Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Basil – reduces swelling and inflammation AND has anti-aging properties

Most closely associated with Mediterranean cooking but also very prevalent in Asian food, the herb basil has a sweet, strong aroma and flavour. There are three main Mediterranean types: sweet, with large green leaves; Greek, with smaller leaves and a peppery undertone; and purple, whose dark leaves have a milder flavour.

Asian varieties include lemon basil, which has a citrus note and smaller leaves; Thai, like sweet basil, but stronger; and holy basil, spicy and intense, and unusual in that it's best when cooked, rather than raw.

Health Benefits

A study by researchers at Purdue University revealed that basil "contains a wide range of essential oils rich in phenolic compounds and a wide array of other natural products including polyphenols such as flavonoids and anthocyanins."

The herb contains high quantitites of (E)-beta-caryophyllene (BCP), which may be useful in treating arthritis and inflammatory bowel diseases, according to research conducted at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.

Reduce inflammation and swelling - a study presented at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society's annual event, revealed that "extracts of O. tenuiflorm (Holy basil) were shown to reduce swelling by up to 73%, 24 hours after treatment".

Anti-aging properties - according to research presented at the British Pharmaceutical Conference (BPC) in Manchester, basil has properties that can help prevent the harmful effects of aging. Holy basil extract was effective at killing off harmful molecules and preventing damage caused by some free radicals in the liver, brain and heart.

Rich in antioxidants - results of a study published in the Journal of Advanced Pharmacy Education & Research showed that ethanol extract Ocimum basilicum had more antioxidant activity than standard antioxidants.

Nutritional value of basil per 100 g (3.5 oz):

Energy - 94 kJ (22 kcal)
Carbohydrates - 2.65 g
Dietary fiber - 1.6 g
Fat - 0.64 g
Protein - 3.15 g
Water - 92.06 g
Vitamin A - 264 μg
Thiamine - 0.034 μg
Riboflavin - 0.076 mg
Niacin - 0.902 mg
Vitamin B6 - 0.155 μg
Folate - 68 μg
Choline - 11.4 mg
Vitamin C - 18.0 mg
Vitamin E - 0.80 mg
Vitamin K - 414.8 μg
Calcium - 177 mg
Iron - 3.17 mg
Magnesium - 64 mg
Manganese - 1.148 mg
Phosphorus - 56 mg
Potassium - 295 mg
Sodium - 4 mg
Zinc - 0.81 mg

Quick and easy cooking with basil

Pounded in a pestle and mortar or food processer with garlic, pine nuts, parmesan and olive oil to make pesto; added to tomato-based pasta sauces; combined with sliced mozzarella and tomatoes drizzled with olive oil for a classic Caprese salad; chopped and beaten into softened butter, then melted over steaks, roast chicken, or crushed boiled new potatoes.

And now, time for some recipes…

Strawberry and basil shortcakes

An American twist on our plain or sometimes fruity scones, but absotluely delish!

For the Shortcakes
¼ cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for surface
6 tablespoons (¾ stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 cup heavy cream
1 large egg, beaten to blend

Berries And Assembly
1½ pound fresh strawberries, hulled, quartered (about 3 cups), divided
4 tablespoons sugar, divided
2 sprigs basil
2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons crème fraiche

1. Preheat oven to 400°. Whisk sugar, baking powder, salt, and 2 cups flour in a large bowl. Using your fingers or a pastry cutter, work in butter until the texture of coarse meal with a few pea-size pieces of butter remaining. 
2. Add cream and mix until dough just comes together (it will be sticky). Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and pat into a 12x4” rectangle about ¾” thick. Cut out rounds with a 2½” biscuit cutter, re-rolling scraps as needed to make 8 rounds.
3. Whisk egg with 1 Tbsp. water in a small bowl. Transfer rounds to a parchment-lined baking sheet and brush tops with egg wash. Bake until tops are golden brown and shortcakes are cooked through, 15–20 minutes. (Do Ahead: Shortcakes can be made 2 days ahead. Store tightly wrapped at room temperature)
4. Coarsely chop 2 cups strawberries (use any bruised or less perfect ones) and cook with 2 Tbsp. sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until berries are softened and mixture is slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Let berry compote cool.
Meanwhile, toss basil, 1 Tbsp. sugar, and remaining 1 cup strawberries in a medium bowl and let sit until fruit begins to release juices, 10–15 minutes. Discard basil.
5. Using an electric mixer, beat cream, crème fraîche, and remaining 1 Tbsp. sugar to soft peaks, about 4 minutes.
6. Split shortcakes and fill with berry compote, whipped cream mixture, and macerated strawberries.

Melanzane Alla Parmigiana

For the Red Sauce:
1/4 cup  olive oil
5 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1 red onion, finely chopped
Two 400g cans pomodori pelati tomatoes (whole peeled tomatoes), blended smooth
Pinch red pepper flakes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Large handful fresh basil leaves

For the Aubergine Parmigiana:
Canola oil, for frying aubergines
2 cups  plain flour
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 medium aubergines, sliced  1/4-inch thick
1 1/2 pounds light mozzarella, grated
1 pound Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly grated , plus more for garnish
1 bunch fresh basil, leaves only (about 3 loosely packed cups ), plus more for garnish
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

1. For the red sauce: Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the garlic and onions and saute until tender, 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, red pepper flakes and some salt and black pepper and simmer for 20 minutes. Tear the basil leaves and stir into the sauce at the end of simmering.
2. For the aubergine parmigiana: Preheat the oven to 200°C. Pour 2 inches of olive oil into a heavy-bottomed pot or high-sided frying pan and heat to 180°C.
3. Pour the flour into a wide casserole dish. Whisk  in salt and black pepper. Dredge the aubergine slices  in the flour, and then fry them in the hot oil in batches. When they are browned, remove them from the oil and lay them on a paper-towel-lined baking sheet. Repeat as necessary. Let cool.
4. Start layering your ingredients in individual gratin dishes or in 2 disposable trays if making family-style servings: a few slices  of fried aubergine, a small spoonful of red sauce, a couple of handfuls of mozzarella, a couple of tablespoons of Parmesan, a few leaves of basil. Repeat the layering 2 to 3 times (3 is better if your dish can accommodate it). For the top layer, finish with a final spoonful of red sauce, mozzarella and Parmesan. Bake until bubbly and golden on top, 25 to 30 minutes. Reserve any remaining red sauce for another use.
5. Serve garnished with a few leaves of basil, a sprinkle of Parmesan, and a touch of extra-virgin olive oil.

Buon Appetito!

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Health Benefits of just 5-10% weight loss

When thinking about weight-loss, one often has an “ideal” body weight in mind or an ultimate weight-loss goal. It’s very common for people to think that unless they lose dozens of pounds, they will not be any healthier. This is a misconception. Studies have shown that health benefits resulting from weight-loss are evident with a weight reduction as low as 5-10 per cent. This means that an individual that weighs 200 pounds will benefit greatly from losing 10 to 20 pounds.

