Sunday, 23 August 2015

Our family holiday to Australia - Part 2: Sydney

...So, after two weeks in Victoria, we travelled to New South Wales with Virgin Australia.

I can only imagine how beautiful the bays of Sydney and the surrounding area must have been for James Cook to have (re)named it after Wales. There are very few similarities now, unless you head out of the city. The botanic gardens and beaches are beautiful and the Sydney opera house and bridge make stunning landmarks, but it's not until you travel for over an hour outside the city, that you get any idea of what Australia might have one looked like.

During our stay in Oz, we've learned about the indigenous aboriginal people, culture, art and traditions ...something the British history books and classes seem to miss out. We've seen some amazing indigenous art in the Art Gallery of NSW and an interesting exhibition on aboriginal culture in the Australian Museum. It was uncomfortable at times to read the stories of stolen land and children taken from their families, but something I feel I must mention.

Anyway, back to the review...we stayed in the suburb of Rozelle; around a 20 minute bus-ride from the centre, and within easy reach of a selection of bars, cafes and restaurants, in neighbouring Balmain. Getting around Sydney was easy enough on the buses and ferries. Like Melbourne, you need to buy a travel pass, called an Opal (based on London's Oyster Card apparently). Of course, we had to visit the harbour bridge and opera house, which are in the heart of the city, near the beautiful botanic gardens. I was surprised to find they were so close together, as they don't appear that way on TV. I had hoped to be in awe of these fantastic structures, as so many of my friends and family have been, but alas, they looked like a pointy building and a big, metal bridge to me!

Food-wise, Sydney was pretty similar to Melbourne, except there seemed to be more European/Middle-Eastern influences and slightly less Asian. Vegetarian and vegan food was plentiful in both restaurants and shops, so we had no shortage of good food to eat. Lunches in cafes and restaurants were full-on meals with ubiquitous avocados and salad, not light snacks and sandwiches, so we often look a picnic out with us, which saved money too. We found that Greek and Middle-Eastern restaurants were the best bet for a vegetarian light lunch or dinner, but these were out in the suburbs, not in the city .
On an Aussie Masterchef theme again, we ate at the trendy Wilhemina's restaurant (fronted by last years' forth-placed contestant Jamie Fleming) and tried some delicious cake and pastries from guest chef, Adriano Zumbo's patisserie.
Towards the end of our holiday, we were craving a good (British-Indian) curry and luckily both the Indian Palace and Manjits in Balmain delivered on taste and price. The only thing lacking was a good naan (maybe they don't have tandoor ovens in Australia), as the naans in both places were small, round, pale affairs, not the big, puffy pillows of bread we get in the UK! They also had puny idea why that is!

As a city, we found Sydney to be big, brash and busy, so a highlight for us all was the tranquil, and small but perfectly formed, Chinese Garden of Friendship in China Town. You really wouldn't believe you were in the city centre, unless you looked up to see the skyscrapers surrounding it. Another must-do was the stunning coastal walk from Coogee beach to Bondi, which took us around and hour and a half with plenty of photo opportunities. Unfortunately, there were no Bondi Rescue life guards on duty when we got there! Talking of beaches, we also took the ferry from Circular Quay to visit Manly and Watson's Bay. Even in the winter, it was warm enough to have a paddle and a picnic on the beach, which was lovely. It was also well worth travelling out to the vast Blue Mountains to get a taste of real, rural Australia.
After four busy weeks down-under, it was time for another mammoth flight back to the UK with Cathay Pacific. I don't know when or if we''ll ever travel back to Oz, but this was a holiday we'll never forgot. Pin It

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Our family holiday to Australia - Part 1: Melbourne

If I was an organised blogger, I would have had a couple of posts up my sleeve, scheduled them to publish whilst I was away, and you'd have been none the wiser. As I'm not, I thought I'd better explain where I am ! I don't post many personal anecdotes, so if you're looking for a recipe, feel free to ignore my holiday ramblings ...

My long time followers, if there are any, may remember my rather self-indulgent post about my friend and her family emigrating to Australia. My brother and sister-in-law also emigrated a few years earlier (you see a pattern emerging here?!) so it's been a mission for us to save up enough money for us to visit them all, before the girls left home. As Miss Ony took her GCSEs this year, we thought this summer would be a good time to go; luckily, Mr O's boss was agreeable to him taking an extended holiday.

As we're tied to school holidays, flight prices were never going to be cheap. By initially using flight price-checking websites and then comparing fares for individual airlines, I eventually found suitable, affordable flights with Cathay Pacific - the cheapest were with Malaysian Airlines! Cathay Pacific were great to fly with and had pretty comfortable seats, but it's a long flight no matter how far the seats recline and we were all very happy to finally land in Australia after 27 hours.

So far, we've spent 2 weeks in Melbourne. Despite the chilly winter weather (yes it's winter here - which seemed to come as a shock to some of my friends!!), we've had a great time seeing my friend and her family, plus of course, the sights of Melbourne. We've also eaten some great food...see, this is a kind of a foodie post after all!

We initially stayed at the Pegasus Apart'Hotel at the edge of the CBD for our first week, We decided on this accommodation, partly for the location and price (I got a discount by booking through Expedia), plus they offered free WiFi and had an indoor, heated  pool - great for the teenagers. The apartments were near Queen Victoria Market, which had an amazing deli hall and fruit/veg market, where we bought most of our food for our self-catered breakfasts and lunches. We found out that in winter, there's also a weekly night market every Wednesday - with street food, drink, craft stalls and live entertainment - we wrapped up warmly and enjoyed an evening there.

