Thursday, 30 October 2014

Evening to morning quinoa

I've written about quinoa before and how much I love it.  If you haven't tried it, do.  It works like a sort of couscous/rice type thing but is actually a high protein grain and is more closely related to spinach and beetroot than any actual cereal.  It's nutritionally better for you than other cereals and grains too being high in amino acids.  It's now very readily accessible in pretty much all supermarkets too.

Anyway, I decided to make a quinoa, kale, avocado and chicken salad for dinner last night by lightly wilting some kale leaves in coconut oil, chopping up an avocado and tearing some chicken off a ready roasted one we made earlier in the week, and mixing it all into about a cup of freshly made quinoa (see my earlier Quinoa Queen post about how to cook it nicely).  For a dressing I put 1 tspn miso paste, a few drizzles of tamari sauce (a wheat free soy sauce type thing, also readily available), a small drizzle of olive oil, a splash of water and the juice of 2 lemon wedges in a jar and shook it all up.  I drizzled that and mixed it all up together, served and sprinkled on a few parmesan shavings and walnuts.  That was it! It made 2 portions.

But, I'd purposefully made too much quinoa in the first place which mean that I had more than enough for my breakfast this morning too.

That might sound odd, but quinoa makes a lovely porridge type dish.

All I did for breakfast was add 1/2 cup of the cooked quinoa to a pan with about 1/2 cup coconut milk - not the canned type, the stuff in cartons as a milk alternative.  You can use almond milk or anything really but I fancied coconut today.  Then basically just heat it up for a bit.  The milk won't all get absorbed but it will gradually turn a bit creamier.  Towards the end of the cooking time I also added the juice of half a lime (don't forget to roll the lime on the counter top first to make it easier to get the juice out) to complement the coconut. And that's it!

You can top with what you like but I used a few different berries, 1/2 a magnesium rich, seratonin inducing banana, a drizzle of pure maple syrup, a spoonful of greek yogurt and a few walnuts for extra crunch and added omega 3, ALA and any number of other wonderful walnutty healthy benefits.

It tastes like a cross between rice pudding and porridge with a bit more bite and is lovely and sweet and creamy but without being heavy or stodgy.

So, there we go, quinoa 2 ways from dinner to breakfast.  Now, what's for lunch...

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Cheat's Millionaire's Chocolate Ginger Pot

On Friday night Alex and I decided to have a 'nice' meal in rather than go out.  We went a bit lardacious for the main meal itself opting for a beef wellington we'd been lusting after in M&S for a while.  I lightened the whole affair a little by making yummy mashed cauliflower instead of potato (So nice, chop cauli, steam, mash with dijon mustard & a sprinkle of parmesan) and I rustled up some green cabbage with chestnuts and bacon. Yum.

But I also fancied a pudding.  There were loads of things in M&S that looked lovely, but I didn't fancy the bloaty yukiness they'd bring, especially after the main we'd lined up.

So I decided to make my own!

Ever since making the sweet potato brownies the other week I've been wanting to try something chocolatey and gingery and decided that's what I'd go for.  I also wanted to bring in an element of one of Alex's favourites, millionaires chocolate shortbread.

So, I created a nutty biscuit base topped with a creamy caramelly type layer, with a deep rich chocolate layer on top.  I was SO happy with the results.  Very very tasty, deliciously chocolatey but without any nasties.

And it went like this...Actually before I tell you, a note...I totally made this up as I went along and fiddled and adapted as I went.  Don't be afraid to do the same, it won't hurt anybody.  Just find what works for you!

First layer:
1/2 cup almonds
1/2 cup pecans
6 pitted dates
tablespoon pure maple syrup
tablespoon almond butter

2nd layer:
1/2 banana
1 tablespoon water
1 tbspoon maple syrup
5 dates

top layer:
1 avocado
3 tbspoons raw cacao powder
5 dates
thumb sized bit ginger
pure maple syrup to taste

to serve:
greek yog & berries

So, first of all whizz up the nuts in a blender and then add the dates, syrup and nut butter.  It should get a bit sticky and hold together slightly so add dates/syrup/nut butter if that doesnt happen...I did fiddle about a bit adding a few more bits until I liked the consistency.

