Thursday, 31 July 2014

Hello sunshine

While I enjoy making up my own meals, I also collect hundreds of recipes I intend to try out one day.  This mango and cashew smoothie from DeliciouslyElla is one such recipe.  I love a smoothie for breakfast and love messing about trying new combos, but sometimes it's nice to try something tried and tested from somebody else.  Plus I absolutely LOVE mango, it is sooooooo nice. And so sunshiney yellow.

I was really looking forward to this one and had my first go yesterday.  I even bought some of the famed chia seeds I've been wanting to start trying and using (those aren't compulsory for the recipe so don't let that put you off).  I got everything in my blender ready, then realised I didn't have any limes.

As a result, the smoothie was lovely and creamy and did taste nice, but I thought it lacked something so decided to try it again this morning having now purchased said limes.

Second time round (now also with a smidge more cashews) it was definitely much better.  The recipe makes quite a big portion so very filling too!

For somebody who's been drinking green smoothies for a while, it didn't blow my socks off.  It was very nice, but no nicer than others I've had really.

BUT, for anybody who's yet to enter the green smoothie world, it's absolutely excellent.  Nothing about it tastes even vaguely green yet it has a whole big handful of spinach in it.  It tastes sweet, creamy and yummy like a milkshake or just a really nice fruit smoothie but is so so good for you.  The consistency is really lovely too thanks to the exact right mix of almond milk vs fruit, the banana and cashews ,and the chia seed gloop it up a bit nicely.

So, if eating spinach or anything else green for breakfast scares the hell out of you, or drinking vegetables sounds totally revolting to you, do try this smoothie and you'll be converted instantly.  Apart from the chia seeds all the ingredients can be found in any supermarket, big or small.  The only thing is, when buying almond milk, pick the one that says 'unsweetened' or else you're getting a whole load of added sugar for no reason.  Alpro do one which is stocked in every supermarket I've been in (some of the smaller ones might not carry the unsweetened variant but my Tesco Metro does).  If you fancy trying the chia seeds too, I got mine seeds at Holland and Barret but any health food shops or online whole food places will do them

If you're feeling brave, mess about trying different combos.  Bananas are a great base as they're so sweet and creamy, avocados have the same effect but aren't quite as sweet, spinach is a good green to add, or kale but I find it doesn't blend down as well and has a stronger taste.  In fact I think I'll try a kale and quinoa smoothie recipe I've spotted next...

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Avocado advocate

I LOVE avocado.

Ok, so for a fruit it is rather calorie and fat laden, but I don't care, it's not exactly a deep fried marsbar is it!? The fat in an avocado is the good kind, kind of like WD40 for the joints and any help I can get keeping my bits and pieces supple, I'm taking it.

Apart from having lots of vitamin C and E (good for skin), potassium, iron, folate etc, avocados are also a good way to get your vitamin B6 which is super handy for lots of reasons especially where the nervous system is involved, but the one I'm most interested in is the job it plays in mood regulation and mental function...avocado is a super happy fruit!

But apart from all of that it just tastes so yummy and is so versatile it can be used pretty much however you like.

I eat it for breakfast in my smoothies where it gives a lovely creamy thick texture without adding any weird veg taste;

I have it in salads; I spread it on toast instead of butter;  I mush it up to make a kind of guacamole;

I spoon it straight out of the skin with a squeeze of lemon juice (which tastes nice but also stops the flesh going brown.  What I had today for lunch as it happens).

I mixed it into scrambled egg the other day as well which worked surprisingly well.

 Even my most favourite sandwich ever has avocado in it.

This evening I was planning on making one of our favourite dinners.  This dinner sounds like the most boring random collection of stuff on a plate ever and I was very very dubious when I first made it, but it is so so yummy.  I don't even remember where I first saw the idea but basically all you do is this:
Chop up an avocado, a mango and a nice big beef tomato, put it on 2 plates, add some butter beans, sprinkle some light dressing over the top.

That's it.  I promise it is such a delicious combo and it is really filling despite not really having much actually in it.

