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Spring cleaning for your freezer

Spring cleaning for your freezer

SPRING CLEANING FOR YOUR FREEZER
Whether you need to defrost or declutter, Gourmade has the know-how to keep your freezer drawers in tip-top shape.

by Sarah ▪ 12 Apr, 2021

Give yourself a blank canvas …

As we wake more and more often to rays of cheering sunshine, it’s natural to have the urge to spring clean. Often, the freezer is forgotten, but investing some time and care in its upkeep can pay real dividends.

Firstly, it will help you maximise the space you have. Are you short of space because you’ve crammed in so many about-to-pass-the-use-by-date items and forgotten about them? Or simply because you’ve got a layer of frost you could ski on? Maybe you’ve got space you can’t use because there are items in all sorts of awkward shapes and sizes. Either way, our tips can help you use your freezer as efficiently as possible.
Secondly, a good clear-out is an excuse to keep better tabs on what’s lurking at the back of your drawers. So let’s get started! Empty everything out and be ruthless – if something has been there longer than a year it definitely needs to go – and some items should only be kept frozen for considerably shorter times. Also, be honest with yourself: if you don’t recognise something you’ve bagged up, or don’t really fancy it, will it ever make it to the plate?
It never feels great to discard food, and this is another reason to use your spring clean as an opportunity to instigate good ongoing freezer hygiene.

… and wipe the slate clean!

Next, give your freezer a thorough clean. This may need to start with defrosting – in which case, the best option is to turn the freezer off, line your floor with old towels, and leave it for several hours or even overnight, depending on the size of the freezer and density of the frost. You can help it along by breaking off big chunks, but be careful not to damage the walls or door of the freezer if you do. Alternatively, try a freezer de-icer which may negate the need to defrost the contents of the freezer.
When cleaning the freezer, you don’t want to use harsh chemicals, since you’ll be storing food inside. Try warm water with baking soda or vinegar for a homemade cleaner. Otherwise, a dedicated product such as HG’s fridge cleaner would be a good choice (it works equally well on a defrosted freezer).
To prevent crumbs and spillages from making cleaning a tough job in future, you could also invest in some easy-clean liners such as these, which have the added bonus of helping to prevent the build-up of ice, too!

Love your lists and labels

Now it’s time for an inventory! It may sound a bit over the top, but trust us – you won’t regret it. There are plenty of apps available, but we think the best way is good old-fashioned pen and paper (or a printed version).

Simply list the items in your freezer under categories such as ‘meal portions’, ‘sauces’, ‘vegetables’, ‘meat’, ‘fish’, ‘fruit’ and ‘desserts’. Now, next to each item, draw a circle to denote each individual portion you have. When you use an item, put a cross through the circle. This way, you can use your inventory to help your meal shop planning too. For extra credit, add a use-by date above each circle (you could even highlight the ones that need using within a month) and when you go to take a portion of frozen Bolognese or some sausages, you’ll be able to select the ones with the nearest use-by date.
Which brings us to labels! To avoid drawers full of unidentified meal portions (is that bag of brown soup, gravy or stew?) label whatever you put in the freezer. For next level organisation, also write down the date it was frozen and – if you want to match it to your inventory – when it should be eaten by.
You can use a Sharpie for pre-packaged items or freezer bags, or go professional with stick-on labels. Let’s face it – who doesn’t love the opportunity to play with a label maker?

Portion it up

Although it takes a little time and can seem a faff when you’re in a hurry or have been on your feet cooking and cleaning for hours, make sure you separate both raw foods (meat, veg etc) and leftovers into meal-sized portions before you freeze them. This avoids food wastage later on and is a lot simpler and less stressful than bashing a block of frozen chicken fillets with a rolling pin to try and separate the amount you need. Then add the number of servings to your labels!

Big bags of frozen fruit and veg are also worth splitting up. Left for a while, they can become vast icy lumps that are impossible to portion and awkward to store because of their unwieldy size and shapes.

Flat-pack your food

Now we come to the real life hacks borne of freezer expertise. There are many reasons IKEA has done so well, but its flat-pack formula is definitely fundamental to its success. How does that apply to your freezer? One of the issues with stocking a freezer is that it can feel like a less fun game of Tetris.

So once you’ve bagged up your portions, use your hands or a rolling pin to flatten the contents, creating stackable bags. Remember to remove any excess air (either by hand or with a vacuum pack machine. This goes for fruit and veg too – and if you’re freezing your own, it’s worth using a baking sheet or similar to avoid clumping and allow for flat-packing later on.

Packing and stacking

Another novel technique is to stack those flat-packed freezer bags vertically, rather than horizontally. It’s counter-intuitive, but once you think about it, you wonder why anyone ever does it any other way.

You can make sure labels are always on the visible side, and all your options at a glance. Not only that, you save space and avoid meals getting lost in the forgotten zones at the backs of shelves or the bottoms of drawers.
Freezer bags aren’t the only option, of course. And, while you can wash and reuse them (please do!), you may feel that investing in Tupperware is a more sustainable (and practical) choice. If you do, make sure you shop around for stackable boxes, baskets or trays. These are great for storing items that come in big, space-wasting boxes, which you can consign to the recycling bin.