There’s scientific evidence that many obesity-related conditions improve with a 5-10 per cent weight-loss. Let’s look at these related conditions and see how modest weight-loss may greatly improve them and your overall quality of health:

Although we have good medications that decrease our 'bad' cholesterol also called LDL cholesterol, doctors and patients alike know how hard it is to increase the 'good' cholesterol otherwise known as HDL cholesterol even by a few points.

A 5-10 per cent weight-loss can result in a five point increase in HDL cholesterol. This deserves applause as raising HDL by these few points can lower the risk of an individual developing heart disease. HDL cholesterol of more than 40 mg/dl for men and more than 50 mg/dl for women is protective against heart disease.

There are other fat-like particles in the blood that are harmful in elevated amounts. They are called triglycerides. People with high triglycerides are at higher risk for heart attacks and strokes among other problems. A normal level should be below 150 mg/dl, while anything above 200 mg/dl is considered high.

Losing 5-10 per cent of body weight was shown to decrease triglycerides by an average of 40 mg/dl, which is a significant drop. This level can further improve with exercise, a diet low in concentrated sugars, carbohydrates and fats as well as with reduction of excessive alcohol intake.

Excess body weight accounts for about 25-30 per cent of cases of hypertension. As body weight increases, it causes haemodynamic abnormalities and other changes that result in elevated blood pressure. By losing 5-10 per cent of one’s weight, blood pressure, both systolic and diastolic, decrease by 5 mmHg on average. In conjunction with a salt restricted diet, rich in vegetables, fruit and low-fat dairy, this weight-loss could be potentially even higher.

One of the laboratory markers used to screen for diabetes and to monitor its treatment is called Haemoglobin A1C. The normal level should be below 6.5. Research has shown that a 5-10 per cent weight-loss can decrease this marker by half a point on average. This comes close to the effect that some anti-diabetic pills have on blood sugars.

Insulin Resistance
Another condition that is seen with weight gain is a phenomenon called insulin resistance. In this disorder, the pancreas produces larger than normal amounts of a hormone called insulin. Insulin is responsible for keeping blood sugar levels normal. In this condition, high levels of insulin are needed because tissues are resistant to its effects.

When someone has insulin resistance, the resulting high levels of insulin in the blood cause an increase in fat tissue especially in the waist area, abnormal cholesterol, and sometimes a change in certain hormone levels in women that causes male pattern hair growth and infertility. Modest weight-loss was found to significantly decrease insulin levels and thus to help with reversing these conditions.

Obstructive Sleep Apnoea
Obstructive sleep apnoea is a sleep disorder commonly diagnosed in patients affected by excess weight that snore or gasp for air during sleep. It’s caused by pauses and gaps in breathing during sleep and results in insufficient oxygenation. This causes fatigue and sleepiness during the day. It also is responsible for making certain diseases less responsive to treatment, like hypertension for example.

When sleep apnoea is significant, oxygen levels in the blood are too low during sleep and the use of a breathing machine called CPAP is necessary. It has been shown that a 5-10 per cent weight-loss may improve sleep apnoea and sometimes if the apnoea was not very severe, one can be weaned from the CPAP breathing machine. This is a big achievement for some, as having to use a CPAP is life-saving but often perceived as cumbersome by those who need to use it.

In studies looking at the effect of excess weight on cells of the human body, it was found that fat cells and especially abdominal fat cells produce a large number of substances that result in inflammation in blood vessels. This inflammation then can result in plaques and clots and turn into strokes and heart attacks. When weight-loss achieves a level of 10 per cent, the levels of inflammatory substances circulating in the blood drop significantly and therefore the risk of vascular damage is reduced as well.


All these improvements caused by weight-loss as low as 5-10 per cent ultimately lead to very significant benefits including a lesser chance of having a heart attack or stroke. Now, the next question that comes to mind is since we know that a 5-10 per cent weight-loss is very beneficial, how can it be achieved?

First and foremost, weight-loss starts with lifestyle changes: diet and exercise. The first step is to talk to your local dietitian - ask your GP for a referral for weight management. There are many ways to lose weight, but the most successful way is to lose weight and keep it off is as part of a group, look for support from others around you to make these changes permanent.

And now for some healthy recipes to help change these theories into a reality….

Sesame Chicken Salad

2 skinless chicken breasts
85g frozen soya beans
1 large carrot, finely cut into thin matchsticks
4 spring onions, finely sliced
140g cherry tomatoes, halved
small bunch coriander, chopped
small handful Thai or ordinary basil leaves, chopped if large
85g herb or baby salad leaves
1 tsp toasted sesame seeds
For the dressing
grated zest and juice 1 small lime
1 tsp fish sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp sweet chilli sauce

1.Put the chicken in a pan and pour over cold water to cover. Tip the soya beans into a steamer. Bring the pan to a gentle simmer, then cook the chicken for 8 mins with the beans above.

2.Meanwhile, mix the dressing ingredients in a large bowl. When the chicken is cooked, slice and toss in the dressing along with the beans, carrot, onions, tomatoes, coriander and basil. Mix really well, pile onto the salad leaves and sprinkle with the sesame seeds

Spiced Singapore Noodles with Cauliflower, Chicken and Prawns

juice ½ lemon
2 tbsp medium curry powder
300g cauliflower florets
100g skinless chicken breasts, diced
100g spring onions, whites and greens separately sliced
200g white cabbages, cut into chunks
25g fresh red chillies, finely chopped
100g straight-to-wok fine rice noodles (I use Amoy)
50g raw peeled prawns, chopped
1 tbsp soy sauce
½ tsp golden caster sugar
5g coriander leaves

1.Heat oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4. Line a baking tray with baking parchment. Mix the lemon juice with ½ tbsp of the curry powder and toss with the cauliflower on the baking tray. Roast for 25-30 mins until tender and slightly golden.
2.Heat a non-stick wok or frying pan and add the chicken, spring onion whites, cabbage, red chilli, remaining curry powder and a splash of water. Fry, adding splashes of water if it starts sticking or looking dry, until the chicken is cooked through and the cabbage is softening. Add the noodles, prawns, soy sauce and sugar, and fry for another few mins until piping hot and the prawns are cooked. Scatter over the spring onion greens, roasted cauliflower and coriander leaves, and serve

Monday, 30 March 2015

10 amazing recipes with cream cheese

Stuffed French toast

A contemporary take on a 17th-century fave – poor knights of Windsor – this is strawberry eggy bread with rosewater, sugar and butter. Rosewater complements strawberries perfectly – just be careful not to use too much or your breakfast will taste like a scented candle.

