Sugar Free February Pancake Day

Happy Pancake Day!

Last month we had vegan pancakes for Veganuary; this month we’re trying Sugar Free February Pancakes for Shrove Tuesday. The traditional reason behind this festive treat is to use up store cupboard ingredients before lent – a day of indulging before abstaining for the next forty days. This isn’t quite the case with us, as these delicious morsels are fairly saintly as it is, containing no sugar, eggs or dairy.

Ingredients:

  • 300g plain flour
  • 400ml water
  • Splash of almond or soya milk
  • Squeeze of lemon juice
  • 1 x tbsp chia seeds
  • 1 x tsp vanilla extract

To serve:

  • Coconut yoghurt
  • Banana
  • Sweet Freedom Choc Shot Liquid Chocolate

Slowly add the water to the flour and whisk until light and frothy without any lumps in it. Add the chia seeds, lemon juice and enough almond milk until it reaches the desired consistency. Leave to stand for a few minutes.

Heat olive oil in a frying pan then add a ladleful of the mixture to the pan. Tip the pan to create a thin, even coat.

Cook on either side for a minute each or until cooked.

Serve with sliced banana, a good dollop of coconut yoghurt and drizzle with Sweet Freedom Choc Shot Liquid Chocolate.

The kids had no idea these were anything but saccharine-sweet traditional pancakes – they happily tucked in and went back for seconds. Free-from in many senses but not devoid of flavour. Pretty flippin’ good.

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My Bestie Turned Veggie

Whilst I was trying my hand at veganism, my best friend of nearly 30 years pledged to turn vegetarian for January. I can’t take credit for this, the decision was all hers as a conscious choice to cut down on (not a huge) meat consumption and to attain a healthier lifestyle. However, I am proud to say that she’s been inspired by some of my recipes and I’m so pleased I’ve been able to be part of her journey. 

These have been some of her favourite recipes that she’s tried so far and hopefully she’ll keep it up. Well done my lovely Becky! 

Firm favourites: Italian Sausage Stew; Lentil Bolognese; Macaroni Chilli 

Veganuary Day 31: Medication

I have a little secret to let you into: Veganuary may not be working for me.

When I first embarked on this plant-based journey I had high hopes of a puritanical lifestyle, cruelty-free and clean-eating. I was hoping by the end of my month I would be healthier, full of energy, optimistic about my superior life-choices and my skin and eyes would sparkle.

In reality, I’ve never felt worse. I’ve always prided myself in not being ill or having a day off work in the entire three years that I’ve been there. The kids would be falling like flies if a sickness or cold bug managed to pervade our healthy house but I would rise above it, never succumbing to its sickly ways.

I have spent most of January fighting the worst cold/flu bug I’ve known in over 10 years. I’ve taken more medication in the past three weeks than I have in years. The last time I was this ill, The Eldest Boy was a baby and I was still breastfeeding him and battling flu at the same time. In and amongst my beloved grandma died and no one told me for a few days as I was too poorly to deal with it.

This time I’ve tried to battle on, dosed up on paracetamol, ibuprofen, max strength cold and flu tablets containing caffeine, which I normally avoid like the plague and sticking my head over bowls of boiling water containing decongestants. Nothing has helped and nearly three weeks later I still haven’t properly fought it off.

On top of this I’ve also had to combat The Man criticising and blaming my lifestyle choices for being poorly. However, it may or may not be a coincidence that my illness and lack of energy coincides with a conversion to a vegan diet.

I have lost weight, and for someone who has always been perfectly happy within my normal weight range, (I’ve always been borderline ‘normal’) this is not something I have welcomed. My recent lifestyle changes mean I’ve now plunged into the underweight category. Although I haven’t intentionally been looking to lose weight, as a side-effect, my discipline and dedication to my cause mean it has been inevitable. When I’ve made Mexican food I’ve accompanied it with avocado but forgone the sour cream; I’ve eaten burgers but avoided the calorific mayonnaise I’d normally smother it with; when I’ve been hungry and I’d normally satisfy my cravings with a piece of chocolate or biscuit, if I’ve no healthy vegan alternatives available, I’ve not bothered; on countless occasions I’ve astutely scrutinised food labels and surrendered with an ‘oh, I’ll go without’. This, coupled with the lack of high fat cheese and butter options that would normally sneak into my food means I’m down on calories, fat and energy that would normally bulk me up a bit. My diet has always been healthy, balanced, unprocessed with the majority of my food homemade and these little ‘extras’ have been vital in maintaining the balance for me.

Annoyingly, many vegan recipes or menu choices adhere to ‘clean eating’ gluten free principles too; they almost seem entwined. (Why?? I’m avoiding animal products not pasta and bread!!) Although I’ve tried to create balanced family recipes that are representative of the way we’d normally eat, only vegan, I have succumbed to some of these notions during my Veganuary month as a way of introducing even more protein into my diet. I’ve used gram (chickpea) flour for example, and black bean spaghetti but in reality, my body needs carbs for energy. I’ve avoided recipes that substitute pasta for vegetables (what healthy vegetarian or vegan needs more vegetables to accompany vegetables in their mainly vegetable plant-based diet?!) such as courgette slices or spaghetti, as it just leaves me hungry.