I then pressed this mixture down into the bottom of 2 glasses - I had LOADS left and have been eating  it sprinkled on yogurt ever since, it's delicious.

Next, whizz up all the 2nd layer ingredients.  Bearing in mind the dates can be quite stubborn in the blender.  I added too much water to begin with so be careful, it doesn't want to be runny, it needs to sit on top of the biscuit and then support the chocolate layer that comes next.  I added some nuts/nut butter to stiffen up the consistency once I'd already made it too watery but could have avoided that by adding the water a bit at a time. Once you're happy with it, add that ontop of the nutty bottom layer, leaving room for the chocolate bit coming next and then stick it in the freezer so it can set a little bit.

Lastly, to make the chocolate layer I used an avocado for the creaminess and raw cacao powder (you can get it in health food shops or on amazon).  I added more cacao as I felt the brownies the other day weren't chocolatey enough and also because i wanted the top layer to be quite deep to counteract the sweetness of the other layers.  The result was a very deep rich chocolate mousse but it wasn't sweet enough hence adding the dates and the maple syrup to get it to a taste I was happy with.  This took ages as the dates just wouldn't blend but I got there in the end!  Then I just kept chopping up little bits of ginger and adding it until I was happy with the strength of the ginger kick.

After about half an hour, I put the chocolate mixture on top of the rest and put in the fridge.

When it came to serving, I then put a blob of creamy greek yogurt on top and finished with a few berries.

Stupidly, I used red glasses so you can't really see the layers but trust me, it was absolutely delicious and I was super proud of myself for making it all up thanks to following some recipes recently that used dates and nuts in this way.  Can't wait to see what I come up with next!

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Buck up your breakfast

Just in case I haven't mentioned it enough in various places, I've been off poorly these last few days.  So, it's been super important that I focus on eating right.  By right I mean making sure I'm both  getting lots of lovely nutrients and vitamin C and what have you for my cold as well as avoiding things I know increase mucus production (sorry, not pretty) so I don't make things worse.  Dairy, for example, is a great snot producer and so is being avoided.  On the other hand to help speed recovery from sciatica, I also need to make sure I'm getting lots of foods with lovely clever anti-inflammatory properties and conversely avoid foods that tend to feed inflammation.  So, for example, foods high in sugar and fat are quite inflammatory but so is beef and dairy again.  Whereas whole grains and green leafy veg have anti-inflammatory properties. As do some spices like cumin, ginger and turmeric.

Add to that I'm feeling a bit fed up and my appetite is a bit all over the place thanks to feeling crummy, weird sleep patterns from coughing all night and various pills I'm taking... and suddenly deciding what to have for breakfast has become a major mission.

Normally I make a green smoothie, bottle it up and take it to work to drink while I set my room up ready for the children to arrive.

But this week the thought of a green smoothie couldn't be any less appetising for some reason.

I fancy something hot.  But it has to have greens in...I've now got a a bit obsessive about getting veg into my breakfast!

So, the first day I have poached eggs on some crumpets my mum's husband very kindly brought round the other day when I was totes incapacitated and house bound. (Don't worry, he bought other things too, a girl can't survive on crumpets alone, although I have tried on occasion.)  But these weren't just any eggy crumpets, they were eggy crumpets nestled on a mound of fresh spinach.

Excellent. (or should that be eggsellent!?).  That's protein and dark leafy greens nailed in one breakfast and it was warm so that's that box ticked.

Second day, I don't fancy that again and anyway while it was yummy, it could have been healthier.

What I really fancy is porridge but that would be disgusting with spinach added in. Plus I'm now refusing to eat porridge until I find some steel cut oats instead of rolled ones.  I bought some whole oat groats online but that turns out to have been an accident since they take an hour to cook which isn't massively convenient.

And! goes my email.  A post from the wonderful Ella of Deliciously Ella and once more she has come to my rescue with banana buckwheat porridge!

Woop Woop! As, not only do I have 15 sacks of oat groats I shan't be using, I also have some magnesium full buckwheat from the same online place.  Plus this recipe has manuka honey in it which is touted as being some super mega food fab at fighting infection and inflammation (although I may need to bathe in my porridge for that effect, not sure), and baobab fruit which has loads of vit C and and and and...

