Charlie’s Crackin’ Curry

I love going out for a curry just as much as the next person, but when you’re trying to watch your portions and eat healthily, cooking them at home can be just as quick and easy to do – and saves on the pennies too!

It’s so quick and simple in fact, that I thought I’d share with you all my go-to homemade curry that you can chuck in the pan and job’s a good’un. It’s got great natural protein and can be tailored to your own individual preference by adding potato chunks, butternut squash and any vegetables you like.

Ingredients:

  • 1 onion, finely choppedFile_000 (53)
  • 1 large tin chickpeas
  • 2 packets king prawns/1 packet shrimp
  • red lentils, as many as you like
  • desiccated coconut (as much as you like)
  • 1 tin coconut milk*
  • 2-3tsp mild or medium curry powder
  • coriander (can be fresh or dried)
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic (to taste)
  • grated or ground ginger, to taste
  • 2 sliced peppers
  • olive oil
  • chilli flakes (optional)

Method:

  1. Chop/prepare all the ingredients. Then fry the onions & peppers in a pan with some olive oil until the onions start to brown
  2. Add the garlic and the curry powder, mix with the oil (adding a bit more if necessary) to form a sort of paste, let it all fry for another few mins
  3. Add the coconut milk*, chickpeas, lentils and any additional spices and stir in, reducing the heat and simmering – should be a light to medium brown colour
  4. Keep stirring and add in the coconut, coriander (a chopped handful if fresh, a large sprinkle if dried) and any salt and pepper and keep seasoning to taste
  5. In the last few minutes, add in the prawns (and the chilli flakes if you fancy) and mix altogether
  6. Serve with basmati or brown rice and enjoy!

*coconut milk can also be substituted with normal milk and some curry paste, just omit the curry powder if doing so [some may prefer this to avoid the xantham gum found in tinned coconut milk]

This is one of my favourite go-to recipes when cooking for friends as it’s so easily adaptable, however it’s also perfect if you fancy a treat meal without having to compromise your diet or break the bank! If you give this a try or make some variations for yourself I’d love for you to let me know by tagging the @charlieschapter instagram in your post or dropping me a message! Hope you enjoy 🙂

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

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My favourite healthy, simple & satisfying lush work lunches

Although we hear a lot about meal prep these days, I do believe it’s key to maintaining a healthy diet whilst keeping your food waste to a minimum. However, it can be difficult to know where to start…

Ideally, you can plan your meals for the whole week and write your shopping list accordingly, for which I have this amazing fridge magnet (below) that I was way too happy to find online! (Available on Amazon). Sounds like a lot of effort but I would really recommend doing this as much as possible because it means you can shop for meals rather than just as and when, whilst keeping your costs and food waste down as well. All good stuff.

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In my opinion, lunch is the easiest meal to plan and prepare for as you don’t have all the naughty temptations that can come of an evening “shall we just go out for food? Fancy popping down the pub? Do you want anything from the convenience store over the road?” which can lead to extra money being spent, naughty extra calories being consumed (be it biscuits or an extra cheat meal) and unfortunately this can also lead to some of your food ending up in the food waste bin when it hasn’t been cooked or frozen on time. This is not what we want for ourselves or for the environment. Lunch, however, you’re either out and about or sat in the office and despite there being a perfectly adequate canteen or sandwich shop nearby, it doesn’t quite beat the cheaper and often more convenient alternative of a healthy, home-cooked meal.

So, without any further ado – here are my top healthy lunches for you to easily prepare at home:

  1. Fish, rice & veggies
    This one can often require next-to-no cooking if you’re crafty with your meal and file_000-27shopping choices. As I’ve mentioned before, my microwave hot pot is an absolute dream for cooking fresh fish and/or vegetables at work; you just lay them in the pot, top with butter, lemon juice, salt & pepper and whatever other flavourings you like and microwave for 1.30 – 2 mins, depending on whether you’re doing veg or fish and the wattage of the microwave. Job done. Grab ½ a packet of microwave rice to go with it (you can save the rest for later) and voila! A healthy, happy lunch that has everything you need in terms of protein, good carbs and veggies. [P.S. my favourite microwave rice is the Tilda brown rice, quinoa & sunflower seeds packet, tastes amazing! You can cook your own but be careful with reheating this later]