Luckily, the exchange rates were in our favour! Restaurants in the city varied widely from cafes, budget restaurants (mainly East Asian) and pubs, to expensive steak and hotel/casino restaurants. There were plenty of vegetarian and vegan options available, including several exclusively vegetarian places, but basically, the more expensive the restaurant, the less veggie food was on the menu! We mainly stuck to the budget end of the market and ate some delicious food, including a yummy eggplant parma at the famous Mrs Parmas, but we did splash out one night and ate some beautifully presented, and very tasty Greek-inspired food at Gazi (one of Aussie Masterchef presenter George Calombaris' restaurants).

The public transport system was very easy to navigate, cheap and efficient. All the trams in the CBD are free, which is amazing. If venturing further afield, you need to purchase a MYKI card, which you then top up as needed - like an Oyster card, I'm told.

We've done plenty of the usual touristy things, including visiting the brilliant Melbourne Museum, the beautiful Botanic Gardens, seeing some amazing art by indigenous artists at the National Gallery of Victoria (Australia), a Yarra Valley wine tour and of course we've seen some of the unique, native Australian wildlife including koalas, wombats and kangaroos. 

After a week in the city, we moved out to the seaside resort of St Kilda at the Quest St. Kilda Bayside Apartments, again, we chose these apartments for their price and location (5 minutes walk from the beach and central St Kilda). Unfortunately, their free WiFi, was limited to 250mb per day, which basically equated to a few minutes checking social media - the girls were not impressed, so we ended up purchasing unlimited WiFi.

In the summer, St Kilda must be bustling with tourists and back packers, but in winter it was pretty quiet, although almost all of the restaurants, bars and shops were open. None-the-less, we enjoyed visiting the traditional European cake and chocolate shops, Luna Park, going on beach-side walks and seeing the wild colony of fairy penguins at the end of the pier. Our favourite eating place in St Kilda was the tiny 40 Thieves & Co Middle-Eastern restaurant - great food and friendly service. 

I'm not sure if it's on in the UK yet, but we've been watching Restaurant Revolution (one of the few Australian programmes on free-to-air TV). Some of the contestants have been running a pop-up restaurant in St Kilda, and we've enjoyed watching the queues build each day!

I can't believe how fast our first two weeks have gone. We're now packing for our next adventure in Sydney...

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Saturday, 11 July 2015

Tear 'n' Share Spiral Pizza

Tear 'n' Share Spiral Pizza
I was inspired to make this alternative pizza, after seeing the idea on Pinterest. My version is somewhere between a tear 'n' share' flat-bread and a pizza; it works well as a picnic food, as you can just pull a chunk off, rather than slicing it up. I topped mine with Manchego cheese, tomatoes, olives and parsley, for a Spanish theme, but you could use mozzarella and basil for an Italian flavour or feta and oregano for a Greek version.

Makes one large pizza
  • 1 portion of basic white bread dough
  • 100g/4oz cheese, chopped into chunks or grated
  • 4 tbsp tomato purée or passata
  • 50g/2oz olives, sliced
  • 50g/2oz sun-dried or fresh, de-seeded tomatoes, chopped
  • Fresh or dried herbs
Make up the dough, by hand or on the dough setting in the bread-maker.
Prove until doubled in size, then cut into 4 pieces.
Roll out each piece into a long 'sausage' about 30cm/1ft long.
Form a large spiral on a large, greased baking sheet, pressing the ends of each 'sausage' together. 
Make sure that there is a gap of around 2cm between each loop of the spiral.
Spread the tomato purée roughly over the dough.
Sprinkle the other toppings over randomly.
Leave to rise for 30 minutes.
Bake in a pre-heated oven at 220C/200C Fan/ Gas 7/425F for 10-15 minutes. or until the cheese and bread are starting to brown.

 Bready, Steady, Go
Suitable for freezing.

Vegan variation: Simply substitute the dairy cheese for your favourite vegan cheese.
Buffet variation: Make mini pizza whirls.

I'm linking this recipe to Bready, Steady Go, hosted by Jen’s Food and Utterly Scrummy Food For Families. 

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Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Ocado: Vegetarian Grocery Shopping Online - A Review

This year, Ocado won the award for Best Online Retailer for Vegetarians and have since launched their brand new Vegetarian Shop, based on feedback from customers. As I do most of my food shopping online, I was eager to test this out, as one of my pet peeves is that a search for vegetarian or vegan will often bring up the most obvious foods (like Quorn and dairy-free milk), not the necessarily ones you're looking for.

The new Ocado vegetarian shop categorises products by eating occasion and food type, making it easy to browse for meat-free alternatives, filled pasta and deli products, plus of course cheeses, store cupboard ingredients and even raw foods. There's also a wine category, which is useful, as animal by-products in wines are often something that people forget about, especially when entertaining vegetarian and vegan guests. As well as the dedicated veggie shop, each product is clearly labelled with a v for vegetarian...including toiletries. An extra symbol for vegans would be great, but it's quite easy to search for vegan products, as there's also a vegan check box in the search menu.

