No. 6 -Tightening our belts in January

Happy new year y’all! Hope 2017 has started well for you. After all the upheaval and dramatic news stories of 2016, I’m kind of hoping that 2017 is a little calmer, and more settled and peaceful for everyone! 2016 has been shitty for so many reasons…Brexit; Trump; Syria; to name a few, and close friends have lost loved ones too. But the year also brought me my 3rd son, and 2 equally gorgeous nephews and a beautiful niece to add to my collection, so on reflection, it’s not all been bad.

Having said that, January is officially my least favourite month EVER. Christmas has gone, disappearing in a puff of glitter, icing sugar and pine needles, leaving me with a monster hangover, a newly developed sugar addiction, jeans that are a bit too tight and a massive VISA bill.  Bad times! We’ve booked a holiday with friends for February half term to sunny Spain, so between now and then there’s just 6 weeks to get myself bikini ready (a terrifying thought at the start of January), on this month’s meagre budget. But it’s so cold, dark and dank outside that all I’m craving is comfort food, stodgy carbs and creamy sauces – not exactly the foods that will get me ready to hit the beach in style.

So, the challenge is on – how to nourish and sustain my 3 hungry boy tummies with delicious food, without spending a small fortune, whilst keeping meals light and healthy for me and the other half to try and shift our Christmas padding in time for our holiday. It’s been fun laying down these chub stores….2 weeks of mainly eating cake, chocolate, cheese and roast potatoes, all washed down with wine. Detox time me thinks!

Everything is screaming lentils, pulses and beans to me – you too? Haha, bear with me here, and let me try to convince you with a few recipes that’ll be seeing me and the family through the long month of January (how many weeks till payday?!) Packed full of slow releasing carbs, protein and vegetables to keep us fuller for longer and hopefully less likely to reach for the biscuit tin, or scrabble behind the settee for leftover chocolate coins, these meals score major nutritional points, taste delicious, whilst all coming in on budget, with no obscure and expensive superfood ingredients in sight.

Let’s kick off with a curry – sweet potato, chickpea and spinach – packed full of vitamins A, C, E, K and B6, fibre, calcium, potassium, folate, iron and other minerals. Plus it’s vegan and free from soy and gluten so if you are trying to cut those out its great too. Our resident carnivore likes this curry served with a garlicky chicken breast, which he says works really well, but it’s a standalone filling dish without the extra protein, I find. The curry uses ready made Thai curry paste and reduced fat coconut milk for the sauce, meaning this steaming bowl of deliciousness can be on the table in 30 minutes, perfect for when you’ve got home from work or the school run and everyone is ravenous. If you have the time to make your own curry paste, I’m sure that would make it even more tasty.

Sweet potato, chickpea and spinach curry, serves 4

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 2 white onions
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 2 tins of chickpeas, drained
  • 2 large sweet potatoes, about 250g each
  • 2 cans reduced fat coconut milk
  • 4 tablespoons red Thai curry paste
  • 150g spinach
  • Fresh coriander
  • Chillies
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Method

  1. Peel and finely chop the onion and garlic, then add to a large pan with the olive oil and saute over a medium heat until the onion is translucent.
  2. Peel the sweet potato and cut into 2cm cubes whilst the onion is cooking.
  3. Add the curry pasta to the onion mixture, stir well and cook for 2 minutes until the flavours and oils begin to release from the paste.
  4. Add the sweet potato chunks, drained chickpeas and coconut milk to the pan and stir well.
  5. Bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce the heat to a summer, cover the pan and leave for the sauce to thicken and the potato chunks to cook through, about 20 minutes.
  6. When the curry is almost ready, add the spinach to the pan, and allow to wilt in the hot sauce.
  7. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Serve over boiled wholegrain rice, sprinkled with fresh coriander and finely sliced chillies, then tuck in. Totally delicious!

******

There’s a huge variety of beans available in supermarkets, but it may be difficult to decide which to try to incorporate into family meals, and then even more tricky to get reluctant kids (and adults) to try your new dishes.  Sure, they all know baked beans; firm family favourite in our house, but why not try opening their eyes to lots of different beans with this cheesy bowl of comfort food which is part kids favourite, macaroni cheese and part beany chilli. Sounds amazing, right?

The dish includes kidney beans, black beans, pinto beans and sweetcorn, so is an excellent source of fibre and protein, along with copper, folate and iron and vitamins B and C. The recipe can easily be made gluten free by using suitable flour and pasta, or why not try it with wholegrain brown rice in place of the pasta? My boys love this meal, and I love that it fills their hungry tummies with nutritious goodness – happy faces all round!

Mac and chilli cheese, serves 6

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • Tablespoon of olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons of flour
  • 1 tablespoon of chilli powder
  • 240g kidney beans
  • 240g pinto beans
  • 240g black beans
  • 400g chopped tinned tomatoes
  • 165g tinned sweetcorn
  • 500ml vegetable stock
  • 500g passata
  • 300g dried macaroni pasta
  • Grated cheddar cheese (to serve)

Method

  1. Chop the onion and garlic finely, then add to a large pan with the olive oil and cook until the onion is translucent
  2. Add in the flour and chilli powder and stir well, making sure that the flour doesn’t start to burn on the bottom of the pan
  3. Add in the kidney beans, pinto beans, black beans, sweetcorn, chopped tomatoes , vegetable stock and passata and stir well
  4. Add in the macaroni pasta and bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer whilst it thickens and the pasta cooks
  5. Once the sauce is thick and the pasta is cooked, ladle into bowls, sprinkle with cheese and get stuck in!

Another family favourite in our house, which can easily be adapted based on your favourite vegetables and pulses, is what we call Bean and lentil stew. Making a hero out of humble red lentils, this stew is a nutritional powerhouse, chock full of vitamins from the vegetables, folate, fibre, copper, iron and protein from the lentils and mixed beans. The kids love it served on wholemeal spaghetti and sprinkled with cheese, and I love it on top of a baked sweet potato with a dollop of houmous, making it a complete meal which is filling and comforting. It also makes a cracking weaning food when blitzed in a food processor, although the nappies are a sight to behold!

I start by sautéing onions and garlic, then add in my favourite vegetables, peppers and courgettes normally, although butternut squash, carrots and aubergines would work well too. When the vegetables have started to soften, I add in 100g of red lentils, a tin of drained chickpeas, or any pulses you’d prefer, and  a can of tinned tomatoes, and bring the mixture up to a boil. I then add in some bouillon powder and fresh bay leaves to make the sauce more flavoursome, before reducing the heat to a simmer whilst it thickens and the lentils swell up and do their thing. You know this dish is super nourishing just by looking at it, and it is gentle on tummies which may need a bit of love from the inside after overindulgence during the Christmas period! I always make a big pan of this stew on the weekend, so we have a quick and easy meal for dinner times in the week when the kids are ‘starving’ and time is short. Give it a try and see if it becomes a family favourite in your house too!

Need more inspiration? Try these recipes for size…

http://www.healthy-magazine.co.uk/honestly-healthys-creamy-tahini-lentils-drippy-boiled-eggs/ I LOVE Natasha Corrett’s recipes and the addition of soft boiled eggs to this creamy lentil dish sounds amazing!

http://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/vegetables-recipes/costa-rican-black-bean-soup/ Again, I’m a sucker for a soft boiled egg with the earthiness of beans. This soup is wholesome, and the combination of the kick from the chillies and lime and the crunch of the tortillas makes it a winner with me.

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