  2. DIY Quinoa salad
    The beauty of salads is that you can chuck anything and everything in, whatever you’ve got a hankering for. Personally, I love my salads to have quinoa, roasted sweet file_000-43potato or butternut squash chunks (for good carbs), sliced tomatoes, cucumber, chickpeas (for protein), pomegranate seeds (gotta love those superfoods) and some avocado and/or cheese (for the good fats). Okay, so cheese may not always be a ‘good’ fat necessarily but I love finding small chunks of it in my salads as a cheeky little comfort food!
    You can also add things like falafel, sausage chunks, tuna, Quorn pieces or shredded chicken to this salad to bulk it up and add more proteins, so it’s really versatile and really simple to make! Quinoa only needs to boil for around 10 mins until its popped open and you can chop the rest whilst it’s cooking, just allow a little extra time for the sweet potato/butternut squash.
  3. Fajitas
    These are great if you want to use up any leftover veg but also if you want to have a bit of fun cooking! Chop up some onions and peppers and fry in a little oil with some crushed garlic and ½ a packet of fajita mix, the spices should mix in with the oil to create a sort of paste. Chuck in some chickpeas, mixed beans and whatever else you fancy; butternut squash or pumpkin chunks work really well, or you can bake and flake in some salmon (obviously you can also add in some chicken at the start if you’re a meat-eater). Wrap up in a wholemeal wrap with some guacamole and sour cream/mayo and job done! Perfect for a quick easy dinner with enough for lunch leftover – just wrap your wraps in foil and keep in the fridge until eating. (It’s a good idea to wrap these up as late as possible because the wrap itself will go a little soggy overnight, but this doesn’t take away from the taste!)

    Lastly, what to do if you’re caught short and have to dash to the shops…

  4. Fish & a funky salad
    Sounds simple, but if you’re lucky enough to have a supermarket nearby your work which I’m sure many of us do then you can still stay healthy even when you forget tofile_000-42 prepare or accidentally leave your lunch at home. Pick up a tin of tuna or mackerel and then head over to the chilled foods section and their selection of prepared salads (usually near the dips etc.) My personal favourite salads to grab on-the-go are ASDA’s edamame bean salad, minty bean salad (both full of natural protein), sweety drop pepper cous cous salad, or my favourite mixed grain salad. These are usually on offer 2 for £3, so pick a bean salad and a grain salad and have half and half along with your fish to create a good, balanced meal that still tastes yum! Alternatively, you could get a packet of microwave rice and have ½ of that along with just one of the salads, totally your choice.

And there you have it! A few simple, quick and easy lunch ideas to keep you entertained through the week. If you can cook enough of your dinner to give you some leftover for lunch the following day then that’s even better. I’ve got a bit of a reputation amongst my colleagues for my fancy work lunches and was even bought a lunchbox recipe book for Secret Santa, so when I get trying some of these I may well write about this again! [I’ll continue to upload ones I’m particularly proud of to the instagram as well so stay tuned] But I really believe it’s important to have a proper lunch to keep your brain well fuelled during the working day and to keep you ticking over until dinner time. Go on, get creative and get prepping!

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

My two top tricks for a happy, healthy new year: salmon & squats

The festive season is over and let’s face it, we all feel a little larger than before. That’s totally okay – we’ve earned it! But if you’re looking to improve your lifestyle this year, “new year, new me” an all that jazz, or just generally kick yourself into being a bit healthier, there are my two top tips: salmon and squats.

I know this sounds simple, but that’s because it is! Bringing a little more of these two things into your life can only be a good thing; I honestly can’t imagine being without them.

Firstly, the salmon. I’m giving you my top five ways of cooking this beautiful, beautiful fish. It’s packed full of natural protein (as much as 25g per 100g fish!), is nutrient rich, and is a fantastic post-workout meal choice for these exact reasons. It’s also really good brain food due to its naturally incredible homing mechanism. So go ahead, try a few of the below:

  1. Lemon & butter – the simplest way of all to make your salmon more than just a fillet of fish – a taste sensation. This particular method keeps it full of its natural freshness and flavour:
    Simply dash over some lemon juice OR slice a half or whole lemon (depending how big a fillet/portion you’re cooking and how lemony you like it) and place in atop the salmon, season to taste with salt & pepper and place a dollop of butter on top. Done! This works best all wrapped up in a foil parcel and oven-baked for 20-25mins on ~180 degrees. You can also whack in a few herbs for extra seasoning if you like, thyme being my personal recommendation for this.
  2. Cream cheese & garlic – this is my personal favourite when I want to indulge without being too unhealthy.
    Cut a few small incisions (around 2cm long) into the salmon fillet itself and push in some crushed garlic [photo 1], then smear your favourite cream cheese on top – as much or as little as you like but enough to get an even covering [photo 2]. Sprinkle with a little salt & pepper (and lemon juice optional) and you’re done! Cook as above. 