I recently tried out the new vegetarian categories and was amazed to find the wide range of products available, which I might not have found if I just shopped through my favourites list and special offers, as I normally do. In the meat substitute section, there were 30 different types of veggie sausage and 25 varieties of burger alone...that's far more choice than most supermarkets can offer in store. My only real criticism is that if you don't know where to find the vegetarian shop section, as it's not that easy to locate (you need to click on World Foods & Free From first and then select Vegetarian.)

By using some of the many special offers available and selecting Ocado's own brand products, my weekly shop cost almost exactly the same as it would from the other major online supermarkets, so that dispels the myth that Ocado are much more pricey than their competitors. 

Of course, the after-sales emails and delivery were both up to their usual standard. I particularly liked the email telling me the name of my delivery driver and which van they'd be driving. Ocado also pack their bags well, which makes it so much quicker to put the shopping away, when all of the frozen and chilled products are packed together. Without wishing to sound snobby, Ocado delivery drivers are a cut above the rest, which is probably down to better training in customer service. 
When it comes to quality, all of my fruit, veg and chilled products were well within their use-by dates and of a good quality. I would definitely recommend Ocado to my fellow veggies, as it makes online shopping so much more simple.

Integrity Statement
I received a complimentary shop with Ocado for the purpose of this review. All views expressed are genuine.

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Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Asparagus & Goat's Cheese Quiche: Yapp’s Drinks On Us Challenge

 Yapp Brothers Wines
I'm not usually one to take up bloggers' challenges, but as this one involved wine, it was hard to resist! Yapp Brothers (the wine merchants) were kind enough to send out a bottle of wine and an individually tailored handwritten note to some of their favourite food bloggers in order for us to blog a suitable recipe which would pair well with our carefully-selected wine.

My chosen wine was an organically-produced Bergerac Sec: Domaine de l'Ancienne Cure 2014, which is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon grapes and described as being "Very pale and clear with appealing spring blossom scents and a zesty, citrus-edged palate with a whistle-clean finish."

I did a bit of research to see what sort of flavours and ingredients would go with this wine. Amongst the vegetarian ingredients I found listed were: asparagus, young goat's cheeses, salads and herbs, so an idea hatched to make a cheesy quiche and serve it with sautéed new potatoes and a salad for a delicious, summer meal. 

So, was this a good wine pairing? I found that the acidity and citrus flavours of the wine, stood up well to the rich, cheesy taste of quiche, cutting through the creaminess after each mouthful. 

  • 1 pack of ready-made shortcrust pastry (or make your own if you have the time!)
  • 1 bunch of asparagus (approx 250g/8oz before trimming), trimmed and cut into 5-6cm pieces
  • 1 small onion, diced finely
  • 180ml/6 fl oz double cream
  • 2 medium eggs, beaten
  • 125g/5oz soft goat's cheese, chopped into small chunks
  • 25g/1oz hard/mature goat's cheese or vegetarian Parmesan-style cheese, grated 
  • 1 tbsp chopped basil
  • 1 tbsp chopped parsley
  • grated nutmeg and black pepper to season  

Pre-heat the oven to 190 C/180 C Fan/ Gas 5/375 F
Grease a 9-10"/25cm loose-bottom flan, or sandwich cake tin. 

Roll out the pastry to around 0.5cm thick, so that it's about 3cm larger than the circumference of your tin. Cut out a large circle, using the base of the tin as a guide, with a sharp knife.
Line the tin with the pastry, pressing down gently to fit the bottom and sides of the tin. Trim off the excess pastry with a sharp knife.
Prick the base of the pastry case with a fork and bake blind (using baking beans or dried beans) for 12-15 minutes or until it's just starting to colour. Remove from the oven and reduce the heat to 170 C/160 C Fan/ Gas 3/325 F

Empty the baking beans out gently.

Meanwhile, gently fry the onions in a drop of vegetable oil, until softened. 
Add the asparagus to the pan and place on a low heat for 5-7 minutes, or until tender, with the lid on - the moisture will steam the asparagus. Remove from the heat and take the pan lid off to let any excess moisture evaporate.

Mix the eggs and cream together and stir in the cheeses, herbs and seasoning.
Scatter the cooked asparagus and onions over the base of the flan case.
Pour the custard mixture over, ensuring that the vegetables are covered.
Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the custard has set in the centre and turned golden brown.

Allow to cool in the tin for at least 15 minutes before removing.
Serve with sautéed or boiled new potatoes and a herby salad.

Integrity Statement
I received a complimentary bottle of wine for recipe development. All views expressed are my own.

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Sunday, 7 June 2015

Indian Restaurant-Style Mint Sauce and Onion Salads

Indian Restaurant-Style Mint Sauce and Onion Salad
I've been trying to re-create the onion salad or chutney that we get with poppadoms in our local Indian/Bangladeshi restaurants. There are two types; one is quite plain with a bit of cucumber and tomato; the other has a sweet and spicy red sauce. The 'secret' ingredient in both recipes is chopped coriander, which complements the mint.

I've previously blogged my mint sauce dip, but thought I'd add it here too.

Each recipe serves 4-6 with poppadoms, bhajis or samosas. They also go well with vegetarian barbecued food.