Serves 4
200g strawberries, plus extra for garnishing
1 tsp rosewater
300g cream cheese
6 tbsp strawberry jam
8 thick slices of white bread
2 eggs
250ml milk
50g butter
50g icing sugar, plus extra for dusting

1 Hull and slice the strawberries, then place them in a bowl. Add the rosewater and mix thoroughly. Set aside for 2-3 minutes.
2 Use a spoon to soften the cream cheese in a bowl. Add the rosewater and strawberries. Mix until you have a pastel pink colour.
3 Spread the jam on the slices of bread. Then divide the cream cheese mixture across 4 of the slices, leaving a 10mm border. Put another slice on top of each and gently press around the edges.
4 Whisk the eggs and milk together in a shallow bowl and place each strawberry sandwich in the mix for about 20 seconds on each side.
5 Melt the butter in a frying pan on a medium-high heat. Fry each sandwich for about 4-5 minutes per side, or until golden brown. Serve with a dusting of icing sugar and some extra sliced strawberries.

Wild garlic leaves stuffed with cream cheese

This recipe preserves the taste of spring, with the cream cheese taking on the ever-more complex flavours of the oil.

Makes around 500ml
240g cream cheese
4 tsp sumac
4 tsp ground cumin
4 tsp paprika
Salt and black pepper
35g medium-large wild garlic leaves, rinsed and dried (about 50 leaves)
½ red chilli, sliced down the middle
1 garlic clove, crushed
4 peppercorns
200ml olive oil

1 Whip the cream cheese and spices together in a bowl with a fork, incorporating the spices fully. Add salt and pepper to taste.
2 Place a wild garlic leaf glossy-side down on your chopping board. Put about ½ tsp of the cream cheese mixture on the thickest part at the bottom of the leaf. Roll the leaf up. Dab a little cheese on the pointy end of the leaf to help the roll stick together. Put in a sterilised jar.
3 Repeat until the jar is full. Add the halved chilli to the jar where it can be seen. Add the garlic clove and peppercorns. Cover the contents of the jar in olive oil. Don’t leave anything exposed.
4 Store in the refrigerator for a week before using and bring the rolls up to room temperature before serving.

Pea, basil, and mint souffle

The double cream and cream cheese make this sformata, or Italian-style souffle, denser and richer than its French counterpart. It’s incredibly quick to assemble, making it the ideal lunch or late supper. Try substituting the peas for spinach, cauliflower or broccoli – any veg goes. Serve hot or cold.

Serves 4-6
1 tbsp butter
110g parmesan, grated, plus extra to finish
500g peas (frozen or freshly podded)
4 large eggs, separated
360g cream cheese
75ml double cream
A large handful of mint leaves, finely chopped
A large handful of basil leaves, finely chopped

1 Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6 and grease a 2-litre baking dish with the butter. Evenly scatter two tbsp of the parmesan into the dish and shake around to coat.
2 Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and blanch the peas for a couple of minutes until just done, then drain and return to the pan. Using a potato masher, crush the peas until you have a fairly coarse bright green mush. Season with a little pepper.
3 Whisk the egg yolks, cream cheese and cream together until smooth, then stir in the remaining parmesan, peas and herbs. Season to taste.
4 In a separate clean bowl, whisk the egg whites until you have stiff peaks, then fold this into the pea mixture until it is just incorporated. Pour the mixture into the baking dish and sprinkle with a little extra parmesan cheese. Transfer it to the middle of the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the top is golden but the middle still has a slight wobble. Remove from the oven and leave to cool slightly for a moment. Serve with a green salad.

Black olive and lemon paté

A fabulous quartet of flavours – the richness of the cream cheese is cut through with the acidity of lemon and the earthy tang of olives.

Serves 4
100g olives, pitted
250g cream cheese
Juice of 1 lemon
Black pepper

1 Add the pitted olives to a blender and blend until almost smooth.
2 Transfer the olive mix to a fine sieve and sit it over a bowl to drain any excess liquid – around 5 minutes should do it. However, if your olives were in liquid it might take a little longer.
3 Next, add the cream cheese to a mixing bowl with the olives, lemon juice and black pepper. Carefully fold together until incorporated.
4 Place a round pastry cutter in the centre of a serving plate, add the paté and tamp down. Remove the ring and serve with some dressed leaves and hot toast.

Baked cream cheese custard with rhubarb and coconut crumble

An excellent combination of tastes and textures. The baked cream cheese here can go from perfect (rich, creme brulee texture) to overcooked very quickly, so watch it carefully.

Serves 4
4 egg yolks
150g caster sugar
500g cream cheese
1 tsp vanilla extract
Juice and zest of 1 orange
Chopped pistachios, for sprinkling

For the crumble
4 rhubarb stems, washed, trimmed and sliced diagonally into 2.5cm pieces
100g demerara sugar
100g cold butter, cubed
50g caster sugar
50g demerara sugar
25g desiccated coconut
40g rolled oats
130g plain flour

1 Preheat your oven to 150C/300F/gas mark 2.
2 Beat the egg and sugar together until pale and light. Add the cream cheese, vanilla extract and orange juice and zest, then beat well until everything is incorporated.
3 Place four ramekins into a deep baking tray and divide the cream cheese custard between each. Add water to the baking tray so that it comes up to just below the edge of the ramekin. Place the tray in the oven for around 15-17 minutes, keeping a very close eye on them. You want the mix to be just set with a jelly-like wobble. If they overcook you will be left with a slightly grainy dessert.
4 Once cooked, cool to room temperature, remove from the tray and place in the fridge.
5 Put the rhubarb in a heavy-based pan with the sugar and a little water. Cook on a low heat until done but not overcooked (10-15 minutes – you want the rhubarb to retain a little bite and shape. Taste and add a little more sugar if the rhubarb is still tart. When done, set aside.
6 Combine the remaining crumble ingredients in a bowl and – using clean hands – rub the mix in between your palms until a rough crumb forms. Alternatively, use a food processor, pulsing the mix until you have rough crumbs. Put the mix on a baking tray and bake for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Put to one side to cool.
7 To assemble, spoon cooked rhubarb on top of each baked cream cheese and sprinkle liberally with the coconut crumble. Top with chopped pistachios for colour and texture.

Cream cheese, mushroom and bacon stuffed onions

Onions are wonderful vessels for a variety of stuffings. These are stuffed with cream cheese, mushrooms and bacon and baked in cream and parmesan: irresistibly rich and deeply comforting.

Makes 8
8 medium onions
A drizzle of olive oil
A knob of butter
75g bacon or pancetta, chopped
250g chestnut mushrooms, finely sliced
1 tsp thyme, finely chopped, plus extra sprigs to serve
1 tsp dried oregano
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
125g cream cheese, beaten
60g parmesan, finely grated, plus extra for scattering
50g breadcrumbs
600ml single cream
A grating of nutmeg, to taste
Salt and black pepper
Be careful when preparing the onions. If they split, the filling will leak out during baking.

1 Peel the onions, keeping the root intact. Boil them in salted water for 20 minutes or until tender. Drain well. Once they are cool enough to handle, cut the top 2cm off the onions horizontally. Using a spoon, scoop out the central part of the onions, making sure the outside remains intact. Chop the parts you have removed, then set aside.
2 Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6. Heat a little olive oil and a knob of butter in a frying pan. Fry the chopped bacon with the mushrooms, chopped onion, thyme and oregano. Once the bacon is cooked, add the garlic and saute until fragrant.
3 Transfer to a bowl and set aside to cool, then add the cream cheese, parmesan and breadcrumbs. Season to taste. Spoon the mixture into the onions.
4 Place the onions snugly in a baking dish. Pour over the cream, scatter with thyme sprigs and grated nutmeg. Bake for about 35 minutes, or until golden and bubbling. Scatter with parmesan cheese for the last 10 minutes.