You can read Ella's full blog post and recipe, as well as all the fab healthful benefits of all the ingredients here.

Anyway, my quick round up of the recipe goes like this:

As it's for 2 I halved everything.  The smell wafting out from the pot as soon as I added the (potassium rich) banana and (mood and energy regulating) cinnamon was soooooooo scrummy. It smelt like a cross between autumn and Christmas!  Anyway, I followed the recipe all the way through and found that after about 20 mins cooking like the recipe said the buckwheat still had quite a bite to it and I fancied something a bit more stodgy.  So, I added some coconut milk at this point and cooked it some more just to see what would happen, and it did soften a bit more so it depends on the texture you're after as to how much you'd want to cook it for I reckon.

I also added the almond butter and the baobab as Ella suggests.  I've no idea if the baobab made any difference to taste, but I had some and it's supposed to be super good for you so there we go.  The almond butter on the other hand.  Oh.  My.  Goodness.  That was a game changer.  What a gooey, unctuous, delicious, creamy, warming, bowl of happiness that made!

I added some fresh berries to the top of mine, raspberries as they're good for regulating appetite, blueberries as they're just the god of all berries (and are good brain food, my brain needs feeding right now), and strawberries which have one of the highest concentrations of vit C around.  I also added a few pecans just for a little crunch.

It was delish.  Absolutely, totally yummy.  Ella says it's like a hug in a bowl and she's not wrong! It was exactly what I was craving and it totally hit the spot.  What's more, I wasn't at all hungry again for a good 4 hours, I didn't feel stuffed or bloaty or anything. Just nice and warm :).

However,  I don't know if anybody else spotted it, but there is definitely a distinct lack of green veg going on here. But never, fear. I whipped out the old juicer and made myself the most yummy, refreshing and zingy juice from 2 apples, a handful of kale (which is a right bugger to get through the juicer but will go if you're persistent!), a handful of spinach and about a thumb sized lump of the wonderful ginger.

So, there it was, a healthful, wholefoods, superfood, warming breakfast complete with super cold busting green juice.  It was SO good, I made exactly the same thing the next day too!

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Brownies, all the yum and none of the guilt

A little while ago I discovered the Deliciously Ella blog and was instantly hooked.  I love everything about it, not least the amazing recipes.  Ever since I've been wanting to try out these little babies but couldn't find buckwheat flour anywhere.  Then the other week I just decided to search online and found this website where I found all sorts of whole food goodies and snapped up some buckwheat flour no probs.

But I forgot to make the brownies.

Until this article from MindBodyGreen popped up on my facebook feed yesterday. So, fed up from lying on the sofa all day and in need of a reason to stand up and move about gingerly (still suffering with sciatica), not to mention needing cheering up, I decided what better time to give these a whirl.

My love of Ella quadrupled when I realised I could just download the app and then pull up the recipe there on my phone (excellent) but for everybody else, here's the link to the recipe on her website.

It will take a bit of making sure you've got all the right bits and pieces as the recipe calls for the aforementioned buckwheat flour, raw cacao powder and sweet potatoes amongst other things but the more I cook like this the more I have such things to hand and now, ready armed with the buckwheat flour I had everything I needed.

The only problem I had with the method itself was one I've encountered before with smoothies, and that's that dates don't like being blended.  I decided to use my mini blender rather than my Kitchen Aid upright but that may have been a mistake as the dates just got flung about the bottom of the thing rather than obligingly being chopped up into smithereens.  This meant that rather than the creamy sweet potato/date mixture I should have had, I had a slightly less creamy mixture with random chunks of sweet potato and date here and there.

My next minor issue came when I spread the mixture across the 'lined baking dish' as suggested, I realised it was spread much much thinner than a) a normal brownie would be and b) Ella's example in her photos.  So a note about the size of dish may have helped here. I'm not sure I know what a 'baking dish' actually is but I used my normal oven baking tin.  Next time, I won't! I'll choose something smaller but deeper.