Red, sweet onion salad
  • 2 medium white onions, diced into approx 1cm pieces
  • 2 tbsp tomato ketchup
  • 2 tbsp mango chutney (sweet or spicy depending on preference)
  • 1 tbsp tomato purée/paste
  • 1 tsp unsweetened mint sauce concentrate (Colemans)
  • 2 tsp chopped fresh or frozen coriander leaves
Chop the onions and separate the layers.
Mix all of the remaining ingredients together and then stir in the raw onions.
Allow to marinate for an hour or so, in the fridge, before serving.

Plain onion salad (Kachumber) 
  • 2 medium white onions, quartered and sliced finely
  • 2.5 cm/1" chunk of cucumber, de-seeded, quartered and sliced finely
  • 1 tomato, de-seeded, quartered and sliced finely
  • ½ tsp dried mint
  • 2 tsp chopped fresh or frozen coriander leaves
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • A little red chilli powder, to taste (optional)
Chop the onions and separate the layers.
Mix with all of the remaining ingredients.
Allow to marinate for an hour or so, in the fridge, before serving.

Mint sauce

This is my version of the thin, pourable mint sauce (not the thicker raita), which is normally green and served with poppadoms and onion bhajis. If you want to, you can add a few drops of green food colouring, or a pinch of turmeric to give it some colour, but I don't think it needs it! 
  • 1 cup of plain yogurt or dairy-free yogurt
  • 1 small clove of garlic, crushed
  • 1 tsp caster sugar
  • 1 tsp unsweetened mint sauce concentrate (Colemans)
  • A few dashes of hot chilli sauce
Mix all of the ingredients together. Chill until needed.

Top tip: If you can't find mint sauce concentrate, either use ½ tsp of dried mint or 2-3 tsp regular mint sauce, strained through a tea strainer to remove most of the vinegar. Adjust the amount of extra sugar added accordingly.

How to cook poppadoms in the microwave...

Traditionally poppadoms are deep fried in oil, but they taste nearly as good when cooked in the microwave and are much lower in fat. Look in the Asian section of your supermarket for brands of uncooked poppadoms, such as Ruby or Natco, as they are much cheaper and better than the big UK brands. 

 No Croutons RequiredYou can microwave them dry, for a fat-free snack, but they taste better and expand more, when wiped (use a sheet of kitchen towel) or sprayed on both sides with a little vegetable oil before cooking.

West Midland's BloggersMicrowave individually for 30-40 seconds on high (no need to turn).

For a main course try my paneer tikka kebabs with mushroom biryani.

I'm adding these salad recipes to this month's No Croutons Required challenge hosted by Jacqueline at Tinned Tomatoes and to the West Midland's Bloggers linky.
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Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Mildreds: The Vegetarian Cookbook - A review & give-away

Mildreds Vegetarian Cookbook
A few years ago, I had a wonderful meal at Mildreds vegetarian restaurant in London's West End. There are no exclusively vegetarian restaurants where I live, so it's always a real treat to be able to choose anything from a menu, without scrutinising it for traces of chorizo or anchovy!

I recently found out that there's now a Mildreds cookbook, packed full of recipes for the sort of homely dishes served in the restaurant, including some of their classic starters, mains, mezze dishes and desserts. These are mainly a mix of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Asian-inspired recipes...just the sort of meals I love to both cook and eat.
"An exciting new cookery book from the popular vegetarian restaurant, Mildreds: The Vegetarian Cookbook has something for everyone. Whether you are a vegetarian, or are trying to cut down on your meat intake, the international influences in these recipes promise variety and flavour."
Once I'd had a quick browse, I was really excited to get cooking. First on the list was the vegan chocolate and peanut butter brownies, which tasted as good as they sounded. I then made the halloumi, courgette and mint fritters and the roast pepper and black olive lahmacuns (Turkish pizzas) which turned out really well, as you can see below.

I loved the book and it's one I'll definitely be returning to time and time again. The recipes are clearly laid out, easy to follow and use fresh and seasonal, mainstream ingredients, available from most supermarkets. They're marked with a V for vegan recipes and GF for gluten-free, but most recipes also include a vegan option if they contain eggs or dairy. Due to the unpretentious and fuss-free nature of the recipes, I would particularly recommend this book to new or young vegetarians, meat reducers and vegetarian families, who want to cook simple, quick and tasty, vegetarian food. 

For recipes and news from Mildreds, do pop over and take a look at their blog

Mildreds: The Vegetarian Cookbook by Mildreds, Photography by Jonathan Gregson, Published by Mitchell Beazley, £25,

I have a copy of this fabulous book to give away (UK ONLY). Just tell me your favourite vegetarian meal in a comment below and add your details to the Rafflecopter widget. Competition closes 12:00 am 16th June 2015.

Integrity Statement
I received a complimentary copy of the book to review and one to give-away. All views expressed are my own.

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Sunday, 31 May 2015

Smoky Baked Beans with Portabello Mushrooms & Halloumi

Smoky Baked Beans with Portabello Mushrooms & Halloumi
I've been meaning to blog a home-cooked baked bean recipe for some time now, and never got round to it for some reason. I'm having a bit of a bean phase at the moment, so thought it was finally time to write up the recipe. To make the beans a bit more interesting, I decided to serve them with potatoes, mushrooms and halloumi cheese, but they also make a great jacket potato or enchilada filling.  