Barley risotto with spinach, cream cheese

A blend of cream cheese and blue cheese gives sinuosity and body to this comforting bowlful.

Serves 2
1 small red onion, peeled and sliced
A small knob of butter
250g barley
125ml white wine
300ml vegetable stock
2 large handfuls of fresh spinach
2 tbsp cream cheese
50g blue cheese
Juice and zest of ½ lemon
½ spring onion, very finely sliced (optional)
Salt and black pepper

1 Sweat the onion with the butter until soft and golden. Add the barley , then stir to coat for a minute.
2 Pour in the white wine and half the stock. With the lid off, turn the heat to high, bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer. Stir occasionally and gradually add the remaining stock as it is absorbed. Cook for 30-40 minutes or until the barley is al dente and the liquid has reduced.
3 Add the spinach to the pan and fold in with a wooden spoon or fork as soon as it starts to wilt. Quickly introduce the two cheeses and stir to melt entirely. Season to taste.
4 Serve immediately with a little lemon juice, zest and the spring onion, if using.

Cream cheese pastry with raspberry filling

The addition of cream cheese to the pastry here makes it much easier to work with and is forgiving of hot hands – a great recipe to perfect if pastry fills you with fear.

Makes 8
200g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
75g cold butter, diced
75g full-fat cream cheese
1 egg yolk
3 tbsp caster sugar

For the filling
105g cream cheese
Zest of ½ an orange
50g caster sugar
1 tbsp plain flour
100g raspberries

1 To make the pastry, combine the flour, sugar and butter in the bowl of a food processor and whizz until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the cream cheese and egg yolk. Whizz until the pastry comes together in a ball. Alternatively, mix by hand in a bowl. Wrap the pastry in clingfilm, squash into a disc and chill for 30 minutes.
2 To make the filling, beat the cream cheese, orange zest, sugar and flour until smooth. Add half the raspberries and stir to break the fruit up. Set aside.
3 Line a couple of baking trays with baking paper. Roll the pastry out on a lightly floured surface into a 5mm thick rectangle measuring 40x20cm. Cut the rectangle in half, then divide into 4 equal 10cm squares. Spoon a dollop of the cream cheese mixture into the centre of each square, then use a sharp knife to cut from the edge of the filling out to the four corners of the pastry squares. Dot a raspberry on top of the cream-cheese filling, then fold each corner into the centre, pinching the corners of the 4 folded in triangles in the centre to secure. Transfer to the baking trays and chill for 15 minutes.
4 Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6. Remove the pastries from the fridge, and bake for 18-20 minutes, or until the pastry is golden and biscuity. Cool on the tray for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Spring onion cheesecake

A savoury take on the classic dessert – this “cake” has a wholesome base, and fresh, mild flavour.

Serves 8
75g oat crackers
75g rolled oats
½ tsp fine sea salt
¼ tsp white peppercorns, finely crushed
50g butter, melted
3 medium eggs, separated
100g fromage frais
1 tbsp plain flour
150g cream cheese
3 spring onions, finely chopped
150g Västerbotten cheese, finely grated (optional)
Salt and black pepper

1 Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/gas mark 3 and chill a 23cm round pie dish or cake tin. Blitz the crackers, oats, salt and peppercorns in a food processor (or seal them in a plastic bag and bash with a rolling pin) until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Pour them into a bowl, add the melted butter, combine and tip into the base of the pie dish, pressing down firmly. Set aside to chill in the freezer for 15-20 minutes.
2 Beat the egg yolks with a pinch of salt in a large bowl (an electric whisk works well here), then add the fromage frais and a pinch of the flour. Beat again and add the cream cheese along with the remainder of the flour, the spring onions and the Västerbotten (reserving some to sprinkle on top of the cheesecake just before baking). Season to taste. It should be quite highly seasoned at this stage as the whisked egg whites will dilute the flavour.
3 Beat the egg whites separately with another pinch of salt until stiff peaks form. Add one large spoonful to the egg yolk mix to loosen it, then fold through the rest of the egg whites, being careful not to knock out all the air.
4 Spoon the mixture into the chilled pie dish, flatten the top with a palette knife and sprinkle with the reserved Västerbotten (if using). Bake for 30 minutes or until the surface feels firm. The cheesecake shouldn't take on too much colour, so check after 25 minutes and, if necessary, turn the heat down to 140C/275F/gas mark 1. Leave to cool in the oven for an hour after turning the heat off. Serve at room temperature.

Pasta with cream cheese and walnuts

It’s very often the simplest ideas that sing the most sweetly ...

Serves 3
175-250g pasta
A generous knob of butter
125g-175g cream cheese
2-3 tbsp parmesan, grated, plus extra to serve
60g walnuts, roughly chopped

1 Cook the pasta shells according to the packet instructions. Drain and set aside.
2 In a flameproof serving dish, gently melt the butter and cream cheese. Add the cooked pasta and stir until thoroughly combined.
3 Add the parmesan and walnuts and stir through. Serve with more grated parmesan.


Tuesday, 24 March 2015

It's national vegetarian week! Why not try something new?

Studies have shown that vegetarians (following a well-balanced low-fat high-fibre vegetarian diet) often have lower incidence of coronary artery disease, hypertension, obesity and some forms of cancer.

Vegetarians avoid meat, poultry, game, fish and slaughterhouse by-products such as gelatine and animal fats. The staples of the vegetarian diet are fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, seeds and nuts. Most vegetarians eat dairy products and free-range eggs.

Fruitarians: Avoid all animal products and processed foods.
Vegans: Avoid all animal products.
Lacto-vegetarians: Eat dairy products but not eggs.
Lacto-ovo-vegetarians: Eat both dairy products and eggs.
Semi-vegetarians: Eat fish and/or chicken but no red meat. They are not officially classed as vegetarians.
A vegetarian diet can be a very healthy option but it is important to ensure it is well balanced. You could stuff your face with chips and chocolate at every meal and be vegetarian but you wouldn’t be doing your health much good.

Staples of a Vegetarian Diet

A balanced vegetarian diet should include:

  • Grains and cereals: Wholegrain bread, brown rice, wholewheat pasta, muesli.
  • Legumes, nuts and seeds: Soya beans. kidney beans, split peas, lentils, almonds, cashews, sesame seeds
  • Fruit and vegetables: As much as you want - think variety. Try new fruits and vegetables and include them in your diet every day
  • Dairy or soya products: Look out for fat free and reduced calorie options for milk, yoghurts, cheeses. 
  • A typical vegetarian diet closely matches expert dietary recommendations for healthy eating, being low in saturated fat and high in fibre, complex carbohydrates, and fresh fruit and vegetables. As long as you eat a variety of foods you will be getting all the nutrients you need. 