Finally method wise, the recipe says to cook for 20-30 minutes but actually I reckon 30-40 would be better.  I checked at 20 and 25 and then did another 5 minutes before the fork came out clean and actually, would probably have liked them a little crunchier on the top...maybe longer cooking would't have achieved that but think I'll experiment a bit next time.

So, having cooked them and patiently waited the 10 minutes before I was allowed to chop them up and taste them, I greedily gobbled one (ok, 3, mine were only small) up.  YUM.  Decided to do it properly and had another on a plate with some greek yog and some raspberries.

So, the verdict:  they are gooey, moist and delicious.  Chocolatey and sweet but not sickly or heavy like brownies would normally be.  I think maybe next time I'd add a tiny smidgeon more cacao just to make sure I'm really satisfying that deep chocolate hit, but only a little as it was pretty good already.

I was just sitting here thinking about how I could experiment and fiddle about with the recipe to make different versions (maybe banana, coconut, ginger, beetroot?  Beetroot makes a great chocolate cake...) when I've spotted Ella has another brownie recipe on her blog now for chilli and beetroot brownies...definitely trying those and think I'll try a ginger concoction of my own too. Watch this space!

Anyway, overall a definite winner. Thanks Ella!

Fego's Feasting

I may have mentioned previously loving weekend breakfasts.  At least once every weekend we'll say "ooh, shall we go out for breakfast today?" and then spend the next 2 hours trying to think of somewhere to go.  There are loads of places, but only one that quite meets the bill.  There are loads of places we can get a full English.  Several less that also do pancakes.  But only one that actually serves healthful, interesting whole food.  And that is Fego's in Marlow.

It is such a fantastic place with such a brilliant menu - only problem is that everybody else agreed so there's often a queue out the door.

Anyway, if you do get in you're spoilt for choice from a lovely zingy green smoothy, to  spicy eggs  with vegetables and haloumi, to an omelette, pancakes, croissant with avocado and salmon and so the list goes on.
This weekend, I am both incapacitated at home and sans husband so won't be going anywhere at all, let alone the lovely Fegos so I am amusing (or torturing!?) myself looking at these photos I've taken on previous visits.


Think I know where I'll be heading next weekend...

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Debunking a few myths in one sitting

I don't mean to brag, but I just cooked one of the most yummiests meals ever.  Here it is:

It was indulgent, warming, autumn comfort food at it's best.  And it was healthy. Oh, and super quick.


If you ask most people what 'healthy' food looks like they'll probably talk about salads and the like.  Vegetable sticks and humus, fruit salad. That kind of thing.

It probably wouldn't conjure up images of creamy mash, steaming gravy and hunks of stick to your ribs meat.

But that's where they'd be wrong.

Tonight's dinner was all of those things, and consisted of:

Venison steaks - higher in protein, vitamins and iron than beef and very low fat, not to mention incredibly tasty and quick and easy to cook.  I simply heated some butter, browned all over for 2 minutes then turned the heat down and cooked on each side for a further 2-3 minutes for rare steaks.

NB debunking a butter myth - it is not the devil.  We definitely don't need to eat piles of butter all day every day, but using it in moderation where needed is fine.  Our brains do respond to how satisfying our food is as well and there is no way of replacing the depth or richness of flavour or the silky texture of a sauce made with butter.  Years of experience has taught me that scrimping on these things with good intentions is a false economy.  If your food isn't satisfying, all you want to do is stuff your face afterwards.  Just be sensible with it.  Plus, butter is a totally natural product, no manmade nasties or chemicals anywhere.  Moderation and all that.

Anyway, moving on, we also had red cabbage (full of protective phyto-nutrients).  I'd always thought of cabbage as something quite annoying and slow to cook but I was wrong.  All you need do is chop it up into strips, chuck it into a wok with coconut oil (or whatever oil you have), and stir fry for a bit.  It's lovely if you retain a bit of the crunch and even lovelier if you chuck some freshly squeezed orange juice at it.

I also added a few handfuls of kale into the pan after the cabbage was nearly ready.  Kale is like the king of superfoods, the queen of greens and it's health benefits are almost endless.  It cooks up super quick just flash fried.

NB debunking a frying myth - deep fat frying, ok, not great.  But heating up quickly in some coconut oil, or dry frying or adding a splash of water to the frying pan are super quick easy and healthy ways to get stuff cooked quick.

