderful spices! In making this recipe I also used up some leftover Christmas vegetables, bonus! Here's what I did

Ingredients - Serves 4
2 Portions of Lentil Stew 
1 Potato
2 Parsnips
¼ Red cabbage
2 Tsp Curry powder
2 Tsp Ground cumin
1 Tsp Chilli powder
½ Tsp Turmeric
1 Tsp Oil
130ml Coconut milk

1) Cut the potato and parsnips into chunks and put in a bowl with 1Tsp curry powder, 1 Tsp ground cumin and the oil. Mix to coat the vegetables and place into an oven tray and roast for 20 minutes. By the time the vegetable have finished roasting you will be ready to add them to the curry.

2) Shred the cabbage and cut into chunks. Add to a saucepan with a little water and simmer for 5 minutes, drain, squeezing out as much water as you can.

3) Pour the two portions of lentil stew into a saucepan and add the other tsp of curry powder and ground cumin and also add the chilli powder and turmeric. Stir to combine and place over a low heat, stirring occasionally.

4) While the curry is heating through pour in the coconut milk and stir to combine and bring to a simmer.

5) Add the drained cabbage and stir through.

6) Remove the roasted vegetables from the oven and add to the curry. Stir again so everything is incorporated and serve in bowls or with rice or poppadoms.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Easy Peasy Guacamole

Last summer I never got round to posting my recipe for easy peasy guacamole. It only takes five minutes to make, and I for one, can't get enough of the stuff.

Its great on its own, on top of a chilli, on toast or with tortilla chips or if like me following a more healthier diet carrot sticks! 

It is very easily transported but needs to be eaten fairly quickly, otherwise the avocado starts to brown even if using lemon juice. I never have any leftovers, its always eaten on the same day and even in the same sitting!

1 Avocado
¼ Onion, finely diced
3 Cherry tomatoes, finely diced
1 Tbsp Lemon juice
Salt & Black pepper

Mash the avocado flesh with a fork, then stir in the other ingredients. Simple!


Saturday, 2 January 2016

Suma Bloggers Network - Adzuki & Beluga Chili

I hope you celebrated New Years Eve in style and thanked 2015 for everything that it gave you or celebrated all that it threw at you which made you stronger? I trust 2016 is already being kind to you, have you made plans how you are going to follow your passions?

I've been busy with my aromatherapy assignments about the cardiovascular and lymphatic systems and the associated pathologies. I must admit I am finding being a student rather demanding but it has been a few years since I was last at University! It is proving very interesting learning about all the horrible pathologies that are out there. Reading about these just strengthens my views about healthy living, in mind, body and spirit.

I have yet another chilli recipe for you today, using the ingredients from Suma. 

I have lots of chilli recipes on this blog and have realised that it is one of my all time favourite dishes. All recipes are a little different and this one is too.

Click on the links below for all the different chilli recipes here:

Adzuki Bean and Beluga Lentil Chilli - 4 Servings

1 Dessert spoon coconut oil 
1 Onion, finely diced
1 Orange/Red pepper, finely diced
4 Garlic cloves, minced
1 Tin Suma organic chopped tomatoes
1 Tbsp Tomato puree
1 Tsp Vegetable bouillon powder
150ml Water
1 Tsp Balsamic vinegar
1 Tin Suma organic beluga lentils
1 Tin Suma organic adzuki beans
4 Tbsp Nutritional Yeast
Spice Blend
2 Tsp Ground cumin
1 Tsp Smoked garlic
1 Tsp Smoked paprika
1 Tsp Chilli powder
1 Tsp Coriander
1 Tsp Cocoa powder
1 Tsp Dried parsley
1 Tsp Crushed chilli flakes
1 Tsp Onion granules
½ Tsp Turmeric
½ Tsp Salt
½ Tsp Black pepper

1) Prepare your spice blend, combine all ingredients in a small bowl.

2) Melt the coconut oil in a large pan over a low heat.

3) Sauté the onion until translucent, about 10 minutes, then add the diced pepper and cook for another 5 minutes.

4) Add the minced garlic and cook for another minute stirring all the time so the garlic doesn't catch.

5) Add the spice blend and keep stirring and cook for 30 seconds.

6)  Mix the vegetable bouillon powder with the water to make your stock.

7) Add the chopped tomatoes to the pan and stir to combine. Add the vegetable stock and cook until bubbling. Turn down the heat and cook for 10 minutes or until the sauce has thickened.

8) Add the tomato purée and balsamic vinegar and give everything a good stir.

9) Drain and wash the beluga lentils and adzuki beans and add to the chilli sauce and  stir to combine. Cook for another 10 minutes until the beans and lentils have warmed through and taken on the flavours of the chilli sauce.

10) Add the nutritional yeast and stir to dissolve into the sauce.