Try A Little Vegetarianism
Abandon the idea that you have to eat meat every day and try a couple of meat-free days each week. You don't have to be a vegetarian to enjoy vegetarian dishes. Both you and your wallet will feel the benefits!

Miso-roasted aubergine steaks with sweet potato

1 large aubergine (about 375g)
2 tbsp brown miso paste (we used Clearspring)
350g sweet potatoes, unpeeled and cut into chunky wedges
1 tbsp sunflower oil
thumb-sized piece ginger, grated
1 garlic clove, grated
pinch of pink Himalayan salt
8 spring onions, sliced diagonally

small pack parsley, leaves chopped

  1. Heat oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4. Peel the aubergine with a potato peeler and roughly spread the miso paste all over it – the best way to do this is with the back of a spoon.
  2. Put it in a roasting tin along with the sweet potato wedges. Pour 225ml boiling water into the base of the tin, then add the oil, ginger and garlic. Sprinkle a pinch of salt over the wedges and place in the oven.
  3. After 30 mins, pour another 125ml boiling water into the base of the tin and roast for another 20 mins. Repeat, adding 50ml boiling water and the spring onions, and roast for 10 mins more. Check the aubergine is cooked by inserting a knife in the centre – if it is ready it will easily slide in and out, and the aubergine will be soft on the inside.
  4. Sprinkle the chopped parsley over the potato wedges, slice the aubergine into 2cm thick ‘steaks’ and serve on top of the potatoes. If there is no sauce in the bottom of the tin, add 3 tbsp water to loosen up the miso, then pour the miso gravy over the aubergine steaks and sprinkle with cracked black pepper.

Five-a-day tagine

4 carrots, cut into chunks
4 small parsnips, or 3 large, cut into chunks
3 red onions, cut into wedges
2 red peppers, deseeded and cut into chunks
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp each ground cumin, paprika, cinnamon and mild chilli powder
400g can chopped tomatoes
2 small handfuls soft dried apricots

2 tsp honey

  1. Heat oven to 200C/fan 180C/gas 6. Scatter the veg over a couple of baking trays, drizzle with half the oil, season, then rub the oil over the veg with your hands to coat. Roast for 30 mins until tender and beginning to brown.
  2. Meanwhile, fry the spices in the remaining oil for 1 min – they should sizzle and start to smell aromatic. Tip in the tomatoes, apricots, honey and a can of water. Simmer for 5 mins until the sauce is slightly reduced and the apricots plump, then stir in the veg and some seasoning. Serve with couscous or jacket potatoes.

Aubergine Parmigiana

3 large aubergines
olive oil
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
½ bulb spring garlic, or 1 clove of regular garlic, peeled and finely sliced
1 heaped teaspoon dried oregano
2x400 g good-quality tinned plum tomatoes, or 1kg fresh ripe tomatoes
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
a little wine vinegar
1 large handful fresh basil
3 large handfuls Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
2 handfuls dried breadcrumbs
a little fresh oregano, leaves chopped
150 g buffalo mozzarella, optional

  1. First things first: remove the stalks from the aubergines, slice them up into 1cm thick slices, and put to one side. Whether you're using a griddle pan or a barbecue, get it really hot. Meanwhile, put 2 or 3 lugs of olive oil into a large pan on a medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and dried oregano and cook for 10 minutes, until the onion is soft and the garlic has a tiny bit of colour. If you're using tinned tomatoes, break them up, and if you're using fresh tomatoes (which will obviously taste sweeter and more delicious, if they're in season), very quickly prick each one and put them into a big pan of boiling water for 40 seconds. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and put them into a bowl of cold water for 30 seconds, then remove the skins, carefully squeeze out the pips and cut up the flesh. Add the tomato flesh or tinned tomatoes to the onion, garlic and oregano. Give the mixture a good stir, then put a lid on the pan and simmer slowly for 15 minutes. 
  2. Meanwhile, grill the aubergines on both sides until lightly charred – you may have to do them in batches, as they probably won't all fit into your griddle pan in one go. As each batch is finished, remove them to a tray and carry on grilling the rest until they're all nicely done. When the tomato sauce is reduced and sweet, season it carefully with salt, pepper and a tiny swig of wine vinegar, and add the basil. You can leave the sauce chunky or you can purée it.
  3. Get yourself an earthenware type dish (25 x 12–15cm). Put in a small layer of tomato sauce, then a thin scattering of Parmesan, followed by a single layer of aubergines. Repeat these layers until you've used all the ingredients up, finishing with a little sauce and another good sprinkling of Parmesan. I like to toss the breadcrumbs in olive oil with a little freshly chopped oregano and sprinkle them on top of the Parmesan. Sometimes the dish is served with torn-up mozzarella on top, which is nice too.
  4. Place the dish in the oven and bake at 190°C/375°F/gas 5 for half an hour until golden, crisp and bubbly. It's best eaten straight away, but it can also be served cold. You can use the same method substituting courgettes or fennel for the aubergines – both are delicious. But do try making it with aubergines – you'll love it!

Vegetable Chilli

2 medium-sized sweet potatoes, approximately 500g
1 level teaspoon cayenne pepper, plus extra for sprinkling
1 heaped teaspoon ground cumin, plus extra for sprinkling
1 level teaspoon ground cinnamon, plus extra for sprinkling
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
olive oil
1 onion
1 red pepper
1 yellow pepper
2 cloves garlic
a bunch of fresh coriander
1 fresh red chilli
1 fresh green chilli
2 x 400 g tinned beans, such as kidney, chickpea, pinto and cannellini
2 x 400 g tinned chopped tomatoes

  1. Preheat the oven to 200˚C/400˚F/gas 6. Peel the sweet potatoes and cut into bite-sized chunks. Sprinkle with a pinch each of cayenne, cumin, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil and toss to coat, then spread out on a baking tray and set aside.
  2. Peel and roughly chop the onion. Halve, deseed and roughly chop the peppers. Peel and finely chop the garlic. Pick the coriander leaves and put aside, then finely chop the stalks. Deseed and finely chop the chillies. 
  3. Place the sweet potatoes in the hot oven for 40 minutes, or until soft and golden. Meanwhile, put a large pan over a medium-high heat and add a couple lugs of olive oil. Add the onion, peppers and garlic and cook for 5 minutes. 
  4. Add the coriander stalks, chilli and spices and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes, or until softened, stirring every couple of minutes. Drain the beans, then tip them into the pan with the tinned tomatoes. Stir well and bring to the boil, then reduce to a medium-low heat and leave to tick away for 25 to 30 minutes, or until thickened and reduced. Keep an eye on it, and add a splash of water if it gets a bit thick. Stir the roasted sweet potato through your chilli with most of the coriander leaves. Taste and season with salt and pepper, if you think it needs it. 
  5. Scatter the remaining leaves over the top, and serve with some soured cream, guacamole and rice or tortilla chips.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Anthropometrics - monitor progress through more than just weight loss

The term anthropometric refers to comparative measurements of the body. Anthropometric measurements are used in nutritional assessments.