As they take a long time to cook, it's worth making a double batch of these beans to make 2 meals. Simply add some extra spices and a tin of sweetcorn to make a tasty chilli.

Serves 4

For the baked beans:
  • 1 cup dried haricot beans, soaked overnight (or 2 cans, drained - see quick version below)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 1 or 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 2 tbsp black treacle/molasses
  • 1 carton passata
  • 1 chilli, finely diced
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tbsp vegetarian Worcester sauce
To serve:
  • A 225g/8oz pack of halloumi cheese, cut into 8 slices
  • 4 large Portobello mushrooms, peeled
  • 450g/1lb baby new potatoes
Drain the beans from their soaking water. Boil for 10 minutes in fresh, boiling water, then reduce the heat and simmer for 1 hour. Drain.

Whilst the beans are cooking, make the sauce... 
Heat the oil in a large pan on a medium heat. Sauté the onion for a few minutes to soften, before adding the bell pepper, chilli and garlic. Cook for a further 3-5 minutes.
Add the remaining baked bean sauce ingredients, plus the cooked beans. Simmer on a low heat in a covered pan for 30-45 minutes, or until the beans are soft and tender.

Just before the baked beans are cooked, boil the baby new potatoes until tender, drain and drizzle with a little olive oil.
Brush the mushrooms with oil and griddle, bbq or grill/broil for a few minutes on each side. Repeat with the halloumi.

To Serve: Spoon a portion of beans on to each of the mushrooms. Top with 2 slices of halloumi and serve with a few boiled potatoes per person.

Quick version: Use 2 tins of haricot beans instead of the dried beans; Use around two thirds of the passata and cook the tomato sauce for 15 minutes before adding the beans. Simmer for a further 5 minutes before serving.
Camping version: Use 2 cans of baked beans and a tin of ratatouille add 4 tbsp of spicy barbecue sauce and heat. Serve with barbecued Portabello mushrooms, halloumi and garlic bread.
Cooking with Herbs Lavender and LovageVegan version: Omit the halloumi or swap it for your favourite dairy-free cheese.
Slow cooker version: Boil the soaked beans rapidly for 10 minutes in a pan, then transfer into the slow cooker with all the remaining baked bean ingredients. Cook on low for 8-10 hours.

I'm entering this recipe to this month's Cooking With Herbs linky hosted by Karen at Lavender & Lovage 
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Tuesday, 19 May 2015

National Vegetarian Week 2015 - Win Seed & Bean Chocolate

 National Vegetarian Week
Happy National Vegetarian Week! Whether you're vegetarian, vegan or just veg-curious, Vegetarian Week is a great time to try out new foods and test out some mouth-watering, meat-free recipes on the family. Being vegetarian these days doesn't mean living on lentils, even though some people still have these out-dated misconceptions.

When I went fully veggie over 20 years ago, meat-free convenience foods were in their infancy and you had to go to a health-food store to buy them. Dried TVP mince and Sos-Mix were a couple of the limited range of products available; there were no ready-made veggie sausages, burgers or Quorn products available in supermarkets (that makes me sound old!).

These days, there's a great range of fresh and frozen veggie/vegan-friendly products available, and a wealth of cook books, blogs and apps to inspire you to cook an exotic range of cuisines. I've been particularly encouraged to see so many new young, vegetarian and vegan food bloggers in the (social)media lately. After a lull in vegetarianism, and a rise in the interest and popularity of so called ethically-raised meat, it seems that being vegetarian/vegan is becoming fashionable again.

I hope you'll take a look at some of my recipes and those on the Vegetarian Society website and recipe app and maybe share them with your friends and families, to show them that vegetarian food doesn't need lots of weird fancy ingredients to make it taste good!

To celebrate the week, and to keep in with the share theme, I'm sharing some delicious organic and award-winning Seed and Bean Chocolate with you, by hosting a give-away.
 Seed & Bean
This year Vegetarian Week is all about sharing delicious vegetarian food with friends, family and colleagues, exploring all the amazing tasty offerings that can be enjoyed. 
At Seed and Bean we believe in courageous chocolate. Creating, exciting, vibrant flavours, with no ‘hints of’ or ‘flavourings’. If we can’t use real, we don't make it. Bars include Chile, Lime, Coffee, Coconut, Cornish Sea Salt, Raspberry, Cardamom, Poppy Seed, Hemp and are available in either milk, white or dark, with 12 being suitable for vegans. 
Some flavour combinations are smooth and easy on the palette, some will rocket your taste buds - but whatever takes your fancy we can promise that Seed and Bean will change your chocolate life forever.
I tried out three of their dark, dairy-free varieties including pumpkin seed and hemp oil, hazelnut, and sea salt. Some of the flavour combinations might sound a bit adventurous, but you won't be disappointed. The dark chocolate is amazingly smooth and rich, and contrasts well the the additional flavourings. With distinctive recyclable, matt packaging in a rainbow of colours, the bars are easy to spot in-store; Seed and Bean chocolate is stocked in Waitrose, Planet Organics, Whole Food Markets, and on line at with a RRP £2.49 for an 85g bar.

To win 4 bars of Seed and Bean chocolate, just enter the Rafflecopter widget below, and leave me a comment telling me which bar you'd most like to try. Please also mark your entry 'vegan' if you wish to win dairy-free chocolate only. Competition ends midnight Wednesday 27 May 2015. UK ONLY

Integrity Statement
I received a selection of complimentary chocolate bars from Seed & Bean to review and give-away. I was not required to, or paid to promote the Vegetarian Week. All views expressed are my own.