Anyway, that's what I was going to make but I suddenly couldn't really be bothered.  I don't know why, it's not like it involves much of anything at all really other than throwing stuff on a plate, but sometimes I just don't really even feel like having to use a knife and fork!

So, I made our favourite sandwich instead.

Again, sounds completely rubbish and boring but is such a fab flavour combo:

Toasted wholemeal or granary or some kind of nice whole brown bread.
Whatever butter/mayo type spread you fancy (I used houmous tonight to add some protein)
Half an avo and half a big juicy tomato
sea salt & black pepper.

That's it! SO yummy. And no need for the knife and fork :).

Anybody else got any other handy avocado tips? I'd love to hear them...

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Leftovers lunch

Today saw me, my brother and my grandma set off on an impromptu trip to the beach - well, a beach by a lake in the middle of Surrey but a beach nonetheless!  I had about 20 minutes to spare before they came to pick me up and I decided we needed a picnic.  I didn't fancy picking up some grotty garage sandwiches along the way but didn't really have the time or ingredients to rustle anything up.

Until I spotted the leftover quinoa from last night (see, always make too much!).

I quickly chopped up and bunged in some avocado, cherry tomatoes, parley, feta and lemon juice (all also left overs from other meals), sprinkled on some seasalt and  black pepper, chucked it in a tupperware and was all done.

Grandma and I enjoyed our lovely light summery salad lunch later on. I couldn't, however, convince my brother to partake of any 'gravel', he had a pork baguette instead :).

Monday, 28 July 2014

Kale convert

There are very few foods that I do not like.  But when I don't like a food, I really, properly do not like it. At all.

I can count on one hand the foods that fall into this category (that I know of so far):

- Parsley
- Anchovies
- Kale
- Crab
- Whitebait
- Sardines
(there's a small evil fishy theme here)
- and weirdly, cream cakes (not strictly 'food' as such in the cleanest terms but can be eaten nonethless!) or anything involving starchy white things alongside sweet red things, ergo jam sandwiches.  I know, I did say it was weird but I can handle not liking this manky stuff. It just gives me an instant headache and makes me go all woozy and whatnot.

I've also just noticed that either I can't count or I have a deformed hand with rather more fingers than it should have.

The point is, I like most things apart from the above.

Or so I thought.

Turns out my taste buds, my attitude, my sense of adventure or my willingness to challenge convention and the stories I've made about myself based on previous experience, has changed.

I now regularly use parsley in dishes, in fact it's now my herb of choice for freshening things up.  I've eaten crab twice in the last week...I just fancied it, and it didn't kill me (although the smell nearly knocked Alex out, he's not budging on his absolute distaste for any form of seafood).

And I now absolutely love, adore and worship the ground kale, um, grows in.  For something that looks just so green and vegetabley, it's so so tasty. It has its own natural saltiness somehow. And it is unbelievably and ridiculously good for you in so many reasons it's almost impossible to list them. It's basically a very super, superfood.

I think the thing with kale, and parsley actually, and broccoli before them, is that my opinion of them had been formed by 1970s and 1980s style cooking of them - ie boil them to within an inch of their life (and beyond).

I remember a particularly harrowing kale experience where a giant, curly, spiky lump of the stuff got stuck in my throat and threatened to kill me. Ish.  It wasn't nice anyway and I've never forgiven it. Until now, armed with the proper knowledge and skills as to how to actually cook and use it properly.

Tonight's dinner was a case in point.

I'd saved a recipe for warm quinoa and kale salad to my pinterest board a while ago from MindBodyGreen that I wanted to try and having been out all day and eaten a fairly large lunch quite late on, I realised I had all the ingredients so decided to give it a go.

The full recipe is here and to avoid any kind of copyright I won't re-post.

I fully intended to stick to the recipe religiously for once but alas, my tahini had seen better days (mostly prehistoric days judging by the use by date and the state of it) so I adapted a little and used some houmous I had in the fridge in the dressing instead.  Not ideal as it was shop bought rather than home made but life is too short sometimes...anyway I couldn't make my own due to aforementioned tahini sitch.