Ice cube tray tricks

First of all, make sure you choose ice cube trays with lids to prevent spillages. Then the fun can really begin, because ice cube trays are not just for ice! You can use them to store portions of pre-chopped herbs (don’t forget your trusty labels!), sauces, baby food, stock or even leftover wine (if there is any!) to add to a sauce. Other things to try include caramelised onions, egg whites (not the yolks!) and pancake batter. The choices are endless – as are the savings on food wastage and time!

Another option is using magnetic spice holders for these items – then you can simply stick them to the inside of your freezer door for extra space saving!

Be prepped for anything

Your freezer is your friend when it comes to managing the unexpected – from emergencies to special occasions (and just those evenings when you can’t be bothered). Make sure to dedicate a shelf or drawer to no-fuss frozen meals and desserts that you can serve if you have unforeseen guests, and side dishes that can add bulk or interest to any meal. Check out our blog for ideas on how Gourmade side dishes can add the wow factor to a family meal.

With Gourmade you can be sure your freezer will rise to any occasion. Has your friend gone veggie and you didn’t know? It won’t matter with Gourmade’s delicious Butternut Squash Lasagne at hand. Need to whip up a congratulatory dinner for your partner at short notice? Just pull out a Beef Bourguignon and Potato Dauphinoise. Want the treat of a takeaway but trying to watch the pennies and the portion sizes? Try one of Gourmade’s curries – the Chicken Tikka Masala never goes amiss.
And, of course, no freezer worth its salt would be complete without some stand-up desserts. Our favourites include Chocolate Sponge Puddings, Pear Bakewell Tarts and Lemon Tarts – all go well with a scoop of creamy ice cream. Our blog gives suggestions for matching indulgent Gourmade treats to any circumstance.
Gourmade offers various fabulous hampers, and if you choose the Fill my Freezer option you’ll always save 10% – so there’s no excuse not to stock your freshly decluttered freezer! Let us know your tips for freezer organisation, and post pics of your newly zen freezer on our Insta account. Enjoy!

Non-chocolate desserts for spring

NON-CHOCOLATE DESSERTS FOR SPRING
Indulge your sweet tooth

by Sarah ▪ 8 APR, 2021

Time to celebrate

Easter is a holiday that many children (and a fair few adults!) associate primarily with chocolate, and there’s no denying the fun of baking treat-filled chocolate birds’ nests with the kids, or watching them hunt for eggs hidden in the garden. Coinciding as it does with the budding of spring flowers, longer, sunnier days and trees awash with blossom, the Easter holidays seem brimful of celebration, renewal and hope.

This year especially, perhaps, spring – and the Easter holidays – feel particularly joyful and important. Whether you’re alone, in digs with friends, coupled up or part of a madcap family full of sugar-monsters, a little merrymaking surely can’t go amiss. And what easier and more satisfying way is there to indulge oneself than with a delectable dessert?

Sweet talk

We’re fairly certain you’ll have chocolate covered – you may even be craving something other than Easter eggs before long. At Gourmade we pride ourselves on our fantastic range of desserts to satisfy even the sweetest of sweet teeth, whatever the occasion.
Here we’ll be sharing some of our non-chocolate desserts, along with serving suggestions, to keep everyone sweet.

Classic confections

For many, a traditional pudding is the pièce de résistance of an elegant Easter meal. These desserts are all Gourmade twists on time-honoured British desserts (and all require heating through, except the crumble if you prefer it chilled).

PEAR BAKEWELL TART

Try one of Gourmade’s firm favourites, the fabulous Pear Bakewell Tart. The sweet, nutty frangipane filling and juicy, jam-nestled pear in a buttery pastry case is a classic combo of flavours. Serve alongside a scoop of clotted cream ice cream sprinkled with a dusting of cinnamon – and for real flair, toast some flaked almonds for 4 minutes in a hot oven on a baking sheet and scatter over the tart. For a celebratory accompanying tipple, try a Kir Royale – just add a tablespoon of crème de cassis (blackcurrant liqueur) to the bottom of a champagne flute and top with dry sparkling white wine, and garnish with a frozen blackberry. For kids, try blackcurrant squash and soda water instead.

Rhubarb and Strawberry Crumble
If nuts aren’t your thing, then crumble just might be! Our version uses two delightful British favourites -strawberry and rhubarb, giving the filling a wonderfully rich red hue, and blending the best of sweet and sharp. This dessert is also a chameleon, and can change character to suit the weather depending on how it’s served. For a sunny spring day, try serving with honey- or apple-flavoured ice cream, or a generous drizzle of fresh cream and warm honey, and a few fresh blackberries for garnish. You could also pour a glass of homemade fresh mint and ginger lemonade.
If the weather is still leaving you in need of a big woolly jumper, warm the crumble through and serve with a some comforting custard – either in the conventional vanilla or – if you’re feeling adventurous (or nostalgic for 80s style school dinners!) infused with raspberry coulis. A dessert wine will complement the crumble when served in this way.
Sticky Toffee Pudding
No list of traditional puds could be complete without sticky toffee pudding – although it’s actually a relatively recent addition to the British dessert hall of fame, having been invented in the 1970s by Francis Coulson. If you are a nut lover, try topping with some pecans or walnuts. Then, depending on whether you prefer a hint of sharpness, crave creaminess or just want to double down on the sweet, ginger, clotted cream and toffee are all good ice cream choices. Drinks wise, fortified wines and whiskey liqueurs are the best match for sticky toffee pudding – but, surprisingly, beer complements it well, too.