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Thursday, 14 May 2015

Black Bean Chilli-Loaded Potato Skins - Suma Bloggers Network

We all love a good veggie chilli, and as I had half a pack of Suma dried black beans in the cupboard, I thought I'd use them up, rather than using tinned beans. I must admit that although soaking and boiling dried beans is a bit of a faff, the texture is superior to that of tinned beans, and the cost is far less, especially if you make a big batch up and freeze half.

If serving to young children, you can leave out the fresh chilli for a milder flavour, and add some hot chilli sauce at the end of the cooking time, after you have removed their portions from the pan.

Serves 4 (double chilli mixture and freeze half, if you batch-cook)
  • 4 baking potatoes
  • 1 cup dried black beans, soaked over-night 
  • 1 sweet potato, diced
  • 1 bell pepper, diced
  • 1 medium courgette, diced
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small red onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 carton of passata
  • 1 chilli, finely chopped, optional
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika powder
  • 1 tbsp chopped coriander
  • 25g/1oz dark, dairy-free chocolate (I used Green & Blacks 70% Dark Chocolate
  • 50g/2oz of lightly salted tortilla chips, crushed (I used Amaizin Bio Corn Chips Natural)
  • 100g/4oz grated cheese or melting vegan cheese
For the salsa
  • 3-4 ripe tomatoes, de-seeded and chopped
  • ½ a cucumber, de seeded and diced
  • 1 small red onion, finely diced
  • 2-3 tbsp pickled jalapeño chillis, diced
  • 2 tbsp white wine vinegar or lime juice
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
  • Salad leaves
Scrub the potatoes, rub with a little vegetable oil and bake for around 1 hour at 220C/200C Fan/Gas Mark 8/425F
When soft, scoop out most of the potato, leaving a little to line the skin to soak up the chilli sauce. Retain the potato for another meal.

Mix all of the salsa ingredients together (except the salad leaves). 
Leave to marinate in the fridge, until needed.

Meanwhile, boil the soaked beans for 5 minutes, then reduce to a simmer and cook with the lid on for a further 45-50 minutes until tender but not mushy.

Heat 2 tbsp oil in a large pan and sauté the onion and garlic on a medium heat for 2-3 minutes. Then add the sweet potato and cook for a further 5 minutes until starting to colour. Add the herbs, chilli and spices along with the pepper and courgette, and stir well before pouring the passata over.
Cover, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for around 30 minutes.

When the beans are tender, drain them and add them to the chilli mixture, along with the dark chocolate. Stir and then simmer, uncovered for a further 5-10 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened and reduced.

Place the potato skins on a baking tray and fill generously with the chilli. 
Top with lightly crushed tortilla chips and grated cheese/dairy-free cheese. Return to the oven for 5 minutes, or until the cheese melts.

Serve with the salsa and salad leaves.
 Suma Bloggers Network
Short-cut: Use 1-2 tins of drained black beans instead of dried, reduce the amount of passata and heat through in the chilli mixture for the last few minutes before serving.

Integrity Statement
As a member of the Suma Blogger's Network, I will receive a selection of complimentary products from Suma every two months, to use in recipe development, and will blog an original recipe for the Network. 

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Sunday, 26 April 2015

Jealous Sweets - a review and giveaway

 Jealous Sweets
I must admit that I've been waiting for a review request from Jealous Sweets for quite a while. Not only is one of their founders a local lad, and went to the same school as my children, but their entire range of luxury sweets is also vegan, halal and gluten-free. 

Founded by old friends Imran Merza and Taz Basunia, Jealous Sweets were created as a luxury vegan/vegetarian/halal brand for adults, as an alternative to premium boxes of chocolates. They are stocked in the food halls of Selfridges and Harvey Nichols and in luxury hotels. They have also been endorsed by celeb. chefs including Tom Aiken and Jamie Oliver.

As a vegetarian, it's great to find a brand of sweets which tastes good, looks good and is free from gelatine, artificial colours and flavours.The range include Yummy Bears, Tangy Worms, Fizzy Friends, Wild Cherries, Grizzly Bears and Sour Beans...
"Naughty doesn't have to mean nasty - Jealous Sweets are full of natural fruit juices, free from artificial colours and flavours. With flavours like Grapefruit & Orange, Morello Cherry & Pineapple and Pomegranate, Jealous Sweets are a firm favourite of chefs such as Tom Aiken and Jamie Oliver, as well as the world’s most luxurious hotels as a mini bar staple. As they’re beautifully presented in gift boxes they also make a very interesting, alternative gift!"
Jealous Sweets
I loved the design of the of the individual 50g (RRP £2.49) boxes, and can see them fitting in very well as mini-bar snacks in boutique and luxury hotels, Eid gifts or even as wedding favours. The taste didn't disappoint either; all of the varieties I tried were delicious, with a real fruity kick. My favourites were the Fizzy Friends, which were an upmarket version of a certain tangy but gelatine filled popular sweet! In case a 50g box isn't enough, there are also 200g gift boxes retailing at £8.99. 

I must admit that these sweets aren't in my normal price range, but I would buy them (or would love to receive them) as a gift. If you can't find a local stockist, you can buy them online here.