Another thing that appealed about this salad was the quinoa, of which I am a huge fan.  For any quinoa virgins, it's keen-wa, not kwinowa, and is a sort of peruvian protein packed grain thing that is super easy to cook, yummy to eat and general all round fab and versatile meal base.  It's also gluten free and doesn't seem to bloat me out like couscous etc.

If you're interested, check out my Quinoa Queen post for some tips on cooking the perfect quinoa.

So, the verdict.  It was delicious.  It really packed a punch on the flavour side of things. The houmous and tamari (a kind of wheat free soy sauce) dressing was really rich, musky and tangy, it reminded me a little of miso. The kale had a lovely nutty flavour from the coconut oil and the avocado on top added a light freshness to it all.  I was careful to only cook the kale until it was wilted to retain the crispness and bright green-ness of it which also helped.  The recipe said to season with salt and pepper but I didn't bother as I didn't think it needed it at all.

So, we've decided to add this to our staples and might experiment with a few different varieties or toppings.

Quinoa Queen

I love quinoa. It's true.

If you ask my friends to name a dish I cook, they will all tell you (whilst laughing), couscous.  I rather over did the whole couscous thing in my twenties. It was just so easy and versatile.

For me, quinoa is the new couscous with the added benefit of being gluten free, more tasty, lighter and appears not to bloat me out like couscous did.

My mum and brother often refer to the 'gravel' I like to eat. They are referring, in the most part, to quinoa.  Although I may write a gravel themed post another day about all my other gravelly bits and bobs.  Anyway, I managed to get some quinoa into mum's trolley the other day, even if it was the pre-cooked variety.  Really since quinoa is SO easy to cook there's no need to buy it pre-packed, just added chemicals and whatnot, but needs must sometimes.

Anyway, it's essentially a protein packed peruvian super grain and is super easy to cook, very tasty and very versatile.

For any quinoa virgins, the first thing to know is that it's keenwa, rather than kwinoa.

If you fancy giving it a go, some handy cooking tips to make you into a quinoa queen (or king!):

1. Defo rinse it first.  I hate steps like that, adds boringness into the whole thing but it does make a difference to the taste

2 .Use 1 part quinoa to 1.75 parts water

3. Slow boil with lid on until all the water is soaked up - look out for when the little grains have sort of popped out into spirally twirly this picture.

4. You can add olive oil, salt, lemon juice, stock etc to the cooking bit if you want some added flavour

5. When the water's all soaked up, stick a bit of kitchen roll over the pan and put the lid back on and then be patient for another 5-10 minutes...this last bit of steaming makes it really nice and fluffy

6. You can use it in salads, soups, instead of rice and all sorts.

6. Make too much, then use the rest cold in salads OR as an alternative to porridge with almond or coconut milk, nuts, banana and maple syrup the next morning. DELICIOUS.


Rise and shine

Over the years I've got myself into a little morning ritual. I don't really know how long I've been doing it or why I started but everything I read tells me it's a super good thing that I'm doing.

And here it is. Every morning, before I eat or drink anything else, I first of all down about half a pint of water that's sitting on my bed stand from the night before (I canNOT go to bed without a drink and think anybody who does is just weird - maybe that's just me. Mmm). In fact, side note, I also can't understand people who don't drink water and then claim not to like water!?!?  Actually, that's pretty much half my family. I'm always ranting at my mum and brother to drink more water. I just don't get it. What's not to like? It's just, well, water and probably the single most important thing to put in our bodies in order to not actually shrivel up and die. I feel yuk if I don't drink water and even yukker if I drink fizzy sugary things instead. Anyway, that was my water rant - drink it!

Back to the main point, the other thing I do every morning is have a cup of hot water (there it is again) with fresh lemon squeezed into it. 

It sort if just wakes me up. Because lemons are so fab it also wakes up my digestive system, (especially before anything else gets dumped in there), it flushes out toxins, looks after my liver, blood, eyes and skin and gets some vit c in early doors. It's also antibacterial, antiseptic and anti inflammatory. A.MAZE.ING. 

I met this lovely lady in Maidenhead recently who is a big lemon fan and has written a gorgeous looking book The Lemon Compendium if you fancy more lemony tips!