     

  3. Soy & ginger – a great Asian-style option to go with a stir fry or just add a little heat to your meal.
    Chop some fresh ginger and grate over your salmon fillet – you can use the same method as above by pushing it into small incisions or just leave it on top, dash over some soy sauce and a tiny bit of oil (Frylight is ideal) and cook as above.
  4. Pesto crusted – the best pesto to use for this, in my humble opinion, is my own red pesto recipe you can find on this blog. However, if you’d rather buy a jar than make it the idea is still the same.
    Simply smear an even covering of pesto on top of the fillet, sprinkle with some additional season if required and cook as above.
  5. Honey-glazed with almonds – this idea I got from a really lush seafood restaurant whilst visiting friends in Boston, MA. The trick is not to overdo this one though as burnt honey just isn’t the one.
    Arrange some sliced almonds evenly on top of the fillet, then drizzle the honey gently over the top trying to get as much coverage as possible and making sure it comes out as runny as possible in order to do so. Then wrap up and bake in foil as above but be careful not to go over time, the salmon should just be flaking the the honey shouldn’t be burnt. 

And there you have it, my top five ways to cook salmon! These can all be oven-baked in foil parcels for 20-25mins on 180 degrees, or you can purchase a microwave hot pot like mine and microwave it for 2-2.5mins on high heat. This gadget is brilliant, it’s like a microwave tagine and steams things perfectly from raw in just a few minutes! Perfect for healthy work lunches!

Next, the squats. Arguably the best all-round body exercise there is, squats strengthen your lower back, legs, glutes and abs all at the same time – so there’s literally nothing not to love! They hurt, don’t get me wrong, but are so worth it and will have you toning, fat burning and boosting overall performance in next-to-no time.

Here are five simple but very effective squats to get you started, or to give you something new to try in your next workout [filming credit goes to #getabswithabs]:

  1. Bulgarian split squats – if you sometimes suffer from lower back pain these are good ones to try; it reduces the overall stress on your lower back whilst focusing all the weight and resistance directly on your quads, hams & glutes and building up your single-leg stability. It’s also great for mobility and flexibility, so what’s not to love? (The pain, obviously)
  2. Kettlebell squats – like front squats but without the awkwardness of trying to balance the bar on your shoulders. Great for mobility and building strength in your lower back, legs and hips. Squeeze your glutes on the way up to build that squat booty too! I’ve gone for the sumo stance with legs wide apart, feet pointing out, as this gives me greater range of motion (allows me to squat lower, really engaging all leg and butt muscles).
  3. Goblet squats – again, the same awesome benefits as above. Keep your core and butt tight and you’re onto a winner, but be careful not to lean too far forward and focus your stability into your heels as these should stay firmly on the floor while you’re squatting.
  4. Jumping squats – absolute killer for me! But these are great as part of a high-intensity/HIIT workout. Not only do these build strength and muscle in your legs, they also promote an anabolic environment which helps to build other muscle groups during the rest of your workout, whilst the high-intensity nature of this exercise means it’s great for fat burn! (Just what we all need after the festive season) As well as helping to prevent injury by improving your balance. Bloody brilliant, right?
  5. Back squats – these are the standard squats but are by no means easy! Be sure to keep your back straight to prevent injury and keep the focus on your legs as this can also be great cardio while your heart is racing! Especially if you’re brave enough to try pause squats… I’d get the hang of the above first. The hormones released while squatting can also increase your upper body strength if done regularly – basically, squats are great.

Special credit goes to my girl Abbie Barton #getabswithabs for help with this fitness feature (including the video), for being a great inspiration and for being my kick up the arse when I need it the most! She’s also one of the best friends down here I could’ve asked for. If you’re looking for a great PT in Cardiff ladies, I know where to find one!

That’s all for now folks; I hope these ten simple suggestions give you some food for thought and some fresh ideas to try! Salmon & squats really are health hacks to live by, in my humble opinion, I love them both and I hope you will too. Here’s to a happy, healthy new year!

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

Voluptuous Veggie Risotto

Adapted from one of my favourite feasts during university, this is a delightful dish that warms your soul as well as your body; truly comfort food at its finest.  It lends itself well to any time of year but can be particularly good as we’re heading towards the colder Welsh weather right now!  Best served if you’re cooking for many, the more really is the merrier with this dish – you can just keep on adding more to suit your party.  Add some prawns or chicken in if you really can’t live without, but I personally think half the beauty of this risotto is the absolute mountain of veggies!

Ingredients*:file_000-22

  • ¼ medium size pumpkin/~300g, cut into chunks
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • ~100g babycorn
  • Halloumi ~225g (low fat if possible)
  • 1 red pepper
  • 300g Arborio rice
  • 1 or 2 vegetable stock cubes
  • 150g asparagus
  • ~50g broccoli

The type and amount of veg you put in this recipe is completely up to you, this is just an example I made this week.  Butternut squash is also a great alternative to pumpkin and often easier to get hold of in supermarkets.

