Friday, 11 April 2014

Friday focus: Blueberries

A few days ago, I was asking myself what should be the subject of today’s blog and I couldn’t quite make my mind up. Then, I found this week’s shopping list at the bottom of my bag (also known as the Bermuda Triangle… Things fall in it and disappear!) and thought about those ingredients that make a weekly appearance on my shopping lists, that I buy week in, week out; those ingredients that I simply couldn’t be without!

Amongst others, I always buy coconut milk, eggs, soya milk, peppers, bananas, green beans, almonds, blueberries, etc….

Without fail, these ingredients will end up in my shopping bag every week. So I think, over the next few weeks, my focus will be on some of my “can’t-be-without” ingredients and I’ve decided today to start with… Blueberries!!


 

Blueberries are packed with antioxidants and should be your number one weapon in the fight against aging. They help protect cells from free radical damage, they boost immunity and promote digestive health.

Often called a “superfood,” one serving of blueberries provide as many antioxidants as five average servings of broccoli, apples or carrots. They rank top in antioxidant activity compared to 40 other fresh fruits and vegetables. Anthocyanins (that give the blueberries their beautiful deep purple-blue colour) are potent antioxidants that fight cell damage, improve circulation and help protect against heart problems, stroke, cancer and gum disease.

The proanthocyanidins contained in blueberries increase the potency of their vitamin C content, supporting the collagen in the skin, protecting eye and blood vessels health.

Blueberries also contain antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial compounds and are a traditional remedy against stomach upsets, urinary tract infections and coughs and colds.

They help to improve brain function, preserve memory and learning abilities in old age; they are also said to help reduce cognitive decline such as dementia.

Who knew that the tiny, colourful blueberry could pack such a punch?!
 
 


 

Blueberries are delicious eaten fresh, on top of thick Greek yogurt with a drizzle of honey, but my favourite way of using blueberries is in my favourite easy, speedy breakfast smoothie. The great thing about this smoothie is that you can use frozen blueberries – they pack as much nutritional goodness as fresh blueberries and are much cheaper.

Breakfast Banana and Blueberry Smoothie


(serves 1)

Ingredients:
 
1 large, very ripe banana, sliced

2 or 3tbsp home-made almond butter (see last week’s blog for recipe) or peanut butter

2 generous handfuls (approximately 70-75g) frozen blueberries

250ml milk of choice

(If your banana is not very ripe, add 1 or 2 teaspoons of honey)

 

Method:

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend on high speed until smooth and thickened (the frozen blueberries will help thicken the smoothie.) Pour in a glass and enjoy immediately.

 
 

My second favourite way of enjoying blueberries is in blueberry muffins – I love this recipe from Angela Liddon’s Oh She Glows blog: Blissful Blueberry Banana Spelt Muffins. It is an easy recipe to put together and the muffins are so tasty and perfect for breakfast!! I also love the fact that Angela has used spelt flour which is one of my favourite flour to use in baking as it has great texture. I usually use soya milk instead of almond milk and the first time I tried this recipe, I didn’t have coconut sugar so I used golden caster sugar instead and it worked beautifully.
 
 
 

I find my spelt flour at Tesco (Doves Farm Organic) as well as my coconut oil (in the World Foods aisle); my apple cider vinegar and coconut sugar (both Biona Organic) are bought from my local health food shop. I’m sure that these ingredients can be found in most Holland and Barrett stores too.


But, please, do not limit yourself to this recipe. Even if you’re not vegan, have a good browse of Angela’s blog. There are many recipes on there that are sure to become future family favourites.

 

Friday, 4 April 2014

Friday focus: Almonds


Almonds have numerous health benefits and contain vitamins, minerals, protein and fibre.
 
 


 

They also contain healthy unsaturated fatty acids. They boost the level of vitamin E in the body; Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant which protects the cells against damage and prevents the oxidation of the arteries caused by cholesterol.

The protein, fibre and healthy fat present in the almond may help prevent cancerous changes to the cells and prevent cardiovascular disease.

Their high fibre content promotes a feeling of satiety; therefore, they are the perfect snack if you are trying to lose weight. However, they are quite calorie-dense so be mindful of your portions.

 

For the following recipe, please ensure that you use a sturdy, good quality food processor (fitted with its cutting blades) as the almonds need processing for quite a long time and the motor of the processor becomes quite hot. If the motor does become too hot, give your processor a 5 minute cool-down break from time to time.
 
 

 

Almond butter


Ingredients:

200g whole almonds (they do not need to be blanched)

3tbsp pure maple syrup

1 or 2tsp coconut oil (to help loosen the butter)

 

Method:

Place the almonds in a roasting tin and drizzle with the maple syrup. Ensure all the almonds are coated evenly.