Fresh and fruity

For lighter desserts with a hint of summer, look no further than these easy Gourmade sweets, which are ready to serve as soon as defrosted.

Lemon Tart
Oh! The zesty zing of lemon on a spring afternoon – there’s nothing quite like it! Gourmade’s Lemon Tarts are a real treat, and look beautiful served simply with a dusting of icing sugar and a garnish of strawberries. However, if you’re feeling fancy, why not try serving strawberries on the side – with a daring black pepper, basil and balsamic twist. Gastronomes swear by this odd-sounding combination, which makes the perfect accompaniment for a citrussy centrepiece.
Try this simple recipe or, alternatively, a warm version which grills the ingredients. Strange? Maybe. Delicious? Definitely!
If you enjoy playing the mixologist, you could even whip up a mocktail on the same theme, that kids and adults can enjoy alike.
Raspberry Cheesecake
Everyone loves a cheesecake, and Gourmade’s version, infused with vanilla and filled with whole raspberries, is a real knockout. Try serving with fresh raspberries and a lemon, blackberry or raspberry sorbet, all drizzled with a generous splash of raspberry coulis. Belgian fruit beers make a great accompaniment.
For a kids’ treat, top the cheesecakes with whipped or squirty cream and finish with crumbled meringue pieces and mini marshmallows. Just remember to allow several hours before any naps or bedtime …!
Party time
If you have several people to feed, a delicious and easy dessert option is one of Gourmade’s roulades. They’re delicious even part-defrosted! For the particularly sweet-toothed, the Salted Caramel Roulade has to be a first choice. To snazz it up, try serving with baked ginger apple slices or simply with ginger, coffee or chocolate ice cream.
But for a real party, why not try a selection with lemon, raspberry, salted caramel and even (whisper it!) chocolate. Gourmade has a roulade for everyone.
Let us know which Gourmade dessert(s) will be your Easter sweet – and happy holidays!

9 THINGS TO DO WITH KIDS FOR A FUN EASTER BREAK

9 THINGS TO DO WITH KIDS FOR A FUN EASTER BREAK

The holidays are upon us! We’ve come up with a fail-safe list of activities to keep your little ones active
and absorbed once the egg hunts are over.

by Sarah ▪ 06 Apr, 2021

1. Outdoor fun

There’s no excuse now the sun is making more sustained appearances: it’s time to pull on your wellies and get some fresh air. There are numerous health and developmental benefits to getting out and about for children – and most of them apply to us adults, too! Sunshine is the best way for our bodies to keep up with Vitamin D, which helps kids’ bone development and boosts the immune system among other benefits. Sun exposure also stimulates production of feel-good chemical serotonin, which helps regulate our appetite and sleep rhythms.

Studies show that getting back to nature helps children with an array of vital skills for life, including concentration and self-discipline. Natural environments are also perfect for them to explore their physical abilities and find a connection with the world around them. Luckily, there’s no end of things you can do outside, whatever spaces are available to you.
Go for a walk in the woods, build a den, and search under logs for minibeasts. You could even take a bug bottle and guide to start them on a lifetime of ecological curiosity! If you have a stream nearby, take a net and an old tin, pull on wellies and waterproofs and scoop up some freshwater minibeasts to identify (just remember to put them back!).
For garden activities, why not try building an obstacle course and having races – or trying to beat their own time for a new PB? This is also a perfect time to plant seeds for summer – try nasturtions, sweet peas and sunflowers, or some tasty veggies! In the evening, pull on a hat and warm layers and gather around the BBQ or fire pit for an outdoor meal – complete with a hot chocolate and warming dessert (we recommend Sticky Toffee Pudding) for afters!

2. Camp out

There is something particularly exciting about snuggling up in a tent, even if it’s only in the back garden. It’s a great opportunity to get kids interested in the night sky, too – watching for (and wishing on!) shooting stars, or using an app to identify planets and constellations (you could also spark an interest in mythology with some of the star names!).
If Max Woosey can sleep in a tent for a whole year to raise money, we’re sure you can brave it for one night! But even if it’s a bit too nippy out for you, or the weather doesn’t play ball, you can set up a pop-up tent in the living room so your kids can experience the novelty of making like a caterpillar in a sleeping bag and spending a night by torchlight. There are some very reasonable pop-ups available and they have multiple uses – on the beach to provide shelter or a changing area come summer, or just filled with cushions to make a cosy reading nook.

3. Art for all ages

Even if you aren’t confident with crafting, that’s no reason to avoid crafting with your kids. For a start, according to Dr Richard Rende, when parents and young children engage in creative activities together, it makes for a unique bonding experience and is likely to create lifelong memories.

Not only that, but there are some incredibly easy, fun and impressive crafts that almost anyone could stuck into. Heidi Kundin has a wonderful array of ideas, from Tin Can Windsocks and homemade microwave puffy paints to more traditional past-times such as bubble painting, which I remember enjoying in my own childhood! Find more ideas from Heidi here – you’ll feel like a superhero crafty parent in no time!