Anthropometric measurements used for adults usually include height, weight, body mass index (BMI), waist-to-hip ratio, and percentage of body fat. These measures are then compared to reference standards to assess weight status and the risk for various diseases. Anthropometric measurements require precise measuring techniques to be valid.

Body Mass Index (BMI)

To work out your BMI:
  1. divide your weight in kilograms (kg) by your height in metres (m)
  2. then divide the answer by your height again to get your BMI
For example:
  1. If you weigh 70kg and you're 1.75m tall, divide 70 by 1.75. The answer is 40.
  2. Then divide 40 by 1.75. 
The answer is 22.9. This is your BMI.

The ideal range is 20-25. You can also use this chart to calculate your BMI:

Waist to hip ratio

A waist to hip ratio of more than 0.95 for men and 0.85 for women may mean you're more likely to get heart disease and should be extra careful with your diet and lifestyle.

It's all related to the distribution of fat in the body. 'Apple' shaped people tend to store fat around their abdomen and are more likely to have health-related risks than people who are 'pear' shaped.

How to measure

While standing relaxed, measure the smallest area around your waist. The smallest area is usually around the navel or belly button.

Measure the largest area around your hips. The largest area is usually around your buttocks.

Now divide the waist number by the hip number.

Percentage body fat

The following link with show a tutorial on how to measure body fat percentage with skin fold calipers:

Alternatively, use these methods to measure the same span of biceps and thighs to monitor you progress:

 You should be standing or sitting
Use left arm if possible and  remove clothing so arm is bare
Locate the top of the shoulder (acromion) and the point of the elbow (olecranon process)
Measure the distance between the 2 points, identify the mid point and mark on the arm

See Fig.2
 Let arm hang loose and with tape measure, measure circumference of arm at the mid point. Do not pull the tape measure tight - it should just fit comfortably round the arm.

Use the same method for measuring thigh span.

Here are a couple of healthy recipes to warm the cockles of your hearts after a cold winter run:

Quinoa with stir fried winter veg - quinoa is low fat and high protein, meaning this filling recipe tops out at only 414kcal per generous serving!

200g quinoa
5 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 carrots, cut into thin sticks
300g leeks, sliced
300g broccoli, cut into small florets
100g sundried tomatoes, drained and chopped
200ml vegetable stock
2 tsp tomato purée

juice 1 lemon

Quinoa with stir-fried winter veg

  1. Cook the quinoa according to pack instructions. Meanwhile, heat 3 tbsp of the oil in a wok or large pan, then add the garlic and quickly fry for 1 min. Throw in the carrots, leeks and broccoli, then stir-fry for 2 mins until everything is glistening.
  2. Add the sundried tomatoes, mix together the stock and tomato purée, then add to the pan. Cover, then cook for 3 mins. Drain the quinoa, then toss in the remaining oil and the lemon juice. Divide between warm plates and spoon the vegetables on top.

Ham and Veg Crumble

100g butter
2 leeks, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
3 parsnips, chopped
½ celeriac, chopped
200g plain flour
500ml hot chicken or vegetable stock
400g cooked ham, cut into chunky slices from a joint, then shredded
200g tub low-fat crème fraîche

2 tbsp wholegrain mustard

Ham & veg crumble

  1. Melt 2 tbsp butter in a large frying pan, chop the remaining butter into small chunks and put in the fridge. Add the leeks, carrots, parsnips and celeriac to the pan with a splash of water, season, cover with a lid and cook for 10-15 mins, stirring now and then, until the veg is beginning to soften.
  2. Stir in 2 tbsp plain flour, then add the stock bit by bit, stirring as you go, until all incorporated and smooth. Cover with a lid and simmer for 20 mins until the vegetables are tender.
  3. Heat oven to 220C/200C fan/gas 6. Add the ham, all but 2 tbsp of the crème fraîche, and the mustard, season with plenty of black pepper and transfer to an ovenproof baking dish. Put the remaining butter and flour in a bowl and season. Rub together with your fingers to a fine crumbly texture. Add the remaining crème fraîche and mix with a cutlery knife until the crumble clumps together in places. Sprinkle the crumble mixture over the filling, then bake for 35-40 mins until crispy and golden on top.

Blood oranges - definitely better than your average!

So first a little history: Because the orange tree can simultaneously produce flowers, fruit, and foliage, these succulent fruits have long been associated with fertility. Although some are grown in California, most blood oranges come from Mediterranean countries (Southern Italy in particular) and are often considered to be among the finest dessert oranges in the world.

What they look like: They sport a thin, red-blushed orange skin, with flesh that ranges in colour from pink to brilliant red to burgundy; taste-wise, they're tart-sweet and slightly berry-like.

Selection tips: Pick those that are firm to the touch and heavy for their size. Although bits of green and rough, brownish areas on the skin have no effect on flavour or quality, do avoid any fruits with mould or spongy spots.

Health benefits: Oranges are rich in antioxidants―vital for healthy cells―including vitamin C, which aids in healing, boosts your immune system, helps your body absorb iron, and even helps reduce the risk of cancer. This citrus fruit is also a good source of fibre, which helps lower cholesterol and, like vitamin C, reduce your cancer risk. (To maximize your fibre intake, be sure to eat some of the spongy white pith right under the skin.)

Nutritional info: One tasty, medium-sized blood orange will provide you with 70 calories, 3.0 grams of fibre, 1.0 gram of protein, and no fat, sodium, or cholesterol.

And so to the recipes, blood oranges are so versatile, you can use them in sweet or savoury dishes, and with the colour they bring, they brighten up any dish and impress on any occasion:

Blood Orange Tart

200g/7oz sugar, plus extra for dusting
3 blood oranges, juice and zest
1 tsp orange blossom water
2 free-range eggs, plus 6 yolks
200g/7oz butter, cubed
25cm/10in sweetened shortcrust pastry tart shell, blind baked (you can use ready-made)
3 blood oranges, peeled, sliced into rounds
1 tbsp demerara sugar

double cream or custard, to serve

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4.
  2. Whisk the sugar, orange juice and zest, orange blossom water, eggs and egg yolks together in a bowl until well combined.
  3. Add the butter and set over a pan over simmering water. (Do not let the base of the bowl touch the water.)
  4. Cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring regularly, until the butter has melted and the mixture has thickened.
  5. Pour the mixture into the cooked pastry case , cover with clingfilm (to prevent a skin forming) and set aside to cool.
  6. Arrange the orange slices on the cooled tart and sprinkle over the demerara sugar.
  7. Using a cooks' blowtorch, heat the sugar until caramelised.
  8. To serve, slice the tart and serve with double cream or custard.
Blood orange, mozarella and rocket salad