Roast in a pre-heated oven at 180C for 7 to 8 minutes, until golden brown (keep an eye on the almonds whilst they are roasting as they can burn easily and quickly.)
 
 

Leave to cool for a few minutes, then pour the almonds in a food processor and start processing on high speed. First, the almonds will be reduced to the texture of coarse flour then finer powder.
 
 
 
As the natural oil in the almonds is released, the almond powder will start creeping up the sides of the processor’s bowl. Every minute or so, stop the processor and use a spatula to push the almond powder back down into the bowl, then resume the processing. Keep alternating between processing the almonds and scraping the sides of the bowl for approximately 10 minutes. The heat of the processor’s blades will release more of the almonds’ oil and the powder should start clumping together.
 
 

At this point, you may want to add 1 or 2tsp of coconut oil to help the butter on its way. Do not add more than that, as your almond butter would become too oily and runny.

Keep processing the almond powder for a further 7-10 minutes until it turns creamy and smooth. This is a very long process and it feels like you are never going to get the right texture, but trust me, you will get there! Give the oil present in the almonds time to do its job.
 
 

At the end of processing, the butter will be quite runny but do not worry, this is normal. It will actually feel warm to the touch due to the friction of the processor’s blade, but as the almond butter cools down, it will firm up a little.
 
 

Pour your almond butter in a sterilised jar. Now, in theory, you should keep your almond butter in the fridge - I don’t like it! The almond butter hardens too much and the cold numbs its flavours. Putting the almond butter in the fridge stops the natural almond oil from turning rancid. In my house, a jar of almond butter never lasts long enough to go rancid as it tends to get eaten in less than a week! So, my almond butter is kept in my cupboard and I’ve never had any problem with it going bad. But store it as you see fit – if you don’t think you’re going to eat it quickly then, by all means, keep it in the fridge.
 
 

My favourite way of eating almond butter (other than straight out of the jar with a large spoon!) is to use it as a dip with sliced apple or grapes. Try adding a tablespoon of it in your morning smoothie for a protein boost or spread it on wholemeal toast.
 
 

 

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Friday focus: Salad Dressing


The combinations for creating interesting salads are endless, but very often, even the most basic of salad can be lifted and transformed by a delicious dressing.

 
Here are my three favourite, “go-to” dressings. The recipes I’m going to give you are for one serving, but they can be easily increased and the dressings can be kept, refrigerated, in a jar for up to a week.

 

1-      French Vinaigrette


The most basic of salad dressing, a French vinaigrette is rich in mustard to bring some “zing” to your salad. I like mine particularly mustardy so do not hesitate to reduce the amount of Dijon mustard to suit your taste, but remember you still need the mustard in it to emulsify the vinaigrette.

Ingredients:

2tsp Dijon mustard

¼tsp salt

¼tsp pepper

2tbsp vinegar of choice (I love and use organic apple cider vinegar)

4tbsp olive oil

 
Method:

Place all the ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until thickened. For a more Mediterranean version of this salad dressing, replace the Dijon mustard with 1 crushed garlic clove and replace the vinegar with fresh lemon juice.

 
Salade Niçoise with French vinaigrette
 
 

2-      Wholegrain Mustard and Balsamic Vinegar Dressing


This dressing is the perfect accompaniment for warm salads. The little touch of sweetness in it is unusual but delicious.

Ingredients:

1.5tsp wholegrain mustard

¼tsp salt

¼tsp pepper

2tbsp balsamic vinegar

4tbsp olive oil

1tsp pure maple syrup or honey

 

Method:

Place all the ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until thickened.
 
Rocket and Roasted Cherry Tomatoes Salad with Wholegrain Mustard and Balsamic Vinegar Dressing
 

 

3-      Tahini Dressing


The following dressing is from River Cottage Veg Every Day by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (which is one of my favourite and most used cookbooks.) This dressing accompanies the Courgette and Green Bean Salad, which you will find on page 74 of the book. It is one of my favourite salads ever, and it is fair to say that the dressing “makes” the salad.

Ingredients:

½ garlic clove, crushed with a little sea salt

2tbsp light tahini

Finely grated zest and juice of ½ lemon

Juice of ½ orange

½tsp honey

2tbsp olive oil

Salt and pepper


Method:

Place all the ingredients, except the olive oil, in a bowl and stir together well. If the mixture is too thick, thin it down with a little water, 1tbsp at a time until you get a creamy consistency. Finally, gently stir in the olive oil. Add some salt and pepper if needed.

(I have never needed to add water to thin the dressing down, but I have put this step here to respect the recipe as it is presented in the book. I have often omitted the orange juice in the past and the dressing was still lovely, but it needs the sharpness of the lemon juice to offset the richness of the tahini paste.)
 
Courgette and Green Beans Salad with Tahini Dressing
 

Friday, 14 March 2014

Friday focus: Basic shortcrust pastry dough


My mum was my first “cooking inspiration.” She attended the “École Hotelière” (cooking school) in France when she was young. Her ambition was to become a waitress, but at first she had to train both in the kitchen and as front-of-house. As a result, my mum can not only serve an amazing meal with style, she can also cook like a trained chef. To this day, she still uses a couple of notebooks, filled with recipes she learnt at the École Hotelière, all handwritten in her best and clearest style. I even have quite a few of those recipes in my own folder, which I have photocopied from these notebooks, which are quite a few years old, but I won’t tell you how old or else, my mum might be cross at me giving away her age! J

Despite the fact that she worked full time and raised me on her own from when I was 9 years old, my mum always put fresh meals on the table and did not rely on ready-made food. Like a lot of French people, she used simple and fast recipes that made the best of a few fresh ingredients, like soups or mixed salads. And sometimes, when she had a bit more time on her hands, she would tackle more sophisticated recipes which would wow, not only me, but friends that would come for dinner parties. And guess what, she still does! When you go and eat at my mum’s, you will certainly eat well J

 




I use a lot of my mum’s recipes and I am very faithful to them. One such recipe is for the basic shortcrust pastry dough – one plain and one sweet, but they both start the same.

 

Basic shortcrust pastry dough (plain)


Ingredients:

200g plain flour

Pinch of salt

100g cold butter, diced

1 egg

Cold water

Method:

Put the flour, salt and butter in a mixing bowl, and rub the flour and butter together with your fingers until you reach breadcrumb consistency. Add the egg and start bringing the ingredients together with your fingers. Add the cold water 1 tablespoon at a time until the mixture comes together as a dough (I usually only need to add a couple of tablespoons.)

Transfer your dough to a floured surface and shape into as disc (you do not need to knead pastry dough.) Wrap in clingfilm and put into the fridge to rest for 30 minutes. This enables the butter to slightly set again and relax the gluten in the flour.

You can then roll out your dough as required on a generously floured surface. This plain dough is very easy to handle and does not break easily, so there’s no need to be too delicate with it. It will be very easy to transfer from your working surface to your tin; I usually wrap it around my rolling pin and move it this way. But if you were just to grab it with your hands to transfer it, it wouldn’t be the worst for it!

This is my pastry dough of choice for quiches, such as this Mini Caramelised Onion and Goat’s Cheese Quiche:


 


Basic shortcrust pastry dough (sweet)


Ingredients:

200g plain flour

Pinch of salt

100g cold butter, diced

80g caster sugar

1 egg

Cold water

Method:

Put the flour, salt and butter in a mixing bowl, and rub the flour and butter together with your fingers until you reach breadcrumb consistency. Add the sugar then add the egg and start bringing the ingredients together with your fingers. Add the cold water 1 tablespoon at a time until the mixture comes together as a dough.

Transfer your dough to a floured surface and shape into as disc (you do not need to knead pastry dough.) Wrap in clingfilm and put into the fridge to rest for 30 minutes. This enables the butter to slightly set again and relax the gluten in the flour.

You can then roll out your dough as required on a generously floured surface. This sweet dough is slightly more fragile because of the addition to sugar. However, don’t let that scare you: it is still a robust dough. Once rolled out, I advise you to use the rolling pin trick to transfer the dough from your working surface to your tin.

This is my pastry dough of choice for any sweet pies, such as these Classic Apple Pie and Mini Rustic Apple Pie:
 

 

 

Friday, 7 March 2014

Friday focus: "Help! I’ve nothing to cook!"


Do you know this feeling when, as you get ready for a night out, you stand in front of your wardrobe and realise with horror that you have nothing to wear? I often get that feeling when I stand in front of a seemingly empty fridge.
 
 

 
I admit that I am a cook who loves to work from recipes, but at the end of the week, I often only find random ingredients in my fridge that don’t fit in any of my favourite recipes.

These moments call for a little imagination and have often been the beginning of some of my personal kitchen creations, such as the Italian-inspired soup which is a wonderful vessel for my turkey meatballs.

 


 
So, what should you do when you have one of those “I’ve nothing to cook!” moments? Take stock of everything you have in your fridge, see if it could be complemented by anything you may have in your freezer or kitchen cupboard and get creative! For me, a “throw everything in a pot” soup or stir-fry is often the way to go J

And here is my study case: to feed two people, I only had one chicken breast, a pack of baby corn, and a couple of left-over carrots, courgette and pepper. More than enough to create a fantastic supper – Chicken and Vegetable Stir-Fry!

 


 
Cut the chicken in bite-sized, even chunks. Slice the pepper and baby corn. You can either cut the carrots and courgette by hand or use a mandoline to shred them. If you use a mandoline, please be careful – they are incredibly sharp. I have a love-hate affair with mine: it is an essential tool in my Holistic Kitchen and yet I am terrified of it. I’m convinced it’s out to get me and that one day, I’m going to end up minus one finger!!

Put all your vegetables in a bowl and season with salt and pepper, then add any spices or herbs that take your fancy. That’s the beauty of cooking without a recipe: let your personal taste guide you. I would normally add some ground cumin, ground ginger and a pinch of red chilli flakes. You can also add 1tbsp of dark soy sauce if you want (in which case, do not add salt to your vegetables – the saltiness will be provided by the soy sauce.) That is also the beauty of a well-stocked kitchen cupboard: you have instant and varied flavours at your fingertips.

Heat 1tbsp of olive oil in a large frying pan and cook the chicken until golden. Add your vegetables and cook until heated through (you want to make sure your vegetables keep their crunch so don't cook them for too long.)

You can then serve the stir-fry as it is or over a portion of noodles. And enjoy your very own kitchen creation! J
 
 
 
 
Do not be afraid of being creative in the kitchen. Remember: cooking is a lot more forgiving than baking, so experiment with herbs, spices and sauces. As I said before, let your personal taste guide you and you won't go too wrong.
 

 

Friday, 21 February 2014

Friday Focus: A day of food in the life of a Holistic Nutritionist

I was asked on another site I am a member of to share a sample menu of what I eat during an average day. I shall do so gladly J Although, I must admit that this week is not an average week; it is half-term and I have more time to spend in my kitchen so I think it might be useful to do this exercise again during a working day, maybe.

I will also share with you my recipe for a speedy and easy curry paste and I will address the issue of “treats” and baking, why I think that they have their place as part of a balanced nutrition and how, as a Holistic Nutritionist, I deal with having a sweet tooth and an all-consuming love of baking.


A day of Food in the life of a Holistic Nutritionist.


Breakfast:

Greek yogurt with home-made almond and mixed berries granola (with a drizzle of honey.) With this breakfast, I drank a cup of home-made mocha.


 



Throughout the day, I will drink several cups of green or herbal tea and a few glasses of water (I will drink more water on the days I’m working out. I also tend to have a couple of snacks on the days I’m working out. My favourite snack is grapes or apple slices dipped in home-made almond butter – I do tend to lose all self-control around almond butter! J)

 

Lunch:

Chicken Curry served with couscous and home-made chapattis.

(This is an example of this not being an average week – I normally do not have the time to make my own chapattis to serve with a curry J)

 



As much as I like to use fresh spices and herbs to make my curry paste, sometimes I am too pushed for time and, at times like these, I have no scruples in getting most of my ingredients out of little jars and the recipe below is the perfect example of that, a speedy yet tasty curry paste.

Ingredients and method:

2 garlic cloves

¼ tsp organic sea salt

-          Mash the garlic and salt together in a pestle and mortar until the garlic has turned into a smooth paste. Then add the following ingredients:

½ tsp ground ginger

1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

1tsp smoked paprika

1tsp Garam Masala

1/8 tsp crushed chilli flakes

½ tsp ground coriander

1tsp desiccated coconut

2tsp ground almonds

½ tsp cumin

½ tsp turmeric

2tbsp olive oil

-          Mix all the ingredients together thoroughly until you obtain a smooth paste. To make your curry, fry bite-size chunks of chicken in a little olive oil. Add your curry paste to the chicken and cook for a minute. Add half a tin of coconut milk and cook for a further 15 minutes stirring often. Serve with rice or couscous.


 

Supper:

Curried Butternut Squash soup


 

Pudding:

Apple Pie
 
 

Having this dessert as part of my menu for the day gives me the opportunity to address the issue of “treats” and baking. I truly think they have their place as part of a balanced nutrition. I do not believe in making any food “forbidden,” as I think it is a sure-fire way of creating intense cravings for those foods. Yes, you will stay away from them… For a while. But as no-one has unlimited amount of will-power, you will end up putting yourself in a situation where you will break down, binge on the forbidden food and beat yourself up over it later. Whereas if every single food is allowed, you avoid this scenario altogether.

This, however, does not mean that I condone eating chocolate cake at every meal!! Treats are all good and well, but they should be occasional.

I have a very sweet tooth and I love baking so how do I keep the equilibrium in my Holistic Kitchen? I have made a deal with myself that, if I want to eat something sweet, I have to make it myself. Very often, you will find that the idea of having to prepare and bake a sweet treat and then having to deal with the washing-up will often put you off your sweet craving. I also try to restrict my baking to the weekend and that, for me, makes it really special – a true treat J

I love having plenty of free time to spend in my kitchen so I can take pleasure in the process of baking and enjoy the smells coming out of my oven. It is also the perfect opportunity to tackle new and more complicated recipes, or take up the challenge of making an old, favourite recipe healthier. The treat for me is in the preparing as much as the eating J