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Alex's inspiration

Every now and then Alex goes all culinary creative.  He'll suddenly get a craving for a food or mixture of foods and will talk me through the sort of dish he envisages them forming together.  My challenge is to take his musings and turn them into an actual dish.  Sometimes what he invents in his own head sounds amazing, other times I adapt here and there.

Tonight's effort was courtesy of one of said moments.  The other day Alex said:
" Tomorrow night love, is it alright if we have some butter beans, maybe warmed through with some garlic and olive oil, and some herbs of some description, with some roasted tomatoes and asparagus with maybe some avocado on the side or something?"  He gets all Italian chef with his hands when he talks this through as well.

I thought that sounded really rather nice, minus the avocado on the side thing, and so that is what I created tonight.

Firstly I chose baby tomatoes on the vine for the super sweet tastiness and I roasted them on a bed of chopped up fennel (because it is ridiculously good for you and it was £1 for a giant bag full at the market), crushed garlic and torn basil, drizzled with olive oil, black pepper and Maldon salt (obvs). 

While all that was doing I lightly steamed some baby asparagus.

For the butter beans I used coconut oil (SO nice and excellently healthy alternative to other fats) and very lightly fried a load more garlic in that before adding the beans to just heat through - I wanted the garlic to retain it's tang and the beans to retain their bite rather than go mushy.

Then I added the juice of half a lemon and a load of chopped up fresh parsley (having determined that as the best herb to use here, I think because it's very fresh and peppery so would counteract the soft buttery beans) and seasoned it too.

Then I just lobbed it all on a plate really.

This time, Alex done good. Very good.  We both made lots of "mmmm" type noises during consumption.

Food like this just makes me SO happy.  A. because nutritionally these sorts of natural whole foods just do, fact. B. because we invented this all by ourselves and worked together C. because it tasted super yum and D. it's all just so darn satisfying...from an appetite and an accomplishment sort of point of view.

It's this making stuff up using lovely ingredients type of cooking (and eating!) I really love.

Peaches and cheese

Today sees a new twist on the whole fruit and cheese combo.  This time I do know where I got the inspiration and that's my new cookbook, which like every new cookbook I buy (um, lots), is now my most favourite cookbook in the world ever.  It's Hemsley and Hemsley - the art of eating well and I love it. Well, I love looking through it, have yet to make anything from it!

Anyway, today whilst flicking through I spotted a salad with peach and goats cheese. I didn't stop to read the recipe but whilst out shopping I decided all I wanted to eat for lunch was indeed a peach and goats cheese salad.  So I made it up. 

My version went like this:

Rip up some butterhead leaves and chuck on some chopped up nectarine ( I remembered I don't like the furriness of peaches!), chuck on some soft goats cheese, drizzle on some of the yummy honey, mustard dressing mentioned in an earlier post, dry fry a few pine nuts til nice and brown and chuck them on too. Just for good measure I also drizzled on some basil flavoured olive oil and some walnut flavoured olive oil and served with some heavenly focaccia from Waitrose. 

O. M. G. I don't like to blow my own trumpet but it was delish. The dressing was so lovely and unctuous and hints of the basil and walnut flavours added a lovely fresh, grassy, earthy dimension to what could have been quite sweet and flat otherwise. 

Can't believe I used to run a mile at the thought of fruit in savoury dishes before! (I still draw the line at duck a l'orange and sultanas in curries tho. Bleurgh.)

Having eaten it I checked the Hemsley and Hemsley recipe to find it really quite different to mine and involving peas, red onion, courgettes and mint - one to try another day!

Green goddess

Since discovering green, whenever it was, I do like to experiment with different varieties every now and again.  This morning I fully intended to have an almond, avocado, spinach, banana and peanut butter one. Only I didn't have any spinach or bananas which made that quite tricky.

So, I bunged in what I did have instead. Which turned out to be:
A skin friendly, anti-inflammatory, slow energy burning baby avocado
Some frozen super food, iron-rich spinach I rooted out of the freezer
An apple for antioxidants and fibre
Some anti-inflammatory celery (which uses more calories to digest than it has in it)
Almond milk (always the base of choice and always unsweetened. I hate it when they sneak sugar in for no reason)
A drizzle of pure maple syrup  - not the nasty mucky 'maple flavoured syrup' kind. It's not great but it's better than sugar especially in baby drizzles.

There are so many reasons to drink green smoothies for breko. It's a great and yummy way to get more veggies in, and super nutrient rich green veggies at that, they set you up all fresh and clear headed for the day ahead, they release energy slowly, they can be drunk on the go, they're filling and they're yummy.  Plus, if you're having one of these you're not having sugar laden cereal or lard ridden bacon butties.  I do eat other things for breakkie but a smoothie is my go to especially during the week as all I need to do is chuck a load of stuff in, whizz it up, bottle it and take it with me to school.

Anyway, the result of today's experiment was clearly quite nice as this is all there was left...

Watermelon and Feta

The other day I just decided I fancied a watermelon and feta salad.

I've no idea where the notion to combine these two flavours came from, but boy did it work.  The crisp, watery sweetness of the melon really contrasted beautifully with the soft, creamy, tangy saltiness of the feta cheese.  Feta is one of my favourite ingredients, especially in salads and this was defo a favourite combo.

For a bit of added crunch and earthy depth I toasted some pine nuts and used a mixture of nice soft butterhead lettuce and peppery rocket.  Then to balance the whole thing with a bit of acidity I made a lovely dressing with mustard, olive oil, honey and white wine well as the beloved Maldon salt.

And I must say the result was rather pleasing and super yummy. I love making up new recipes (new to me anyway ) so I allowed myself a little moment of pride as I munched my way through it.

You could be forgiven for dismissing the humble watermelon as just a load of watery nothingness, but you'd be wrong. It is in fact a super healthful fruit full of lycopene (normally associated with tomatoes), excellent inflammation basher and muscle relaxant (handy for the old sciatica and whiplash) and full of vitamins and minerals.  Check out everything the lovely pink juicy one has to offer here.

You might also be thinking, yes, but feta, olive oil, pine nuts...that's a lot of fat! So what?  Fat is good, natural, healthy fats in moderation that is.  Try telling the Greeks and Italians (two of the healthiest nations around) to stop eating oil and cheese and see what happens.  We actually need fats in our diet  (not the kind in a double bacon cheeseburger)  for loads of different reasons so boo to the fat bashers.

So, all in all, very happy with this result, and to feed the happy a bit more, it even looked pretty.

Lovely lollies

The other week, whilst off work with whiplash, feeling sorry for myself and in danger of feeding my sad with entirely the wrong type of food, I took inspiration from a blog post I saw and instead of nipping out to buy an icecream, I nipped out to buy the ingredients to make the strawberry creamsicles I'd spotted on

This fed my happy for several reasons:

1 - I'd caught myself stumbling towards a common hole in my road to wellness but instead of falling down it (again), I diverted myself around it
2 - Taking action and busying myself being creative and making something took away the craving to eat anyway
3 - Instead of being full of sugar, fat and all manner of random nasties, there's nothing in these but greek yoghurt and mushed up strawberries
4 - They were really rather jolly looking and nice when they were done!  Now I want to try different combos...maybe nectarine and honey? yum.


My first post isn't actually about a meal I cooked myself, but a lunch I ate at Bel and the Dragon in Cookham.  It deservedly makes the inaugural post and you only need look at the pictures to see why this meal fed my happy quite so much.

So so so pretty, full of flowers (which I LOVE), extra yummy and so super-ridiculously-healthy.

The starter was seared yellowfin tuna, mustard wasabi and soy.

The main course was Secretts Summer Salad with grilled Mediterranean vegetables and quinoa.

Neither menu description gave any hint of just how lovely these dishes were going to be, which meant the pleasant surprise when they arrived just added to the whole happiness thang.

This was a real winner of a meal full of beautiful, vibrant, fresh and natural ingredients which I was able to savour (visually as well) slowly and mindfully.  It left me feeling fresh and sated but not full, heavy or guilty.