4. Online clubs and courses

If you have to work during the holidays, or the weather is against you, there are a plethora of fun online clubs and courses, introducing kids to everything from the rudiments of chess to making paper puppets.

5. A bit of drama

Another online option is the wealth of online theatre that has been made available. You surely can’t go wrong with this stage version of Frozen.

Alternatively, why not stage your own show? This is a wonderful creative activity which can be adapted for all ages, from a simple toddler ‘talent show’ to a full-on production. Older children may want to write their own play, but re-enacting a favourite story is equally fun. Artistic kids can make posters and tickets, and parents can either be an appreciative audience, or join right in.
You could even pop some popcorn together first, or make your own yoghurt lollies and eat them in the interval. For a quick sweet treat, try Gourmade’s delicious Salted Caramel Roulade.

6. Board games

A wonderful bonding activity for all ages, board games are a great evening activity for all the family. Nowadays there are some fantastic quirky games and puzzles with appeal for kids and adults alike.

For tiny ones, you can’t beat games from Orchard Toys, which combine bright colours and easy-to-handle pieces with education. Try Smelly Wellies or the iconic Shopping List game.
Whirligig Toys, which also offer fabulous construction toys, crafting materials and books, offer a fantastic range of games and puzzles. Try Cat Bingo for a family game, or Three Little Pigs for a fabulous logic puzzle for little ones based on the classic fairy tale.
Two other favourites are Rhino Hero, a superhero themed Jenga-like game using folded card, and Ticket to Ride – an easy-to-follow train race with the added bonus of inculcating some geographical knowledge!

7. Big day out

Why not make a day of it and take your family out for an adventure? Pack a picnic (don’t forget a Gourmade roulade for pud!) and head off into the blue.

From Monday 13 April some attractions, including theme parks and zoos, will be opening their doors, but these can prove expensive. But you could easily incorporate some fun into a normal walk, even if it’s just to town. Scavenger hunts are a brilliant activity and easily adapted for age. Some ideas include looking for items of different colours, signs of spring, something for each of the five senses, or items of local historical interest.

8. Set a challenge

Whatever their age, kids and adults alike thrill to a challenge – or competition! Why not see if your kids can master a new skill? This may be something that takes repetition and practice, like hula hooping or a handstand, or something you or another family member can pass on, such as knitting or making friendship bracelets.

Other challenges might be to raise money for charity, possibly by undertaking chores or a sporting activity (such as running or walking a certain distance over time), planting their own patch of garden, cooking a meal with you, or undertaking a science experiment.

9. Volunteer

It’s always good to encourage kids to give back – and to model it ourselves. Scour your local residents’ noticeboards and Facebook groups for opportunities like wildflower or planting, beach clean-ups or litter picking.

Happy Holidays from Gourmade

Whatever you choose to do, we at Gourmade wish you a relaxing and joyful Easter break. We’re offering 10% off all sides and desserts – think of them as extra EASTERTREATS (just use this code at checkout!) once the eggs run out. Happy holidays!

Confessions of a carnivore

CONFESSIONS OF A CARNIVORE
When the lure of lentils doesn’t stop you being seduced by steak, how can you make a difference?
by Sarah ▪ 02 Feb, 2021

Life after Veganuary

Veganuary is officially over for 2021 – and congratulations to everyone who gave it a go! For many people, the choice to try a plant-based diet is based on long-term goals and long-held principles. Health, morals and activism are all great motivators but, even so, some of us find following a vegan lifestyle harder than others. Yes, by some of us, I mean me. I want to eat more sustainably for the good of the planet and future generations, I don’t want to be culpable in the suffering of animals, and I am keen to optimise my physical health. But the truth is, I don’t find it easy or practical to cut out meat entirely – and, honestly, I’m not sure I want to. I really, really like cheese, for one thing!

It’s easy to feel a bit of a hypocrite if your lifestyle doesn’t live up to your lofty ideas. I know I often do. But there are easy ways to make changes to your diet that make a difference, even if becoming vegan or vegetarian isn’t practicable for whatever reason. This post is for you if you tried Veganuary and kept slipping up, or simply realised it wasn’t your forever lifestyle, but you still want more plant-based eating in your everyday life. I’ll be sharing some tips that have helped me incorporate vegetarian and plant-based meals into my previously pretty carnivorous diet – hopefully you’ll find some habits that will be easy for you to adopt, too.

Meat-free Mondays

Many of us grew up with the understanding that a meal was composed of meat and two veg – and the meat was very much the star of the show. So it’s natural that after a busy day of work or wrangling kids, our frazzled minds revert back to our meaty staples – which, for most of us, is fewer than ten go-to recipes. Meat-free Mondays is an organisation which promotes the idea of having one meat-free day a week (it doesn’t have to be a Monday!).
If you aspire to a meat-free lifestyle, a small but concrete goal like this, which can be planned for, is a great way to start. Their site offers some fantastic recipes to get you started, along with plenty of their own tips. Their black bean, carrot and sweetcorn burgers are simple and delicious, while this recipe for creamy spinach ravioli would be great for a special occasion.
What’s great about setting aside one day a week is being able to calculate the difference you’re making to animals and the planet. If you’re a family of four who go meat-free one day a week for two years, for instance, you’ll create nearly 5000m² of marine reserve, save nearly 12 tennis courts’ worth of forest and feed 15 hungry people, among other impressive stats. It’s heartening to know that even baby steps count. There’s your motivation, right there!

Meal planning

Part of my Sunday evening is set aside for planning my next week’s meals. This way, I can plan to use leftovers and don’t end up wasting food. It also means I can consciously think about how to ensure I get two or three meat-free days – and sometimes a wholly plant-based one – each weel.

Spend more

One way to reduce both your meat intake and your impact on the environment is to think carefully about where you’re buying from. Farm shops often stock organic meat sourced from local farms with verifiable welfare standards, and there will be fewer associated transport emissions and the like. For these reasons, the meat is dearer, which means you’re more likely to save it for special meals.

Just leave it out

Even if you don’t have the energy to keep trying new recipes, there are plenty of ways to remove meat from existing favourites. Take the chicken or bacon out of your pasta dish, and replace it with more veggies, a meat alternative or halloumi. Italian and Asian cuisines, in particular, have hundreds of fabulous – and simple – veggie sauces to try. Veggie pizzas can be just as delicious as their meaty cousins – my favourite is goat’s cheese and caramelised onion chutney.

If you buy pre-made lunches, nothing could be simpler than switching your BLT for a ploughman’s baguette or egg and cress sandwich, or picking carrot and coriander instead of chicken soup.

Batch it up

Batch cooking is a fantastic time saver, and means that you only need to defrost a portion of delicious homemade grub for a quick veggie dinner. Check out our tips here. Our vegan chilli could easily be doubled up and frozen for use in this way.

Look for inspo

In our earlier Veganuary post we shared just a few popular plant-based bloggers – and they’re the tip of the iceberg. Whether you prefer Insta, YouTube videos or a recipe book, there is a plethora of inspiration out there. Our sister company, EAT.PLNT, publishes regular interviews detailing how different individuals have made the transition to plant-based eating, and they almost always have great recommendations.

On the book front, you’re sure to find something to suit your tastes, budget and timescales – from classic works such as the Cranks Recipe Book published in 1985 to more modern works such as Meera Sodha’s East: 120 Easy and Delicious Asian-inspired Vegetarian and Vegan Recipes and books by Joe Wicks and Jamie Oliver.

One-pot cooking and pre-prepped meals

One thing that has really helped me, as a single working mother, is using a recipe box service. There are lots of these available – some specifically vegan or vegetarian, some not. But the ingredients arrive prepped in the correct amounts, removing wastage and faff time in the kitchen. Not only that, but you get to try things you wouldn’t perhaps think of otherwise. Because I’m trying to cut down on my meat consumption, I always try to include at least one veggie or plant-based meal.

Recipe box services aren’t for everyone – and I don’t use one all the time. But they have helped me to keep cooking when I’m busy, tired or uninspired. And they’ve also got me into one-pot cooking, which is a life-hack I wish I’d discovered earlier in life. Chopping up veggies and chucking them in a dish with sauce ingredients and rice, pasta, potatoes or couscous for the oven or slow-cooker to transform into a delicious meal is immensely satisfying, and I find I’m more likely to cook a new meal if it isn’t labour intensive. Try these recipes to get you started.

Cheat nights

Of course, even with all the batch cooking and one-pot recipes in the world, sometimes there’s just not the time, energy or will to cook. That’s where Gourmade – and our sister company, EAT.PLNT – come into their own. Having a few delicious meals ready in the freezer for an lazy evening in can keep you on track even when life throws one more curveball than you can cope with. Stock up on some of Gourmade’s fantastic veggie meals (I recommend the Butternut Squash Lasagne) or one of our vegan range EAT.PLNT – I love the Thai Green Vegetable Curry. You could even have veggie sausages or burgers with an indulgent side or two – Potato Dauphinoise has to be the top choice here.

I’m still not ready to renounce meat entirely (especially with meals like Lamb Tagine around) but these techniques have helped me cut down considerably, so that I feel I’m eating more sustainably. It also makes me more confident that I will be able to reduce my consumption further over time. Hopefully these ideas will have you feeling excited about your next veggie adventures, too.

VIVA LA VEGANUARY!

VIVA LA VEGANUARY!
Pro tips for plant-based probationers

by Sarah ▪ 08 Jan, 2021

Why do Veganuary?

You’d need to have been living a hermit’s existence not to have heard of Veganuary (Veganuary | Home | The Go Vegan 31 Day Challenge) by now – a worldwide non-profit campaign that encourages people to give up all animal products for the month of January. And it’s working: since starting in 2014, more than a million people have tried a plant-based diet for 31 days. But for those of us who love steak frites, or think the best part of any meal is the cheeseboard, how would we even start – and what’s in it for us?

For your health
A plant-based diet offers a host of health benefits. For a start, studies show that a vegan lifestyle lowers your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes – two of the most common chronic conditions, both of which are entirely manmade and avoidable. Vegans also experience lower rates of other conditions and diseases, ranging from cancer and strokes to Alzheimer’s. The WHO has designated processed meat as a carcinogen, and the evidence that red meat is too is compelling.
If that wasn’t enough, a plant-based diet has been found to have a positive impact on your mood, your digestion and your skin. Finally, vegans are the only group who average a normal, healthy BMI – it’s easier to overeat animal products and their calories are quickly converted into body fat.
For the animals
How many of us would see lambs leaping in a field on a sunny spring walk and coo at their adorable antics and frantically wagging tails? And how many would also order a lamb shank at the pub that evening? (If you’re looking, I’m raising a hypocritical hand over here.) This isn’t a place of judgement – it’s easy to be an animal lover and turn away from the grim reality of animal-based food industries. But even if we decide, on balance, to continue eating any or all of dairy, eggs, fish or meat, it’s good to know and weigh the facts.
As humans, most of us are able (in modern society at least) to fulfil our nutritional needs without animal products. And, while we tend to group farm animals in a separate category to our pets, in whom we see definite personalities, the truth is they are sentient beings capable of suffering.
The meat, fishing, egg and dairy industries are brutal in various ways – many animals are kept in appalling conditions for their whole lives and even those which don’t end their lives in fear at the abbatoir. For many people, making this connection is enough, because otherwise they are unable to balance their morals and their actions. For others, it may mean making other choices such as becoming pescatarian, meat-free Mondays, or only buying organic meat from local farm shops.
For the planet
The meat industry is not good for our planet. In fact, it actively contributes to pressing global issues such as hunger and climate change. It contributes more than the transport industries to global warming. Knock-on effects include the mass extinction of species the planet is experiencing – some from the changing climate, others from habitat loss caused by deforestation to grow enough grain to feed the animals we consume – and the starvation of impoverished peoples whose land is no longer used to feed their populations. A plant-based diet is a sustainable diet.
For fantastic food
Maybe you’ve got a vision of plant-based eating as a miserable affair, of endless plates of cucumber sticks and fruit salad. If so, you couldn’t be more wrong.
Not only are there some amazing alternatives to animal products available, but these are actually the least exciting of plant-based meals. Vegan food does not have to be boring. From butternut biryanis and black bean burgers to buddha bowls, there is a plethora of options before you. This is an opportunity to discover new cuisines and spice up your cooking routine.
Even when it comes to cakes and biscuits, you’ll find wonderful alternatives to the classic butter and egg based goodies.
For friends
Veganuary is the ideal time to try plant-based eating for the first time – there are lots of forums and online communities because so many people are trying something new together. That feeling of solidarity and community can be a huge boost.
So, there are many compelling reasons to give plant-based eating a whirl. But we get that it can be daunting, especially if you’re used to cooking meals with a meat or dairy element as the star of the show. So we’ve pulled together some tips to make your Veganuary challenge a smooth one.

How to survive Veganuary

This is a top search term for Veganuary, but we don’t believe this is an experience to be endured, but enjoyed. How? Read on.
Get inspired

One way to rev up for a challenge is to hear the success stories of others who have taken a similar leap. EAT.PLNT has many inspiring plant journeys to encourage you. Take Hannah who impulsively decided to sign up to Veganuary on New Year’s Eve 2016. Despite being unprepared she said it was ‘way easier’ than she had imagined and that her ‘only regret is not going vegan sooner’. Her advice is to use the power of the internet! ‘Just google your favourite dishes but with the word “vegan” (such as “vegan spag bol”) and I guarantee someone will have made a recipe for it.’ Meanwhile, Rhys became vegan upon watching a documentary. He recommends this to maintain motivation, saying: ‘Educate yourself so you have the impetus behind you to want to keep making that change. When you’re driven by your convictions, it makes it a lot easier to keep on track!’

There are also hundreds of creative plant-based cooks online – fill your feed with their ideas and recipes. The photos alone will have you reaching for your chef’s hat. Some of our favourites are @nora_cooks_vegan_ (easy and accessible) @thelittleblogofvegan (you’ll want to recreate the pictures!) and @earthlinged (inspiring activism).

Get back on the (vegan) horse
One thing nearly everyone featured in EAT.PLNT’s Plant Journeys says is not to worry if you slip up. As Hannah says, ‘everyone’s done it!’ Just try again – you’re still making a difference to your health and the planet with every plant-based choice you make. Don’t beat yourself up – congratulate yourself on what you’ve achieved so far.

Alternatively, you may feel you don’t want to leap straight into veganism, but you would like to eat more plant-based meals, or cut out more animal products. That’s great! I’m certainly the same. Sammy suggests taking it slowly. ‘Try replacing one animal product such a milk. Try lots of different plant-based mills until you find one you love and stick with that and then continue with other animal products.’

Go cold turkey-alternative
If you really love the flavour and texture of a particular food, it may be best not to reach straight for an alternative as you may well feel disappointed. Let your tastebuds adjust and experiment with some new recipes instead, or meals that easily lend themselves to plant-based eating, like stir fries, soups or pasta in a veggie-based sauce.

Even some long-term plant-based eaters advise avoiding cheese for a while. But if (like me!) you can’t see a future without fromage, don’t despair. The 10th Annual Grilled Cheese Invitational was won by a non-dairy cheese, and there are some great options (Emma suggests Applewood’s Smoked Vegan cheese).

Slices of raw tofu
Eat your way

You may, however, discover that the opposite tack works better – that finding a substitute for your go-to meals is what keeps you going at the start. You wouldn’t be alone. Jess advises people to ‘recreate your fave meals because it’ll really help make you feel like you’ve not really changed anything’.

You’re in luck, as there are now fabulous meat-free alternatives for almost any food you can think of. The much-publicised Gregg’s vegan sausage roll is the tip of a very large iceberg.
Slow cook, batch cook

One of the faffs of plant-based cooking can be the prep. There’s no denying it. But slow cookers and batch cooking are your friends. A slow cooker is fab for stews and casseroles – and a surprising amount more besides – the beauty being that you pop in all your ingredients in the morning and come home to the aroma of a hearty plant-based dinner. Batch cooking may involve more slog at the start with all the slicing and dicing, but you’ll have food to go for weeks to come. Check out our blog for advice on how to get started.

Treat yourself

Take the pressure off and give yourself a break from the recipe book by stocking your freezer with some delicious plant-based ready meals. With the code PLANTPOWER20 you will receive 20% off and free delivery when you spend £50 or more on our vegan range. This offer even includes our fantastic EAT.PLNT hamper, and is valid until 31 January.

Go for it!

Whether you go the whole hog for 31 days or just try going plant-based once a week, you’re sure to discover some wonderful new flavours, and be doing some good for yourself and the world at the same time. And whether or not you decide to make the change permanent, there’s always room for the odd vegan meal in your life. I’ll be starting with Moroccan Style Chickpea Pie. Good luck!

MAKE THE MOST OF CHRISTMAS LIMBO

MAKE THE MOST OF CHRISTMAS LIMBO
Whichever tier you’re in, Bextwixtmas days can still be rewarding

by Sarah ▪ 23 Dec, 2020

What is Christmas limbo?

Christmas limbo is that time between Christmas and New Year when everyone is too full of turkey, mince pies and Quality Street to be all that proactive or productive. Even at the best of times these days can become a listless no-man’s-land. And let’s face it – this isn’t the best of times!

Here at Gourmade, we know the value of food, family and fun – and that’s what Christmas limbo should be all about. When life gives us lemons, we don’t just make lemonade – we make a Sicilian lemon tart! It’s fair we know how to get the best from a situation, so we’ve put together a few ideas for getting the most from your Betwixtmas.

Get blown away

There’s nothing like a winter breeze for whipping some colour into your cheeks and some zest into your heart. A brisk walk by the sea, in the local park or wood – or simply around the block to check out other people’s Christmas décor – is a great way to start your Boxing Day. If you’re feeling adventurous, why not take an OS map and go somewhere new? If you’re on your own, you’re bound to meet some fellow ramblers to exchange cheery greetings (or shared grimaces about the weather!), while if you have kids it’s the perfect way to stop them squabbling over their toys and burn off some energy. You’ll also work off any lingering lassitude from overeating, making yourself ready for the next few days – and all the leftovers! It may be winter, but the sunshine still gives you vital vitamin D and helps keep low mood at bay. And even in Tier 4, this is a way to catch up with friends or family in person. There’s just no downside to outdoor time – so long as it’s not pouring with rain …

If you really don’t like walking, why not take up a new hobby like roller-blading or stand-up paddle boarding? Or find a scavenger hunt online – great entertainment for kids and adults alike. You could compete with distant friends and family and send photos of your finds! For the less active (and if you’re in a lower tier), it may be worth plugging in the outdoor heater or lighting a fire pit, and wrapping up in your thermals, so you can enjoy a natter and a cup of hot chocolate outdoors.

Bake away the blues

However inventive you are finding outdoor diversions, there’s no escaping the fact we’ll all be in our homes for much of the time. Baking is a balm to the soul, and creates a fabulous hands-on activity for children too. Why not try this easy flapjack recipe? There are only has four ingredients, it takes just half an hour from start to finish, and is suitable for young children to help with. The flapjacks keep well in an airtight container for a few weeks so, even if you have lots of Christmas goodies to work through, they won’t go to waste. What’s more, all the oats make them feel almost healthy!
flapjack
VEGETARIAN  
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Preparation: 15 min
INGREDIENTS
  • Butter: 5oz/125g
  • Brown sugar: 3oz/75g
  • Golden syrup: 3oz/75g
  • Oats: 8oz/200g
  • Optional: Chocolate chips, nuts or dried fruit
DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to Gas mark 4/180°C/160°C fan. Grease a square (approx. 23cm x 23cm) or rectangular baking tin (approx. 32cm by 21cm). You can also line with baking parchment if you wish, or if the pan isn’t non-stick. You can also vary the dimensions – it will simply result in a different thickness of flapjack and you may need to adjust the cooking time accordingly. Melt the butter, sugar and golden syrup in a large saucepan over a low heat until a dark gooey liquid is formed. Then add the oats and any extras such as raisins, nuts or chocolate chips, stirring until well combined. Pour the mixture into your baking tin and bake for 12-15min until bubbling and crisping at the edges. If you leave the mixture for longer, your flapjacks will be firmer and less sticky; a shorter baking time results in gooier treats. It depends on your preference! Leave to cool for five minutes, then score the mixture with a knife or spatula to create your portions. When the flapjacks are fully cooled, this will make it easier to separate them.

Get crafty

This is the perfect time to recycle and reuse. If you want to have some fun while being environmentally friendly, we’ve found some uses for old Christmas cards. There are lots of lovely ideas elsewhere online for using wrapping paper, too.
Gift tags
One of the simplest ways to upcycle your cards is to cut out sections of the design to make stylish gift tags for next year. Simply punch a hole and thread through some ribbon or shiny string. You can even jazz them up by using corrugated scissors for a zigzag edge, or adding glitter or sequins.
Bookmarks

Using larger cards to create bookmarks is a fabulous idea – cheer up a bookworm friend in gloomy January with a homemade gift. The simplest option is to cut out, punch a hole and add decorative wool, but if you’re a dab hand with scissors you may want to try these lovely folded ones.

Christmas bunting
Get started on next year’s decorations and make some Christmas bunting. Simply use a triangle stencil to draw and cut out triangles from your cards. Then put a thin line of glue along the top edge, so the triangles are pointing down, and attach a long ribbon. Once the glue has dried, you can hang and admire – or pack away for next year!If crafting isn’t your bag, devote some time to another hobby – or take up something you’ve been meaning to for years. You may gain much-needed peace from focusing on something alone, but if you thrive on company, there are lots of online apps and groups to keep you motivated. Start (or finish) a novel, learn a language, play an instrument, arrange flowers, build and paint models … the choice is endless!

Games night

Here’s where family and friends really come in (even if it is via Zoom). Quizzes are maybe the simplest way to go – but even these can be given a twist or theme to keep things interesting. Why not have a dressing up, karaoke or dancing round? Or make a music round with a twist by playing them backwards?

There are also plenty of online tools available for playing team games like Charades, Pictionary, Articulate or Who Am I? We’d probably open a bottle, too, but even without the bubbly, these games are always a riot!

Creative leftovers

You may well have found yourself with more turkey and trimmings on your hands than anticipated. The silver lining is a freezer full of delicious grub. Here are some ideas for what to do with different ingredients (you’ll find recipes online). But first, for an all-rounder, why not try this recipe for potato, turkey, sausage and stuffing pie!
Turkey and ham
Roasties, veggies, pigs, stuffing and extras
Cheeseboard
Christmas puddings

If you were due to go somewhere else for a turkey dinner, it may be time to crack out the Gourmade stash from the freezer! A warming Beef Bourguignon or Butternut Squash Lasagne will go down a treat.

Make plans

On occasion this year it’s felt as though making plans was an exercise in futility, but that’s not so. Spending some quality moments taking stock and thinking about goals and possibilities is a great way to rekindle a sense of purpose and control. It’s also fun to imagine how you’ll reinvent yourself next year whilst unashamedly still having chocolate for breakfast and staying in your PJs all day. If you’re anything like me, you usually make more plans than you can realistically complete in just one year, so use that tendency but designate different goals depending on different eventualities.

You might decide to save a holiday fund, but invest it in a high-end tent if a hoped-for foreign trip falls through. If you want to take dance classes, consider a back-up option – virtual classes at home, yoga – or something totally different (start your own podcast or scrapbook all your photos, perhaps). Maybe you want to apply to university. Pick your favourites, but maybe consider choosing some online courses as well, and explore ways to pick up skills if you choose to defer. If you want to change career but don’t feel it’s the time, look at your CV and see how you can jazz it up in the extra time.

Kick back

Most of us don’t get a lot of time to ourselves, and maybe you don’t want to spend your precious holiday time improving yourself! Even if you do, still try to set aside some of your Christmas limbo just for you. Take a warm bath, meditate, re-read your favourite book, or binge on festive feel-good films. Are you a sucker for romances like Love, Actually and The Holiday but your partner turns up their nose? Do you maintain that Die Hard is a Christmas flick? Or do you need a fix of a classic like The Snowman, Home Alone or Miracle on 34th Street to feel you’ve had a proper Christmas? Whether you like a tear-jerker (It’s a Wonderful Life, anyone?) or a madcap comedy (everyone likes Elf … right?) these days are the time to really spoil yourself. And we can recommend a Gourmade pud to max out the indulgence factor. For wintry nights, you can’t go wrong with Sticky Toffee Pudding or a Rhubarb & Strawberry Crumble.

Pat yourself on the back …

Finally, now is the time to congratulate yourself on all your achievements of the year – and don’t say there aren’t any. Whether you’ve had to juggle working from home with home-schooling children, master new technology, brave a public workspace or simply learn how to stay indoors, it’s been a tough year and you’ve made it through. Here are a few more things for which you can award yourself a gold star.
Helping out a friend, family member, neighbour or stranger.
From picking up shopping to sharing a socially distanced film night via WhatsApp, you’re likely to have helped someone else this year just by being there. If you’re a parent, remember all those activities you devised to keep the little ones amused and let yourself feel proud, bypassing the screen-time guilt.
Learning a new skill
Perhaps you began baking over lockdown and mastered sourdough. Or maybe you got your hands dirty in the garden. You might have experimented with your cooking, taken up crochet or embraced wild swimming. Whatever you’ve tried – even if you haven’t kept it up – it’s done you good.
Planning ahead

Finally, thank your former self for stocking your freezer with Gourmade’s Macaroni Cheese & Bacon (or whichever your favourite is). If you haven’t already, it’s not too late: make an order now . Sometimes, filling the time is surprisingly tiring and you deserve a break!

The Gourmade team wishes you a relaxing and pleasurable festive season, and look forward to building our community and blog in 2021. Merry Christmas!

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