As I prepare for the London Marathon and try to shift a few pounds, this will be the first in a series of blogs on my experiences cooking healthy recipes I’ve found online. I’ll be pairing each recipe with one of my favourite alcohol-free drinks. This will keep the calories low, but maximise the flavour and dining experience. After all, there’s nothing worse than preparing a great meal, only to enjoy it with a glass of water or sweet soft drink.
These blogs will be an honest review of my attempt at making the meals. I’ll add in the lessons I’ve learned and my suggestions for if you want to attempt cooking it yourself, and I promise to be honest and admit where my mistakes let the dish down. However, I won’t be giving step by step instructions on how to make the meals as they’re not my recipes to share. Instead, I’ll always include a link so you can find the full list of ingredients and instructions to make these great dishes.
The First Attempt & My First Lesson Learnt
At this point, I just wanted to point out that there was supposed to be a great video of preparing and cooking the meal, but instead you’ll have to make do with photos of my experience. It turns out, having a tripod when filming really is a must. It’s impossible to hold a phone steady in one hand whilst adding ingredients with the other.
I’ll put this down as the first lesson learned and get a tripod asap so you’ll get a better idea of the cooking experience in the future.
Recipe: (Vegan) Lentil Stew
For my first attempt at cooking for this blog is the Vegan Lentil Stew from Essentially Emma.
Looking at the recipe, it looked tasty and super easy – my kind of cooking! Although I will admit that I didn’t go full vegan as I used normal crème fraiche, but I might try the vegan alternative next time.
Whilst talking about ingredients and in the spirit of honesty and fallibility of this blog, I should admit I managed to get the first step in cooking wrong. I forgot one of the ingredients – an amateur’s mistake! Therefore, this will be a sage-less Vegan Lentil Stew.
Preparation: Keeping It Simple
If there was one word to describe making this meal, it would be simple. There was nothing complicated at any step. I took the time to prepare the veg in advance, then it was just a case of throwing ingredients in at the right time. In keeping with the simple theme, everything went in one pan so even the clear-up afterwards was a doddle.
I took my time to prepare in advance and took a relaxed approach whilst cooking so the whole thing took longer than the 20 minutes stated on the recipe, but not that much longer. Anyone in a hurry (that’s not doing a bad job of making a video blog at the same time) could easily get this done in 20 minutes.
My poor attempt a filming also hindered my ability to cook the stew as I tried to do everything one handed. For example, it’s impossible to strip the leaves off thyme and hold a camera at the same time. Instead, I thought I throw in the sprigs of thyme, but this meant fishing out the stalks before serving up – a fiddly and messy job. I’d recommend stripping the leaves off first – also known as following the recipe properly!
Meal: Heart Warming Stew
First impressions on dishing this up were how colourful it looked. Often stew can look drab and plain, but this was completely different. The celery and leeks gave a vibrant green base from which the orange of the carrots stood out along with splashes of red from the chilli.
I added to the colour with a side of peas and sweetcorn just to keep the kids happy, but I’m sure most vegetables would go, or you could even eat the stew on its own.
With a such a simple recipe, I wasn’t expecting a stew bursting with flavour (especially as I forgot one of the herbs) and in some ways I was right. The simple theme of the recipe was carried into the flavour, but not in a bad way. Without loads of different herbs and spices or a long cooking time, the stew gave the flavours of the vegetables an opportunity to shine making this feel very homely.
Alcohol-Free Drink: Nirvana hoppy Pale Ale
For the first attempt at pairing one of my homemade creations with the right beer, I decided to play it safe and go for one of my favourites, the Nirvana Brewery Hoppy Pale Ale. I’ve already reviewed this beer in full in our blog on the Best Tasting Alcohol-Free Beers & Ales so I won’t bore you by repeating myself here (too much).
I’d love to say I chose this beer due to my expert ability to pair drinks with the perfect meal, but I’d be lying. Instead, I chose this beer as it’s low in calories (only 30 per bottle) and also vegan like the Vegan Lentil Stew.
As it happened, this was a perfect combination. As you’d expect from the name, there’s plenty of bitterness from the hops in this pale ale, but only after a rich burst of tropical fruits in both the aroma and flavours. There’s also a final citrusy kick to the flavour giving the whole drinking experience a refreshing complexity of flavours which perfectly offset the earthy simplicity of the vegan stew.
Buy Your Alcohol-Free Beer
I think I’ll put this perfect pairing down to beginner’s luck, but if you’re looking to try the Hoppy Pale Ale, you can grab a case or try it with a section of other great alcohol-free beers in some of our variety packs:
When planning this series, I thought it’d be great to include a section on lessons learned where I’d impart little nuggets of wisdom I’d learned to help you if you chose to replicate these meals. I was expecting subtle little tweaks that would help you to culinary perfection. Instead, I make some basic errors that I’m sure you don’t need me to help you correct, but I’ll list them anyway.
- Buy all the ingredients – the stew was tasty, but it would have packed more flavour if I’d remembered to buy the sage!
- Check the weather forecast – I love stew, but it’s not a meal for a scorching hot day. Luckily this recipe had a short cooking time, but it still got pretty hot in the kitchen and stew isn’t normally the meal I think of when sitting in the sun. Good job I had a great beer to cool me down.
- Strip the leaves off the thyme before throwing in the stew
- Get a tripod for the camera
Let’s be honest, most people wouldn’t make the basic errors from 1 & 2 and 3 & 4 are only relevant if you’re attempting a video blog whilst cooking, so I’m confident you’ll do a great job cooking this stew.
I enjoyed every second of cooking this meal. It was simple, fun to cook and the final dish was incredibly tasty. It’s a healthy meal packed full of veg with plenty of protein packed into the lentils. To top it off, it was super quick to prepare and cook. I’ll be checking out Essentially Emma for more great recipes in the future.
The Nirvana Brewery Hoppy Pale Ale worked as a great pairing with the hops and citrus giving a crisp refreshment to accompany the meal.
I’ll be cooking this again, but not on a scorching hot day. I can see this being something to enjoy in autumn or winter when I’ll be tempted to pair it with a stout like the Nirvana Dark & Rich Stout or the Drop Bear Beer Bonfire Stout.
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