11) Serve in bowls topped with guacamole or on top of cooked quinoa or a mixture of wholegrain rice and wild rice.

Remember to follow your passions and live the life you've always dreamed of!

Jasmine x

Friday, 1 January 2016

Suma Bloggers Network - Lentil Stew

Happy New Year!

Here's hoping that 2016 is THE year! Let it be filled with great health, happiness, love and the year which your dreams come alive. Make this the year to discover your passions and live the life you've always dreamed of. So lets jump on the 'passion living' highway and start our adventures together! I came across a great quote I want to share with you (by unknown); "If what you're doing is not your passion, you have nothing to lose". 

A few more quotes to get you started:

"All our dreams can come true - if we have the courage to pursue them." - Walt Disney

"Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending." - Maria Robinson

"A year from now you will wish you had started today." - Karen Lamb

Some changes that I'll be making to my life are to continue to improve my diet, I have already seen some improvement with removing refined sugar from my diet so onwards and upwards. I'll be experimenting more with healthy ingredients and I will share them with you right here and hope to publish more recipes too! 

I look forward to completing my aromatherapy course and become a qualified aromatherapist, there's a long way to go but I'm passionate about it and will therefore find the time required. I love my essential oils and use them every day so I would love to help others reap their benefits. I might even post a few recipes here, watch this space.....

I had a fantastic first year on my allotment, I can't believe the amount of food I grew, my chest freezer is still full! I'll need to do a lot more experimenting with food to use it all up before my next harvest is ready! I've met some fantastic people down there who have passed on their expertise and provided support when things haven't quite gone to plan. Over the next couple of weeks I'll be planning on where to grow all the seeds I've saved, purchased or swapped. Growing and eating your own food is the best feeling ever and trust me fruit and vegetables taste way better than shop bought produce!

Thank you for all your comments you have left over the last year, it means so much to know people have stopped by and left a comment. I cant wait to read all about your plans for 2016 and hope we can share all the exciting adventures we pursue.

OK, so the first recipe of 2016 is.........

Lentil and Bean Stew also known as Dal Makhini which translates to "buttery lentils". It originates from the Punjab region of India and Pakinstan, where the main ingredients are black lentils, kidney beans, butter and cream. Obviously my version of this fantastic flavoursome dish doesn't use butter or cream and I've replaced the kidney beans with adzuki beans. Why? Well, it is the start of a new year and so many people enter into a detox or weight loss programme and the adzuki bean has beneficial qualities to help you along the way. It is reported to aid weight loss and detoxify the body, so, why wouldn't you?

50g Sum cashew pieces 
1 Dessert spoon of Suma coconut oil, melted
1 Onion, finely diced
2 Sticks of celery, finely diced
6 Garlic cloves, minced
1 Tin Suma organic chopped tomatoes
1 Tsp Vegetable bouillon powder
200ml Water
1 Bay leaf
2 Cloves
1 Tin Suma organic beluga lentils
1 Tin Suma organic adzuki beans
1 Tbsp Tomato puree
Juice of half a lemon
Spice Mixture
3 Tsp Garam Masala
1 Tsp Chili powder
1 Tsp Turmeric
½ Tsp Ground ginger
¼ Tsp Ground cinamon
¼ Tsp Nutmeg
¼ Tsp Salt
¼ Tsp Black pepper

Method - Serves 4 people
1) Soak the cashew pieces in water.

2) Prepare your spice mix, combine all spices in a small bowl.

3) Melt the coconut in a large pan over a low heat.

4) Sauté the onion and celery in the pan until the onion is just starting to brown.

5) Prepare the liquid mixture for the stew. Drain the cashew pieces in a sieve. To a blender add the tin of tomatoes, drained cashew pieces, vegetable bouillon powder and the 200ml water and blend to a sauce.

6) Add the minced garlic to the onions and celery and sauté for another minute.

7) Add the spice mix to the pan and sauté for 30 seconds while stirring.

8) Add the sauce, bay leaf and cloves to the pan and stir to combine. Cook over a low heat until the mixture is bubbling.

9) Add the beluga lentils and the adzuki beans and cook for another 10 minutes to heat through. The beauty of using tinned pulses is that they are already cooked.

10) Add the lemon juice and cook for another 5 minutes.

11) Serve in bowls with a sprinkling of parsley or serve over a mix of wholegrain and wild rice.

Thanks Suma! As you know every two months I get to choose £20 of Suma products from the 7000+ vegetrian and vegan products they offer and in return I create a recipe using some of the ingredients.

It was a difficult choice to decide what to cook with the ingredients and a close second was a beluga lentil and adzuki chili, which I also made and I will share the recipe soon. 

Wishing you all the very best for a most fabulous year ahead.

Love and peace

Jasmine x