Method:

  1. Cut the pumpkin into chunks and place on a roasting tray with a little oil spray into the oven at 1800 for around 20 mins – *optional: sprinkle with some herbs and feta*
  2. Fry the onions until golden, then adding the peppers
  3. Let those brown a bit more, then add the Arborio rice and boil a full kettle – reduce the heat to low/medium
  4. Add 1 stock cube to a large jug of boiling water and mix together with a fork – you can keep topping this up throughout, it’s important not to underestimate the amount of stock needed!
  5. At this point, you can put the other veg on to steam for a few minutes or just add them in as and when, it’s up to you (I prefer to pre-steam to get the texture right)
  6. Pour in some of the stock and keep stirring in until absorbed, simmering on a medium to low heat; continue to add more and more letting it absorb each time until rice gets to a nice fluffy texture
  7. When done, add in the roasted pumpkin chunks and stir in the halloumi chunks
  8. Keep stirring and simmering for a further 10 mins or so, enough for the halloumi to melt a little – sprinkle with some extra seasoning if you like
  9. Once all the stock is absorbed, the rice is nice & fluffy and the halloumi has gone a little gooey: you’re good to go!

And there you have it!  Easy, tasty and (fairly) healthy comfort food.  It’s open to experimentation and your own tastes on what kind of things you add in or take out, but that’s the beauty.

If you’re going to save the extra portions rather than cook it for company then just be careful to cool it as quickly as possible as rice can form harmful bacteria at room temperature, whilst also being mindful that placing hot or warm things in the fridge can lower its temperature and cause other things to go off.  Also, be careful when reheating rice making sure to absolutely zap it in the microwave just to be on the safe side – check that it’s steaming hot all the way through and don’t leave for more than a day if possible.

Hope you enjoy; if you make your own creations do let me know by tagging @charlieschapter Instagram or twitter!

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

Charlie’s Chunky Red Pesto

Pesto is such a simple, understated but amazing addition to a meal, in my opinion.  Originating from Ligura, Italy, it became a culinary staple in the 1800s with each family tending to have their own variation; hence there are now so many different recipes around today.

I started making it myself from scratch during my final year of university, when one day I fancied trying something new in the kitchen, looked at the label of a pesto jar and thought “bet I could make this better and healthier myself…”

My recipe uses mostly cashew nuts rather than the traditional pine nuts because I’ve found it gives a smoother texture and fuller flavour.  I also often like to add in extra flavours such as oven-roasted peppers or caramelised red onion, the latter of which gives it a much sweeter flavour and goes well simply on its own with pasta and a bit of feta.

Anyway, here’s my recipe for homemade red pesto for you to try at home:

Ingredients:

1 jar of sundried tomatoes ~ 285g
30g basil
lemon juice
salt + pepper
2 ½ tsp tomato purée
2-3 cloves of garlic (to taste)
80g cashew nuts
30g pine nuts
55g parmesan
olive oil

Method:

I recommend using a food processor for this recipe, but if you don’t have one it can also be done in a large mixing bowl with a hand blender (it’s just a bit messier!):

  • Put the nuts into your food processor/chopper and whizz until finely chopped
    • Alternatively, you could crush them in a pestle & mortar or whack in a bag with a rolling pin biscuit style.
  • Add the sundried tomatoes and a glug of oil and mix until chopped into small chunks.
  • Add the garlic (crushed/finely chopped), parmesan, salt + pepper to taste and a few sprinkles of lemon juice. Then mix up again until combined.
  • Then tear up the basil roughly and throw into the mix, include the stalks where possible as these contain loads of flavour! Whizz it up once more, adding more oil if needed to bind it all together and create a smoother consistency.
  • Take a small spoonful and review your flavour balances, adding more seasoning (or parmesan/lemon juice/garlic) if needed to suit your own taste.

Once you’re happy with it, transfer to a glass jar or tupperware with airtight locking and enjoy!

Please note: it won’t be as smooth as the stuff you buy in jars, chunky and funky is this pesto’s style.  It will last a week or so in the fridge in an airtight container or it can be frozen on the day and saved for later.

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I personally love this recipe because it’s so versatile and so simple!  Traditionally it’s perfect with pasta, especially with stuffed tortellini, but you can also try it layered on-top of salmon and baked in foil, or as a really tasty pizza base and layer it up with veg and cheese.  Whatever you’re into, there are plenty of ways to bring this into your favourite dishes – get creative!

Here’s my go-to: pesto with wholewheat pasta, prawns and salmon (I bake the salmon in foil in the oven then flake into the pasta and mix altogether at the end).

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I hope you enjoy; let me know what you come up with if you give it a go!

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx