My Sugar-Free Challenge

I wouldn’t say I have much of a sweet tooth. If someone offered me a cake or a bowl of olives, I’d rather have the olives. But I’ve seen recently a trend for people saying they want to give up sugar and there are even ‘experts’ such as Sarah Wilson, who can help people give up the white stuff.

But is sugar really that bad and if it is, is it really so hard to give up, you need ‘experts’ to teach you how? I didn’t think it is, so when Benenden asked me if I’d like to join in their sugar-free challenge to help promote their sugar-free hub, I was more than happy to oblige because a) I didn’t think I ate much sugar; and b) I love a challenge.

So, below is a kind of diary of what I ate and – if applicable – what I usually would have had on a normal ‘not bothered about looking out for sugar to avoid’ day.

Sugar-Free Breakfast 

Hot water with lemon

Well, breakfast was never going to be hard to be sugar-free as, although there was a time when I was a five-teaspoons-of-sugar-in-tea kind of girl, I haven’t drunk tea for years and I’ve never drunk coffee (bleurgh) and my hot drink upon waking is always hot water and lemon.  Before anyone pipes up with ‘but fruit is full of sugar – you’ve failed already, loser’, as far as I’m aware, going sugar-free doesn’t mean giving up something perfectly healthy like fruit. So there.


Just as I haven’t drunk sugar-laden tea for years, I also grew out of eating sugary breakfast cereals topped with more sugar when I was about ten years old. Nowadays, my breakfast is a smoothie and today’s one was frozen mixed fruit, dried golden berries, acai powder and water. It did occur to me that sugar might be added to the packeted fruit and powder but, hooray, no added sugar. No added anything, in fact. If you haven’t tried golden berries before, please do – they make a great tangy addition to smoothies, or you could add them to flapjacks, energy bars, etc.

Sugar-Free Lunch 

Vegan tomato soup and ciabatta

Lunch was going to be slightly more tricky than breakfast as I’d made mushroom jerky the other day that I’d been having in wraps for lunch. No problems with the mushrooms, obviously, but I’d marinated them in Reggae Reggae Sauce which I thought was bound to contain sugar and, upon inspection of the label, saw I was right. No Reggae Reggae for me that day, dammit.

Never mind, I thought – I can have some of the tomato soup I made the other day, that’ll be sugar-free. But – woah, hang on, what about the stock? They put all sort of things in stock – they put milk in some vegetarian stocks, so I wouldn’t be surprised to find sugar in them too. It was fine though – no sugar in the stock. Oh, but then I thought, surely there must be sugar in the tinned tomatoes I used? But still, no sugar there either. My tomato soup was a sugar-free zone. Phew.

How about the ciabatta and Vitalite I wanted with it though? None there either – ha, this sugar-free thing is a breeze.

Sugar-Free Drinks

Hot chocolate made with raw cacao and almond milk

Okay, so obviously my homemade lemonade that I still had in the fridge wasn’t sugar-free – it’s made with just three ingredients, which are lemons, sugar and water – but apart from my beloved hot chocolate, I usually only drink water throughout the day, so cold drinks weren’t a problem. But, what about the aforementioned beloved hot chocolate? I didn’t even have to read the label to know that that would have sugar in it, so what was I to do? Go cold – or should that be hot chocolate – turkey? Na. I’d make my own with raw cacao powder instead. Sorted.

Although I couldn’t see sugar listed on the ingredients for the soya milk I usually use, I decided to make my hot chocolate extra pure by making it with homemade almond milk. Yep, maximum hippy level reached.

Homemade almond milk

Sugar-Free Dinner

Sugar-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, wheat-free, egg-free, courgette and carrot burgers

Luckily, Wednesday is Riverford veg box delivery day, so I had a box full of veg with which to make a healthy, sugar-free dinner. Faced with courgettes and carrots, I made courgette and carrot burgers and served them with purple sprouted broccoli and new potatoes. Because I made them with chickpea (gram) flour, I got a bonus ‘free’ in, as they’re gluten-free as well as sugar-free. Actually, they’re full of ‘frees’, as to give them their full title, they’re wheat-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free and sugar-free (this may explain why The Meat Eater said they didn’t taste of much).

As a condiment freak, I don’t usually have ‘dry’ burgers, but tomato ketchup contains sugar, so that was out. The Mayola mayonnaise in the fridge didn’t contain any sugar but at the time I didn’t think courgette and carrot burgers would go with mayo – not when they’re spiced with curry powder, anyway. On reflection though, it probably would have gone well. Ho hum.

Sugar-Free Snacks

I’m not going to lie. I missed my after-dinner mint and I spent the whole of the evening wanting a bit of chocolate or a biscuit or something sweet, so maybe sugar isn’t as easy to give up as I originally thought and it is addictive as ‘they’ say?

As challenges go, this one was easy but, then again, I only did it for a day. Some people give up sugar for life and I’m not sure that would be so easy.

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Tempeh Giardino


So many US recipes specify tempeh, but it’s not easy to find over here. However, the other week when I was buying some vital wheat gluten, I saw some jars of it, so thought I’d get some while I was there.

It looked a strange substance, floating in a jar of liquid and I thought it might be soggy like tofu. On fishing it out of the jar, I was pleased it was quite firm.

The taste and texture is a little strange, but not unpleasant. The Meat Eater said it was ‘neither here nor there’.

This recipe is from Isa Does It by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and I’m not going to post the recipe exactly as it is in the book as I’ve already used one of her recipes today making the oatmeal peanut butter cookies but the main ingredients were: a jar of tempeh, 2 courgettes, 1 red onion, a tin of chopped tomatoes, 5 cloves of garlic and some basil. I’m sure you can work out what to do with them (i.e. chuck them in a frying pan).

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Spicy courgette & rice soup

vegan-100-everyday-recipesI picked up a bargain three vegan and vegetarian cookbooks from The Works in the Designer Outlet last week for under a tenner. One of them was Vegan – 100 Everyday Recipes which has 100 vegan recipes, each accompanied by a colour photo – and all for only £1.99. Today I made the spicy courgette & rice soup for lunch and I’m planning to make the smoky bean chimichangas for dinner from the same book if not tonight, then one day this week, as I want to eat less dairy and eat more vegan food but, sshh, don’t tell The Meat Eater.


Spicy courgette & rice soup (serves 4)

2 tbsp vegetable oil
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tbsp chilli powder
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1.5 litres vegan stock
2 courgettes, cut into bite-sized chunks
4 tbsp rice
salt and pepper

  1. Heat the oil in a saucepan over a medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes, or until softened. Add the chilli powder and cumin and cook over a medium-low heat for 1 minute.
  2. Stir in the stock, courgettes and rice, then cook over a medium-high heat for 10 minutes, or until the courgettes are just tender and the rice is cooked through. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
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Roasted vegetable slice with mozzarella

Hey look, I made something else that’s reminiscent of a pizza. I had a packet of puff pastry to use up (actually, it was two days out of date but I appear to still be alive), so I made a quick trip to the farm shop for a leek and a courgette and made this quick, easy vegetable slice for dinner.


Roasted vegetable slice with mozzarella (serves 4)

1 pack ready made puff pastry
1 courgette, sliced
1 leek, sliced
3 tomatoes, sliced
1 block of mozzarella, sliced 
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper

Place the courgette and leek in a roasting tin, drizzle with a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar and bake in an oven at 200C for about 15-20 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.

Alternate slices of courgette and tomato onto the pastry, then cover with the leeks and top with the mozzarella slices.

Season with salt and pepper and return to the oven for about 15-20 minutes or until the pastry is crisp and golden.

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Slow cooked Thai green curry with Quorn

There’s not really enough room for another gadget in the kitchen, but that didn’t stop me buying a slow cooker. I’d been looking at them on Amazon and hearing good things from friends so when I saw this one on the shelf in Tesco for £14, I thought I might as well give it a go.

Of course, then I also needed a cookbook, so I bought a copy of Slow Cooking for Vegetarians and tonight I made the Thai green curry with Quorn.

One thing I noticed about most of the recipes in this book is that you have to fry stuff first. Huh? I thought the whole point of a slow cooker was that you bunged everything in it, went off to do whatever it is that you do all day and, when you get back, your dinner’s ready. Not so, according to this book.

Because it was my first go at slow cooking, I wanted to do everything properly, so I followed the instructions, fried some of the ingredients first then added everything else and left it alone for a few hours. Everything came out beautifully; each vegetable and piece of Quorn soaked up the flavour of the curry paste and coconut, the carrot was wonderfully tender, the mangetout retained its bite, but the red pepper that was in there had disintegrated, leaving only a few bits of skin.

I’m looking forward to experimenting more with my slow cooker – next time though, I think I’ll just bung everything in at the same time without cooking any of it first, or is that a really bad idea?


Slow cooked Thai green curry with Quorn (serves 4)

1 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 carrot, thinly sliced
2 celery sticks, sliced
1 red pepper, sliced
1 tbsp Thai green curry paste
1 garlic clove, crushed
2.5cm piece of fresh root ginger, peeled and finely chopped
300ml vegetable stock
100g green beans, halved crossways
2 tbsp soy sauce
Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lime
400g/large can coconut milk
2 x 300g packets of Quorn pieces, thawed if frozen
100g courgettes, sliced
100g mangetout

  1. Preheat the slow cooker on High.
  2. Heat the oil in a large pan and add the onion, carrot, celery and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly softened but not browned.
  3. Stir in the curry paste, garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, for 1-2 minutes.
  4. Add the stock, beans, soy sauce and lime zest and juice. Bring just to the boil, transfer to the slow cooker and stir.
  5. Cover and cook on Low for 4-6 hours or until all the vegetables are tender. Stir in the coconut milk, Quorn, courgettes and mangetout and cook for a further 1 hour.