3 blood (or normal) oranges
2 x 125g balls mozzarella, the best you can afford (or burrara, if you can get it), torn
2 big handfuls rocket
½ red onion, thinly sliced
crusty bread, to serve (optional)
For the dressing
3 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tsp caster sugar
2 tsp wholegrain mustard
1 tsp mustard seed (black or brown)
1 tsp poppy seed

  1. Finely zest 1 of the oranges and mix with the dressing ingredients and some seasoning.
  2. Cut the peel from the top and bottom of each orange, then sit each flat on a board. Using a small knife, cut away the peel and pith from each orange, working in downward strokes all the way around. Thinly slice the oranges and scatter over a platter with the mozzarella, rocket and onion.
  3. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and eat with crusty bread, if you like.
Blood Orange, blossom and pomegranate cake

6 blood oranges, 3 whole, juice of 3
250g pack butter, softened
50g clear honey, plus 2 tbsp
300g golden caster sugar
200g self-raising flour
100g ground almonds
1 tsp baking powder
4 large eggs
1 tbsp orange blossom water, plus 1 tsp
140g full-fat Greek yogurt, plus extra to serve
1 small pomegranate, halved

  1. Cover 1 of the whole oranges with water in a saucepan and bring to the boil for a couple of mins. Get rid of the water and start again, this time simmering for 40 mins until the orange is really soft. When cool enough to handle, cut in half and remove all the pips. Can be done 1 day ahead.
  2. Heat oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4 and grease a 22cm round cake tin with a knob of the butter. Drizzle the 2 tbsp of honey over the base of the tin, then slice the remaining 2 whole oranges and arrange the slices over the honey.
  3. Put the boiled orange in a food processor and whizz to a purée. Beat the softened butter, 200g of the sugar, the 50g honey, the flour, almonds, baking powder, eggs, 1 tbsp orange blossom water and yogurt until smooth. Stir in the puréed orange and scrape into the tin, being careful not to dislodge the fruit. Bake for 55 mins until a skewer poked into the centre comes out clean. Cool the cake for 10 mins in the tin, then turn out onto a serving plate.
  4. Tip the blood orange juice, the remaining sugar and 1 tsp orange blossom water into a saucepan. Bubble for 5 mins until the syrup has thickened slightly. Remove the pomegranate seeds and stir them into the syrup while it cools. Enjoy the cake slightly warm or at room temperature, with spoonfuls of thick Greek yogurt and drizzled with syrup.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Low-calorie lunches for work

For any of you professional ladies and gents out there who are sick of boring salads or dry sandwhiches for lunch but don't want to sacrifice calories and fat for taste, here are a few of my lunch recipes I have decided to share with you.
The beauty of these recipes are that they are:
  • low in fat
  • full of vitamins and minerals
  • rich in flavour
  • so incredibly easy for you to prepare the night before of the morning of!
Salmon pasta salad

Salmon, (buy pre-cooked for ease) torn up
250g pasta shapes
140g frozen peas
pack parsley, chopped
small pack chives, snipped
zest and juice 1 lemon
2 tbsp olive oil

Cook the pasta, adding the peas for final 2 mins cooking time. Drain, rinse with cold water to cool, then drain again. Tip into a bowl with the salmon, chopped herbs, lemon zest and juice, olive oil and plenty of seasoning and mix well. Cover and chill, spooning out portions as and when. If you're making this for one person, by days 3 and 4 you'll need to stir in a little olive oil or something creamy to loosen the pasta.

Creamy pesto and chicken pasta salad

85g pasta shapes
½ red pepper, chopped
handful halved cherry tomatoes
1 cooked chicken breast
1 tbsp basil pesto
2 tbsp low-fat crème fraîche

Cook the pasta following pack instructions. Meanwhile, mix the red pepper with the cherry tomatoes and chicken. Mix the pesto and crème fraîche. Drain the pasta, then stir it through. Toss through the veg and chicken and eat immediately, or pack into a container for lunch.

Tortellini with pesto and broccoli

140g Tenderstem broccoli, cut into short lengths
250g fresh tortellini
3 tbsp pesto (fresh if you can get it)
2 tbsp toasted pine nuts
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
8 cherry tomatoes, halved

Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Add the broccoli, cook for 2 mins, then add the tortellini and cook for 2 mins, or according to pack instructions. Drain everything, gently rinse under cold water until cool, then tip into a bowl. Toss with the pesto, pine nuts and balsamic vinegar. Add the tomatoes, pack into containers and chill. Let the salad get to room temperature during the morning to get the most flavour from the tomatoes and pesto.

Mustard Chicken with beetroot and orange salad

4 skinless, boneless chicken thighs
2 oranges
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp olive oil
140g bag spinach, rocket & watercress salad
4 vacuum-packed cooked beetroot, cut into wedges

  1. Put the chicken between 2 sheets of parchment paper or cling film and bash with a rolling pin to flatten. Grate the zest from ½ orange and mix in a bowl with the mustard, 2 tsp oil and plenty of seasoning. Add the chicken and stir well.
  2. Heat a griddle or frying pan and cook the chicken for 5-6 mins on each side until cooked through. Place on a plate to rest while you assemble the salad.
  3. Tip the salad leaves into a bowl. Peel and slice the oranges on a plate to catch any juices. Pour the orange juice over the leaves, add the slices with 1tsp oil and toss together. Add the beetroot, then slice the chicken and add to the salad along with any resting juices. Divide everything between your lunch boxes for the following day.

Supermarkets do such fantastic ranges of low fat dips like guacamole, tzatziki and salsas, add a dollop to your salads, sandwhiches and wraps to spice them up!

Alternatively, why not try adding some roughly chopped orange slices, some pomegranate seeds or chopped apples, grapes or pears to your salad? It will fill you up for longer, and quell the need for something sweet!

Please keep the suggestions for posts and recipes coming, I am going to be experimenting on healthy sweets this weekend, so stand by for more tried, tested and approved recipes from your dietitian!

Monday, 9 March 2015

Post workout recovery meals for when you're feeling a bit lazy or just pure knackered!

Forget the protein shakes, countless supplements and powders, and just remember the four R's for recovering post workout:

REST - Get a good night's sleep, this is when most muscle repair and growth will occur

REHYDRATE - Be sure to hydrate prior to, during and after your workout. Add a little fruit juice and a pinch of salt to make a cheap sports drink to optimise hydration and replace valuable salts lost during exercise!

REPAIR - eat meals rich in protein from animal and non animal sources to aid muscle growth and repair

REFUEL - carbohydrates are incredibly important post workout to replace lost energy stores. The first source of energy your body uses is carbohydrates stored as glycogen, so it is important to replace these stores.

Here are a few of my favourite post workout meals. Favourite because not only are they high in protein, low in fat, and rich in a variety of vitamins and minerals, but they are just so simple you can't go wrong!