And finally, the piece de resistance, the icing on the cake, the yummiest of yum on this plate.

The mash.

Or, the cauliflower mash to be precise.

I kid ye not it is the most delicious thing ever. EVER.  I seriously don't know why anybody eats mashed potato with this on offer.

Please just try it.

'It' being:

Chop up a head of cauli.  Steam til al dente.  Chuck on about 2 tspoons grated parmesan, 1 tspoon dijon mustard and a sprinkle of sea salt.  Mash up.

Moan with delight as you taste its supreme yuminess.

Bung it all on a plate with some gravy you just rustled up by adding port/whisky/red wine type stuff to the pan you cooked the venison in and enjoy.

Totes delish, totes healthy, super quick and about as warming, comforting and satisfying as you can get without any of the lardiness.


Sunday, 12 October 2014

Polenta Please

I always like to make a thing of breakfast at the weekends.  During the week Alex and I have breakfast separately and I always just whizz up a green smoothie of some description for mine,  So at the weekends I like to make us both something yummy to have together, or we go out for a brunch somewhere.  I love to experiment with new things and ingredients and recipes as well, whether it be buckwheat pancakes, quinoa granola or today's new find, polenta porridge.

I spotted this recipe yesterday and decided it would work well for a quick but nice warming breakfast this morning so decided to give it a go as I had some polenta languishing in the cupboard from a few months back.

The recipe says to use water and
skimmed milk but I used water and almond milk,  I did consider using coconut milk and think I will try that next time to add a slightly different dimension...maybe with a bit of lime.  Anyway, it was super easy, just boil up the water and milk, slowly whisk in the polenta then leave it to sit for 5 minutes before chucking on whatever you fancy for breakfast.

We added unsweetened greek yogurt (which just tastes like double cream to me it's so yummy), raspberries, honey, and a blob of blueberry jam I found in the cupboard and fancied trying.  I also added walnuts just for a bit of texture as it was all looking a bit mushy and ploppy so far and I thought the extra crunch would  balance it a bit better.

Taste wise, polenta is fairly unassuming so it just sort of tasted warming and comforting and it took on all the flavours of the other bits we topped it with beautifully.

I found the quantities in the recipe ever so slightly generous but that might have been all the toppings I added.

It was defo a really good, interesting, lighter alternative to porridge.  Having eaten it it definitely feels easier on the old tum tum than oats and I'm looking forward to experimenting with different flavours and whatnot with this one.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Smooth Operator

I'm getting quite good at this green smoothie lark now.  Occasionally I do have a bit of a smoothie disaster. Like, for example, earlier this week, when I discovered that if you lose a cherry stone whilst making a cherry cacoa smoothie, it's probably fallen into the blender and will therefore get munched up into very annoying sharp chunks all the way through your smoothie making it nearly impossible to drink. Mega fail.

 However, I made up for it today as I put into practice two, slightly more useful, lessons I also learned this week:

1. Using water as the liquid base sounds boring and revolting but actually produces a really fresh, light smoothie where you can really taste all the other flavours;

2. Whizzing up the greens and liquid first before adding the other stuff gives a much smoother, better finish without random bits of spinach floating around.

With those 2 in mind I decided to cobble a green smoothie together after the gym today.  I had some mango in the fridge so wanted to use that and fancied putting some nut butter in too. Most importantly I wanted it to taste really fresh and vibrant. So after a quick rifle round the kitchen I came up with the following which made 2 generous servings:

2 cups filtered water
2 cups spinach
1 cup mango
1 banana 
1 dessert spoon almond butter
1/2 avocado
1 tble spoon macca powder

I didn't add any hemp protein powder as there was plenty of protein in our lunch. I didn't use almond milk or too much banana/fruit/nut butter as I wanted to keep it quite clean tasting. 

The result was super yummy! It was lovely and smooth and creamy (I hate them too watery), with a delicious fruity taste and a hint of bananary-nutty yumminess without being at all heavy or stodgy. The texture was great given I whizzed up the spinach first. 

Alex agreed it was defo a success! And not a dismembered cherry stone in sight.

Think I'll be making this one again.