But I have been hungry. Hungrier than usual. According to The Man, my bones stick out. It’s uncomfortable for me to sit on hard seating without a cushion or even get comfortable in bed due to protrusions that didn’t used to be there (well, maybe not quite but it feels like it at times). My UK size 6 clothes now hang off me and I look tired. All the reasons for trying this supposedly superior lifestyle seem to have backfired on me. I look worse, feel worse and I’ve lost days at work and time with my kids due to illness – veganism definitely hasn’t brought about the optimism and changes I’s hoped for.

The most frustrating and devastating aspect of my failure is that I hadn’t gone into this decision naively. I’d come prepared, armed with nutritional yeast, maca powder, cacao and vitamin B12 supplements, alongside an already healthy diet and a bucketful of knowledge. I’ve been vegetarian for nearly 30 years, not a huge milk drinker and I’ve always been so fit and healthy, battling anything thrown in my way. I’ve handled four healthy pregnancies, avoided major illness, dealt with divorce, house moves, job changes and bringing up children without incident: this transition should have been easy!

My trial month is nearly up and although I’d seen this as an introduction to a permanent life change when I first signed up to Veganuary, I may have to rethink. I need to feed my body up, fuel it with carbs and fats until I feel well again. I’m not talking a total reversal as this won’t be easy to action as my decision to become vegan was based on ethics and values. I’ll stick with the soya and plant-based hot chocolates that have become a staple treat in my life and the flapjack and wholesome Nutella. But I’m undecided as to where to take it from here. I enjoy being cruelty and animal-product free but I haven’t enjoyed the bombardment and lobbying from other (aggressive) vegans fighting their cause. I’d rather fight by battle peacefully and not align myself with the angry mob.

Although I’ve discovered this diet and lifestyle choice has its drawbacks, there are thousands of other vegans that are testament that it works for them. Maybe they’re slightly more substantial than me in the first place and can take that initial weight loss that’s proved fatal for me as they adapt to change. However, at present veganism doesn’t sit entirely comfortably with me. I’m looking for balance, not denial. I may stick with it as I try to overcome my recent bout of illness and regain full fitness, but no matter what my beliefs are the most important one of all has to be my health.

Veganuary Day 30: Sausage Shepherd’s Pie

I don’t seem to have ever got in quite right with shepherds pie in the past (for our family there are a lot of boxes to tick!) Although I know vegetarian sausages aren’t top of the list nutrition wise, I’m using them in tonight’s pie in place of the Quorn mince or lentils I’ve used in the past. Firstly, Mathilde will eat them so it makes my life easier; everyone else will eat them – meat or not; and thirdly, the ones I’m using are vegan. Therefore, a perfect all-round Tuesday night family meal (in theory). 

 Ingredients:

  • 1 x red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 x carrot, peeled a diced 
  • 1 x red pepper, diced
  • 1 x courgette, diced
  • 12 x vegan sausages 
  • 250ml veg stock
  • Small bunch of parsley, finely chopped
  • Half tsp mixed herbs
  • 1 x tbsp Henderson’s Relish 
  • Splash of soy sauce 
  • Approx 500g white potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped

Grill the sausages for 15 minutes (or according to packet instructions) until nicely browned. At the same time, place the potatoes in a pan of cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes until tender. Set both aside.

Meanwhile, cook the onion in olive oil until beginning to soften. Add the diced carrot and red pepper, followed by the courgette.

Chop the sausages into rough chunks (approx 4-5 pieces each) and add to the veg. 

Pour in the veg stock, mixed herbs, Henderson’s Relish and soy sauce. Bring to the boil and leave to simmer git a few minutes. Stir in the parsley and transfer to a large ovenproof dish.

Mash the potatoes with dairy-free spread and almond/soya milk. Top the sausage mixture with the mash, sprinkle with paprika and bake at 200C for 30 minutes.

Serve with green veg. 

To counteract the processed sausage content I’ve packed this dish full of veg, so although it’s basically a sausage-and-mash-dish-in-one, it’s slightly balanced. My preference would be to use mushrooms and peas but Mathilde won’t entertain mushrooms, so it’s a non-starter. I’ve used acceptable (to her) vegetables instead: she loved it and it was an undetectable vegan hit with the whole family.

Veganuary Day 29: Chocolate Brownie

Converting to a plant-based diet means by default adopting a fairly low-fat, low calorie diet. By dropping high fat foods, such as cheese, cream and milk in favour of plant-based alternatives it also also means replacements need to be found for certain chocolate, biscuits and cakes, making them much harder to come by, or abstaining altogether. I’ve found (after avidly scrutinising food labels) that many options I would have thought ‘safe’ are now off limits due to micro amounts of milk powder or other hidden ingredients, which I never would’ve guessed were in there! I’ve had to start baking a lot of my own treats and snacks or I’ve gone without.

