Sunday, 5 March 2017

A Carnivore's Veganuary Attempt

If you're a regular reader of my blog, I'm sure you'll know by now that I'm a pretty committed carnivore. I always like to eat ethically, and try to source my meat as locally as I can. However, I've still found myself buying New Zealand lamb and multi-packs of chicken breasts from the supermarket out of convenience, even if I disagree with it.

So,  with January being the month of ridiculous diets and abstinence from all things fun, I thought I'd use this excuse to try out being a vegan for a month. I ate as much as possible of the leftover Christmas cheese and meats, and settled in for the carbfest.

I wasn't too worried by the dairy-free aspect of things, as I'm not a huge milk drinker and hate creamy things. I love all vegetables except broad beans so I'm no salad dodger either. The first few days were the toughest, not because I missed anything, but because I stood in front of the fridge thinking "what on earth am I going to eat".

Breakfasts didn't change too much. A simple swap of almond milk from normal milk meant that my usual weekday breakfasts of porridge or protein smoothies weren't affected.

Weekend breakfasts actually got better. I'll never go back to a greasy fry up after making these on a rainy Sunday morning...

So many avocados and I've rekindled my love of mushrooms. Vegan tip: Linda McCartney sausages are a game changer. I searched high and low for a vegan friendly sausage for breakfast and these were the only ones I could find and they're actually really good.

Lunches were pretty boring and this is what I found hardest. I always take lunch to work, and I'm used to taking a salad with some protein on the top. I piled my salads high with houmous and falafels most days, but found the options limited.

The best days were when I cooked extra from my dinner the night before, such as veggie burgers or soup, that I could take with me.

I stumbled across Jamie Oliver's recipe for vegan burgers here, and batch cooked them one evening. Packed full of protein, they're really light and fresh, and I'll be making these in the summer. The best thing about them is that they're tasty in their own right, without trying to be a poor substitute of a beef burger. Great with sweet potato fries too.

It got a lot easier as the month went on. I quickly got used to cups of tea with almond milk, and I found that I really just didn't need the meat on my plate. Jacket potatoes piled high with veggie chilli, curries packed full of vegetables, and I didn't even miss it from my cooked dinners. Even Bisto's beef gravy is vegan (though most nan's would argue that it's not even gravy...)

I didn't eat out much in January due to it being a busy period in work, and also the post Christmas crunch on the pockets. However, I still managed to get some vegan friendly takeaways in, and some home made. Tarkha Dhal is one of my favourite Indian meals anyway (The Lahore do an amazing one) so I didn't miss out with this either. Plus a side of kale, because by now I was feeling pretty smug and virtuous.

I'm so glad that I did Veganuary, and it's really helped force me into the eating habits that I wanted to instil in myself, but laziness and convenience was standing in my way.

Everything got so much easier by the end of the month, possibly helped by the changes I noticed in myself and my body. I didn't lose any weight on the scales, which wasn't the aim anyway, but I felt a lot lighter and much less bloated. The fact that I found out that Oreos were vegan friendly probably didn't help my case here.

My skin cleared up almost instantly. I didn't get a single spot throughout the month, and my energy levels were through the roof. I don't know if this was because of the lack of animal products, the increase in vegetables or both, but the 3 o'clock slump didn't exist. I slept better and was a lot more alert in the mornings.

So where am I now, in March? It took me a while to eat some meat, and I have eaten meat since. However, I wasn't craving it like I did a glass of wine post sober October. I'm still only drinking almond milk, and I've only had the smallest bit of cheese that's not vegan. I don't suppose there's a label for it, but now I'm trying to only eat meat and animal products as little as possible and where I can be sure they're locally and ethically sourced.

I've found that I just don't need those products on my plate all of the time, every day. I used to base my meals around a tasteless chicken breast or a cheap steak, and this has given me the confidence to start cooking again properly, and using different flavours and ingredients.

I'm trying not to come across preachy, as I'm aware that some people close up their ears at the word 'vegan'. Hopefully this will help those who are just a little curious, or want to cut down even a little bit. I searched for blogs as I felt pretty helpless when I first started veganuary, completely unprepared.

Feel free to tweet me or comment below if you want to steal any recipe ideas! I'll try and pop some up on the blog from time to time.

Friday, 24 February 2017

Bistro 8, Blackwood

My blogging time has been limited lately, and with my job December and January are complete write off's. However, here I am, back in 2017 with blogging goals that I'll undoubtedly fail at but for now, here's some food!

I've been meaning to write about this place after each meal, and I've never gotten around to it. I dined here a couple of times in 2016 so this post will be a bit of a mish mash of all my visits!

Bistro 8 used to be a pub, and has now been converted into a bar & restaurant. They focus on good hearty, locally sourced food, with a slightly Spanish twist. They offer a tapas menu, a decent wine list (with wine glasses bigger than my head) and the garlic bread is worth a visit on it's own.

I've not yet had the full Spanish experience here, but they usually offer one of their tapas dishes as a starter, and the calamari has been a top choice each time. Dusted with a thin batter, they're never greasy. I am also a sucker for a thwack of garlic (sorry Mr P) and the aioli dip always hits the spot.

The spicy chorizo 'scotch' egg was lovely and crunchy on the outside, but a little too rich for me on the inside.

The Spanish chicken thighs were cooked well, with a lovely crunchy skin in a chorizo sauce. Roast potatoes were crispy but soft enough inside to mop up the sauce. However, the sauce lacked a bit of the spice and heat I was expecting.

They know how to cook a proper roast though. These roasties were enormous, crunchy and squidgy. Perfect.

There is a set menu available Mon - Fri (5 - 7pm) which at £12.50 for two courses is excellent value. We always come away feeling outrageously full for a midweek supper. They usually have a few curries on the set menu, and the Malaysian and Thai style curries really pack in the flavour.

The only thing that really irks me about the set menu is the number of main courses requiring a supplement. If you're going to have a set menu, then make it just that! Rant over.

What Bistro 8 does do well is good hearty, home cooked meals just like this lasagne. It was brought to the table still bubbling away and was layered full of vegetables and pasta in a creamy bechamel sauce. 

We've also visited on special occasions, such as Valentine's Day and Mother's Day, and they do really step it up a notch here. The sizeable roasties above were from a Mother's Day meal, as were these little goats cheese golden nuggets.

Our most recent visit was on Valentine's Day, and I normally try to keep my camera locked away over our meals for at least one day of the year, but this dessert was too good not to share. Prosecco and lemon candy cheesecake, with lemon sorbet. 

The cheesecake was super soft with a spongy base (which I enjoyed even though I'm more a fan of a buttery biscuit base) but the best bit by far was the lemon sorbet. So sharp yet sweet at the same time, it did exactly what it was supposed to do after all the rich food that went before.

Bistro 8 manages to make you feel like you're in a top class restaurant, but in your pyjamas. In a good way. The cosy bar downstairs, and the laid back d├ęcor with it's slight nods to the Spanish flavour, echoes the food style. It's a place you'd be equally comfortable dressed up, or popping in midweek straight from work for an indulgent midweek dinner. Which I thoroughly urge you to do.

I am determined to go back one day and enjoy it true Spanish style, on a lazy sunny day in the beer garden, with a jug of sangria and plate after plate of tapas. I also need to take a picture of the garlic bread, which I was annoyed not to find a picture of in my photo library. If you go, make sure you order it even if it's not strictly on the menu. It's more of a loaf, but it's one of my weaknesses and I just can't stop eating it even when my zipper has burst. 

Maybe avoid it on a first date though.