Baked potatoes and chicken - serves one

- large baked potato
- chicken breast, cooked
- two ripe tomatoes
- dried oregano, basil or rosemary
- 50g greek yoghurt
- spring onion finely chopped
- red pesto (optional)

1. Scrub the potatoes, then dry and prick each one several times with a sharp knife.
2. Microwave Method: Cook one potato (225g/8oz) for 6 minutes on full power (800W), turn half way through cooking. Allow to stand for 1 – 2 minutes before serving. If cooking more than one potato at a time you need to increase the cooking time accordingly.
Oven Method: Rub a few drops of olive oil into the potato skin, place the potatoes in a pre-heated oven at 200°C/400°F on a baking tray with salt sprinkled around the potato. Bake for 1¼ hours or until soft.
3. When the potatoes are almost ready, cut chicken breast into bitesize chunks, heat a non-stick frying pan and pan fry until lightly browned on both sides and cooked through about 6-8 mins. Add a pinch of dried oregano, rosemary or basil per person.
4. Meanwhile, chop the tomatoes into chunks, discarding the seeds. When the chicken is cooked, stir together the chicken, tomato. spring onions and the pot of yogurt.

Ginger and Soy Glazed Salmon - serves four

- thumb-sized piece ginger, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
- 6 tbsp light soy sauce
- 4 tbsp rice wine vinegar
- 4 salmon fillets, about 140g/5oz each
- 200g soba noodles
- 350g frozen soya beans, defrosted
- 2 x 175g packs baby corn and mange tout mix, chopped

1. In a small bowl, mix the ginger, garlic, soy and vinegar. Add the salmon and leave to marinate for 10 mins. Heat a large non-stick frying pan. Lift the fish from the marinade with a slotted spoon and fry for 2-3 mins on each side, then tip in the marinade and a splash of water, and bubble for 1 min.
2. Cook the noodles following pack instructions. Tip in the soya beans 3 mins before the end, then add the veg mix for the final min. Drain everything really well. Serve the noodles and veg with the salmon and sauce spooned over.

Chicken and soy bean salad - serves one

- handful frozen soya beans
- 1 skinless cooked chicken breast, shredded
- ¼ cucumber, peeled, deseeded and chopped
- ½ avocado, flesh scooped out
- few drops Tabasco sauce
- juice ½ lemon, plus a lemon wedge
- 2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 5-6 Little Gem lettuce leaves
- 1 tsp mixed seed

1. Blanch the soya beans for 3 mins. Rinse in cold water and drain thoroughly. Put the chicken, beans and cucumber in a bowl.
2. Blitz the avocado, Tabasco, lemon juice and oil in a food processor or with a hand blender. Season, pour into the bowl and mix well to coat.
3. Spoon the mixture into the lettuce leaves (or serve it alongside them) and sprinkle with the seeds. Chill until lunch, then serve with a lemon wedge.

Pomegranate chicken with Almond couscous - serves 4

- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 200g couscous
- 1 chicken stock cube
- 1 large red onion, halved and thinly sliced
- 600g chicken mini fillets
- 4 tbsp tagine spice paste (available from Tesco or Marks & Spencer), or 2 tbsp harissa
- 190ml bottle pomegranate juice (not sweetened; we used Pom Wonderful)
- 100g pack pomegranate seeds
- 100g pack toasted flaked almonds
- small pack mint, chopped

1. Boil the kettle and heat the oil in a large frying pan. Put the couscous in a bowl with some seasoning and crumble in half the stock cube. Add the onion to the pan and fry for a few mins to soften. Pour boiling water over the couscous to just cover, then cover the bowl with a tea towel and set aside.
2. Push the onion to one side of the pan, add the chicken fillets and brown on all sides. Stir in the tagine paste or harissa and the pomegranate juice, then crumble in the rest of the stock cube and season well. Simmer, uncovered, for 10 mins until the sauce has thickened and the chicken is cooked through. Stir through the pomegranate seeds, saving a few to scatter over before serving.
3. After 5 mins, fluff up the couscous with a fork and stir through the almonds and mint. Serve the chicken on the couscous with the sauce spooned over.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Pomegranates - the world’s oldest super-food?

Pomegranates are one of the oldest fruits in existence found in many ancient writings and paintings, frequently used in middle eastern medicine as a preventative measure and to actively treat illnesses. They are currently in season, and for those still sticking to their New Years resolution of weight loss or healthier eating, they are packed full of nutrients and very versatile making great additions to both sweet and savoury dishes.

So what are the health benefits with regards to nutritional content?
  • Excellent source of dietary fibre
  • Vitamin A - promotes good vision, healthy immune system and cell growth
  • Vitamin C - promotes a healthy immune system
  • Vitamin E - maintains cell structure by protecting cell membranes
  • Iron - promotes healthy blood, prevents anaemia and fatigue
  • Rich in antioxidants - aids in preventing cancers, heart disease and many more

Clinical evidence proving it’s benefits in treating diseases comorbidities such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels etc., is extensive, yet still needs to be further examined, but here’s what has been proven so far;

Prostate cancer - A study carried out in 2006 showed that drinking a small 277ml glass of pomegranate juice per day significantly slowed the progress of prostate cancer in men with recurrent prostate cancer.

Carotid artery stenosis - A study carried out in 2004 showed that a daily glass of 50ml of pomegranate juice over three years reduced the damage caused by cholesterol almost in half, and also cut cholesterol build up.

Heart disease - A study carried out in 2005 demonstrated that a daily drink of 238ml of pomegranate juice administered over three months resulted in improved blood flow to the heart and around the body reducing the risk of strokes and heart attacks.

As is tradition, here are a few of my favourite recipes for using pomegranates. Tip: buy pomegranates whole, you will get more for your money, they are very easy to get the seeds from once ripe, as the video shows below.

Grilled Lamb with Wintry Rice Salad

2 red onions
1 tspn cinnamon
1 tbpsn olive oil
400g lean lamb steaks
140g wild rice
handful mint, chopped
handful parsley, chopped
120g fresh pomegranate seeds
50g chopped pistachios
50g dried cranberries
juice ½ orange
juice ½ lemon

  1. Grate one onion into a shallow dish, mix in cinnamon and olive oil and rub into the lamb steaks, cover and set aside whilst you make the rice.
  2. Place the rice and 600ml of water in a pan, bring to the boil, then simmer until all the water has evaporated (around 20 minutes). Mix in the remaining red onion, herbs, pomegranates, pistachios, cranberries and lemon and orange juice.
  3. Remove the lamb from the marinade and cook in a griddle pan for about five minutes on each side depending on how you like your meat cooked and serve with a big spoonful of rice. Yum!

Hot Smoked Salmon, Lentil and Pomegranate Salad

2 tbspn olive oil
juice ½ lemon
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 tbspn roughly chopped tarragon
1 tspn honey
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
400g can puy lentils, rinsed and drained
140g hot smoked salmon
20g flat leaf parsley leaves
1 pomegranate seeds removed
Toasted pitta bread to serve

  1. Combine the olive oil, lemon, garlic clove, tarragon and honey together in a bowl. Toss in the red onions and lentils and leave to marinade for ten minutes.
  2. Break the salmon into large flakes and fold into the salad with the pomegranates and parsley, serve with toasted pitta.