You can win a gift bag of Jealous Sweets, by entering below and leaving me a comment. Competition closes at midnight Sunday 10th May 2015. UK Only

I received some complimentary Jealous Sweets products to review/give-away. All views expressed are genuine. 

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Tuesday, 21 April 2015

The best small(ish) music festivals in the Midlands 2015

festival guide
The sun is shining and the main UK festival season is looming; The Mirror has even predicted a heatwave (surely such a quality paper couldn't get it wrong?!), so I thought I'd post a round of some of the festivals Mr O and I have been pondering over visiting this year, plus some other local (to us) festivals. In case you don't know, we're seasoned festival goers, and having done the big festivals pre-kids, we now prefer a lower-key event where we can actually get some sleep at night and have a hot shower when needed!

Our teenage daughters, Miss O and Miss K, are undecided on whether or not to join in with our festivities this year, as they now have rather more refined musical tastes than us! However, I have picked these festivals for their family-friendly facilities and prices, even if they don't appeal to my kids any more. Although my daughters wouldn't appreciate them now, they used to love festivals with craft activities, circus skills workshops and a place to hang out away from the main stage. 

I have excluded some great-sounding festivals from my line up, as some of the festivals I liked the sound of do not offer family tickets, and/or charge adult prices for teens under 16. If a child under 16 must be accompanied by an adult over 18/21 to enter the festival, then surely they should be charged a child/youth or reduced price?!

If you have younger children, do take a look at my family friendly festival guide, with plenty of tips on how to make a festival fun for all the family.You can also find lots of quick and simple camping meal ideas here.

May 21-24
Bearded Theory, Catton Hall, Walton upon Trent, Derbyshire
We've been to a couple of BTs and enjoyed this friendly, chilled-out festival, the great range of bands and good facilities for families. See my review of Bearded Theory 2012 here (different venue).There are 5 stages hosting an eclectic range of acts, a children's village and teen zone.
Adult weekend ticket inc. camping £94, child weekend tickets age 0-5 free, 6-11 £22, 12-16 £45, family camping area available.
Headliners this year include The Mission, New Model Army, James and Eat Static.

May 22-24
Glastonbudget, Turnpost Farm, Leicestershire
This festival appeals to me, as it would mean that I could see tribute acts of artists who have either disbanded, died or were out of my price range when popular!
Adult weekend ticket inc. camping £76, children aged under 5 £4, 6-15 £39, 16-17 £65, family camping costs an extra £3 per person.
Headliners include a good range of rock, retro, pop and indie tribute bands such as Kazabian, Totally Tina (Turner) and (Freddie) Mercury plus some new and acoustic acts.

June 5-7
Lunar Festival, The Umberslade Estate, Warwickshire (5 miles south of Birmingham)
This one is a serious contender for us, as it's fairly local and offers some great workshops as well as great music; I'd also love to see Julian Cope play live. There are 2 stages, workshops for kids and adults and late night clubs.
Adult weekend ticket inc. camping £94, Family weekend ticket £199.
Headliners this year include Tinariwen, The Fall, Wilko Johnson, The Bootleg Beatles and Julian Cope, as well as a wide variety of other acts.

June 19-21 
Acoustic Festival of GB, Uttoxeter Race Course Staffordshire
Adult weekend ticket £85 + £20 camping, Children under 10 £1, ages 10-15 £15 +£5 camping.
The big plus for this festival is that you can park next to your tent. Believe you me, this is a perk worth paying for, especially when you have younger children with lots of stuff to cart around! Headliners include Big Country, Beautiful South and Show of Hands. 

July 3-5
Godiva Festival, War Memorial Park, Coventry
We're definitely going to the Godiva Festival, as it's free! There's no camping on site, so if you're willing to take a risk, book your hotel accommodation before the line up is finalised. We've booked a room at the local Premier Inn and are looking forward to the main acts being announced in the next few weeks - UPDATE: The Wombats, Fun Lovin’ Criminals and Embrace are set to headline Coventry Godiva Festival 2015
Godiva is actually quite a big festival; in fact it claims to be the country’s biggest free family music festival, with with 3 stages and a family field for little ones. 

July 24-26
Nozstock The Farm, Rowden Paddocks, Bromyard, Herefordshire
Adult weekend £105, Teens £85, under 12s free.
I love the sound of Nizstock, but sadly won't be able to go as we'll be on holiday. There's a plethora of stages with music, comedy and theatre.Children will love the activities in the Enchanted Glade and there are also baby-friendly facilities. Headliners include The Wu Tang Clan, Martha Reeves and The Vandellas, Beardyman and DJ Hype. 

July 24-26
Barefoot FestivalPrestwold Hall, Loughborough, Leicestershire
Adult weekened ticket inc. camping £90, child weekend ticket £38, under 5s free
Barefoot Firewalk tickets for over 12s cost an additional £33
No line up has been announced yet, but last years headliners included some talented, but lesser-known artists such as Laurel Canyons and Josephine & The Artizans, plus a range of folk, blues, indie and cabaret acts. There is also a kids' zone and arts workshops running during the weekend.