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Lentil and courgette gratin

Another courgette recipe, again from Rose Elliot’s New Complete Vegetarian. We still have two courgettes in the fridge and apparently there are more to come out of the greenhouse, so there’ll be even more courgette recipes on the way soon.

I made a courgette and smoked feta cheese soup last week, but didn’t blog it. It was simply two sliced courgettes, one medium sized sliced potato, cover with stock, season with salt and pepper, simmer for about 20 minutes, then add some cubed smoked feta (I used the one made by Yamas) and blend.

Tonight I made a lentil and courgette gratin (in Rose Elliot’s cookbook, there are variations for lentil and mushroom, lentil and celery, lentil and tomato, and lentil and fennel) and served it with a Quorn Peppered Steak, boiled potatoes, steamed broad beans and steamed green beans. Next time, I’ll serve it on its own with the potatoes and vegetables; it was a meal in itself and didn’t need the Quorn Peppered Steak. 


Lentil and courgette gratin (serves 4)

175g split red lentils
1 pint milk and water mixed
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, sliced
1 tsp grated lemon rind
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
salt and freshly ground black pepper~
1 tsp yeast extract or 1-2 tsp soy sauce
450g courgettes, sliced

For the topping

25g fresh breadcrumbs
25g grated cheese

  1. Put the lentils into a saucepan with the milk and water and simmer for 20-30 minutes or until the lentils are golden and tender.
  2. Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas mark 4.
  3. Meanwhile, heat half the olive oil in another saucepan, add the onion, cover and cook for about 10 minutes or until tender but not brown. Add to the lentils with the lemon rind and juice, salt, pepper and yeast extract or soy sauce. Blend this mixture to make a smooth, thick purée.
  4. Fry the courgettes in the remaining oil until tender.
  5. Place the fried courgettes in a shallow baking dish and pour the lentil mixture over the top to cover.
  6. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs and cheese evenly over the top.
  7. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until golden and bubbly.
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Stuffed courgettes with mushrooms

Oh blimey, it’s courgette season again. This means weeks of courgette soup and stuffed courgettes. Just as well I like courgettes then, eh?

I found this recipe in Rose Elliot’s New Complete Vegetarian and what I liked most about it is that I already had all of the ingredients (or variations of them), which saved me a trip to the supermarket and which kind of makes it a free meal.

It was fab. It was so fab, The Meat Easter has insisted I make it twice this week. Suits me.

I served it with fresh broad beans and new potatoes.


Stuffed courgettes with mushrooms (serves 4)

4 large courgettes
1 garlic clove
4 tomatoes
175g button mushrooms
25g butter
125g fresh breadcrumbs
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp grated lemon rind
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
salt and freshly ground black pepper
olive oil, for greasing
25g-50g grated Gruyére or Parmesan-style cheese

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4.
  2. Parboil the courgettes for 5 minutes, then slice in half lengthways and scoop out the flesh. Mash the courgette flesh. Place the courgette shells side by side in an oiled ovenproof dish.
  3. Crush the garlic, slice the tomatoes and mushrooms, and fry lightly in the butter until tender, then mix with half the breadcrumbs, the mashed courgette centres, the lemon juice and rind, parsley and some salt and pepper.
  4. Pile the mixture into the prepared courgettes, place in a shallow oiled ovenproof dish, sprinkle with the rest of the breadcrumbs and the grated cheese.
  5. Bake for about 20 minutes or until crisp and golden.
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Free & Easy Roasted Red Pepper and Birds Eye Chilli Sauce

free_and_easy_roasted_red_pepper_sauceFree & Easy Roasted Red Pepper and Birds Eye Chilli Sauce is a blend of roasted red peppers, birds eye chillies and spices in a tomato based sauce. Sounds good, yes?

Well, here are the good bits:

  • Suitable for vegetarians and vegans
  • Low fat
  • Free from wheat, gluten, dairy, soya, celery, mustard, nuts and preservatives

And here are the bad bits:

I found it bitter and without trace of any heat from chillies but this was easily remedied by covering it with Encona hot sauce and cheese.  Everything can be improved with hot sauce and cheese.

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t terrible but not one I’d be rushing out to buy again, if only for the simple reason that it’s not exactly difficult to make your own tomato-based sauce.

I fried some mushrooms, courgette and garlic, added the sauce and served it with spaghetti.

sauce 001

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Roasted stuffed courgette with cheese and tomato

Tonight’s dinner was practically free, made with ingredients from the greenhouse and garden: courgettes, potatoes and peas.

roasted courgette 004

Roasted courgette stuffed with cheese and tomato (serves 2)

2 courgettes, sliced lengthways
4 cherry tomatoes, halved
20g cheese, grated
Olive oil
Salt and black pepper

Score a criss-cross pattern into the courgettes and brush with olive oil
Bake in the oven at 200C for about 15 minutes, until tender
Scoop out the flesh and mix in a bowl with the cheese and tomato, then season with salt and pepper
Pile the mixture back into the courgette skins and bake for another 15 minutes

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