Although this may seem like a blessing for people trying to cut the calories, I’ve not actively been trying to lose weight and as someone on the low side of ‘normal’ body mass I’ve found this a fairly unwelcome side effect. Unintentionally I’ve been eating less and also been hungrier than I was before I made the switch to veganism. Some of the treat replacements I’ve been making, such as flapjack and raw chocolate brownies are loaded with dried fruits, nuts and seeds and although super healthy, I’m looking for some stodge to bulk me up and combat the lost calories from areas I’ve cut out of my diet.

I’d normally cringe at this chocolate brownie recipe – I’m usually a fan of baking with healthy ingredients, or at least smuggling some fruit or vegetable content into it – but right now, this is what my body needs. There’s a disgustingly unacceptable amount of sugar in it – it made me feel queasy as I was making it! However, it’s all about moderation and giving in to what my body needs so I’m not craving food that’s off limits.

Ingredients:

  • 200g caster sugar
  • 200g soft brown sugar
  • 100g cacao (or cocoa powder)
  • 80ml coconut oil, melted
  • Half tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 200g self raising flour
  • 200ml water
  • 150g walnuts or pecans, roughly chopped
  • 150g chocolate chips, plus extra for sprinkling on top

Combine the sugar, cacao, baking powder, vanilla extract and oil together in a mixing bowl. Stir in the flour and slowly pour in the water to make a thick chocolatey batter. Finally stir in the chocolate chips and chopped nuts.

Tip into a lined square baking tin and scatter with extra chocolate chips. Bake at 180C for approx 30 minutes until risen.

Don’t worry about it collapsing and sinking in the middle – it will retain a delicious oozy centre when it cools. 

I can’t really find anything positive to say about this gooey sugar creation – apart from it tastes SO good!

*WARNING This brownie must be consumed as part of a healthy, balanced and sensible (if fairly restrictive) diet 😉

Veganuary Day 28: Carrot Bacon

When I’m fancying a traditional(ish) Sunday brunch, I generally opt for scrambled tofu, sausage, beans and mushrooms. Today, I’m adding an accompaniment in the way of carrot ‘bacon’. Not that a vegetarian / vegan breakfast needs any enhancing or bacon replacement – I’ve never felt the need to replace it with ‘facon’ products. 

It’s one of those popular myths that all vegetarians miss bacon. I don’t. In fact the stench of it turns my stomach. This carrot replacement is just a smoky vegetable addition that can either be served with a breakfast dish or in a sandwich with rocket, (vegan) mayo, tomato and pine nuts as a vegan BLT. 

Ingredients:

  • 1 x large carrot, peeled
  • 2 x tsp sesame oil
  • 1 x tsp soy sauce
  • 1 x tsp smoked paprika
  • Drizzle of maple syrup

Peel and thinly slice the carrot into ribbons using a peeler. Combine the rest of the ingredients together and marinate the carrot ribbons in it for up to 30 minutes.

Spread the strips out on a lined baking tray, cover with any remaining marinade. Bake at 200C for 20 minutes or until crispy.   

  

Veganuary Day 27: Homemade Flatbreads

After a week of complaining and The Man blaming my recent illness of my vegan quest, he’s finally embracing my lifestyle choice (for one night only). He’s gone all new-age tonight, recreating my favourite Stone-Age Flatbread from the Cafe at the Museum for when I get home from work.

He’s making the flatbreads from scratch, whilst I’ve prepared the carrot tapenade and flageolet bean falafels to top them with. Perfect teamwork for a perfect (vegan) supper.

Ingredients for carrot tapenade:

  • 2 x large carrots
  • 2 x garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 x tsp mixed herbs
  • pinch of cumin
  • small bunch of coriander
  • 3-4 tbsp. olive oil

Peel and roughly chop the carrot into large chunks. In a mixing bowl, drizzle with a good splash of olive oil and the mixed herbs and shake to coat and cover the carrot.

Bake at 180C for 30-40 minutes.

Leave to cool slightly then combine with the rest of the ingredients in a food processor. Add the olive oil slowly until it reaches the desired consistency and purée until smooth.

Ingredients for the flatbreads:

  • 350g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 150-200ml warm water

Sieve the flour into a large mixing bowl. Season with salt and pepper and mix with the oil and water. Knead for 3-4 minutes then cover and leave to rest whilst preparing the toppings for the dish.

Divide the mixture into 4 balls, then roll out to a 0.5cm thickness. Place on a lined baking tray and bake in a hot oven (220C) for approx. 12 minutes or until cooked through.

Spread the cooked flatbreads with carrot tapenade. Top with roasted peppers, onion, pine nuts, falafels, olives and hummus and return to the oven to warm through. Garnish with handfuls of fresh rocket and serve. 

Food worth going vegan for!