Aug 14-16
Farmer Phil's, Ratlinghope, Shrewsbury, Shropshire
Adult weekend ticket £76, family weekend ticket £ a full week's camping.
Farmer Phil's started off small and has grown each year. It offers great camping facilities, and children's workshops, craft activities and bouncy castles.
Headliners include Ferocious Dog, 3 Daft Monkeys and Talisman. 

Sept 4-6
Off the Tracks, Donington Park Farmhouse, Castle Donington Derbyshire
Adult weekend ticket inc. camping £80, children under 12s free, aged 12-15 £45. 
Off The Tracks has 4 stages, a proper campsite with well-maintained pitches, hook-ups, hard-standing, real showers and toilets. Children's activities, play areas and workshops. Headliners include Banco di Gaia and Dreadzone

Sept  11-13
Shrewsbury Fields Forever, Shropshire; Venue Not Yet Decided
(Tickets not yet on sale)
This is a bit of a wild card, as it might not go ahead. However, it's the one that my kids would probably be most interested in attending as it has hosted some very well known acts over the last few years.
SFF is Shropshire’s largest multi arena live indie, alternative, electronic, dance and popular music, comedy and arts festival, however due to a fall out over their previous venue (West Mids Showground), this year's festival may or may not be going ahead at an alternative venue. Last year's head liners included Tinie Tempah, The Cribs and Shed Seven. Keep a look out for more information!

If you know of any other similar festivals in the Midlands, do let me know and I'll add them to the list.

For details and reviews of more family-friendly festivals all over the UK, visit Festival Kidz.

I have NOT received any incentives to promote any of these festivals. All views expressed are genuine. However, if anyone want to offer me free tickets to a festival, I am always willing to review!!! Images featured are from various festivals we have been to and not necessarily of the festivals featured.
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Saturday, 18 April 2015

Halloumi Arancini with Roasted Vegetables

Halloumi Arancini with Roasted Vegetables
I've blogged an arancini recipe before, and cooked the traditional Italian stuffed rice balls many times, but this time, I thought I'd ring the changes a bit. Miss K inspired me to make an Greek-fusion version, as she fancied something made with halloumi for dinner. She helped make the arancini, whilst I prepared the tomato sauce and roasted vegetables.

You can make arancini with left over, cold risotto or cook from scratch. They're good fun, although rather messy, to make with children, but if you use halloumi rather than mozzarella, you don't have to worry about them being perfect, as the cheese won't melt and escape! I think this variation is just as good (if not better) than the original.

Makes 8-10 arancini, serve 1 or 2 per person as a starter, 2-4 for a main course

For the arancini:
  • 1 cup risotto rice (arborio)
  • 2 cups hot vegetable stock (made with a stock cube)
  • 1 large clove of garlic, crushed
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tbsp fresh, chopped parsley
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh chilli, optional
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 cup of dried breadcrumbs
  • 100g/4oz halloumi, cubed
Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a pan.
Gently fry the garlic for a minute or so.
Add the rice, herbs and chilli and stir for a further minute.
Add 1 cup of vegetable stock, stir and bring to the boil.
Reduce to a simmer and add the second cup of stock. Stir again, and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
When the rice is cooked, cool at room temperature for 30 minutes and then and refrigerate until cool enough to handle.

To make the arancini:
Take a good heaped desert-spoonful of the cool risotto and form into a firm ball using your hands to squeeze the mixture together.
Poke a hole into the middle of the ball using your thumb, then place a small cube of halloumi into the hole.
Squish the rice back over the hole to cover up the cheese completely. Repeat until all of the rice is used up.
Beat the egg in a bowl and place the breadcrumbs on a plate. First dip each rice ball into the beaten egg and then roll into the breadcrumbs until covered all over.

Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes or until needed.

Heat 2-3 tbsp of vegetable or olive oil in a large frying pan. 
Add the arancini and roll around in the pan gently to coat with oil. 
Cook for 10-15 minutes on a medium heat, turning occasionally, until golden brown and piping hot. 
Alternatively, deep-fry for 5-6 minutes.
Drain and keep warm in a low oven until needed.

Whilst cooking the risotto/arancini, make some Greek tomato sauce (you'll only need ½ a freeze the rest for another meal) and roast your choice of seasonal vegetables.

For the roasted vegetables:
  • 2 bell peppers, de-seeded and cut into chunks
  • 1 red onion, quartered
  • 100g/4oz button or chestnut mushrooms whole/halved/quartered, depending on size
  • 50g/2oz sun-dried tomatoes, chopped, plus 2 tbsp oil from the jar
  • 50g/2oz Greek olives
  • 100g/4oz halloumi, cubed
  • 1 tbsp chopped, fresh parsley, to serve
Drizzle the fresh vegetables with the sun-dried tomato oil and cook in a pre-heated oven at 160C/150C Fan/325F/Gas 3  for 15 minutes.
Turn the vegetables and add the halloumi, olives and sun-dried tomatoes and cook for a further 10 minutes. Sprinkle with a little chopped parsley, or any other fresh herbs, before serving.

Top tip: Cooked rice should be cooled quickly and refrigerated, then re-heated thoroughly to avoid food poisoning
 Cooking with Herbs
Vegan option: Omit the halloumi, or substitute for vegan cheese. Coat the arancini with No-Egg, or other egg substitute, mixed as directed with water, before rolling in breadcrumbs.

I'm linking this post to Karen's latest Cooking with Herbs linky at Lavender & Lovage. 
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