This time of year is wonderful for lovers of game. Luckily I am a great enthusiast of these low fat birds. Small they may be, yet they have a wonderful depth of flavour. I usually buy whole partridges for the pot, but this week I came across packs of partridge breasts in my supermarket. I think that autumnal fruits and flavours go well with this bird and so I have used pear and walnuts and a side order of roasted beetroot and butternut. All in all this makes a very satisfying meal. If you want to add some carbs you can roast a few baby potatoes in olive or cook up a pot of wholemeal pasta and mix the walnut pesto into it.
For 4 people:
4 partridge breasts
1 small jar walnut pesto
1 tablespoon olive oil
Balsamic vinegar – use the best quality you have
A few sprigs of oregano
Begin with preparing the pears. Slice each pear into 6-8 thin slices. Place the pears in a heated non-stick pan. Keep an eye so that they don’t burn. When the one side is tinged with colour, turn over for a few minutes. You want each side to take on a caramel colour. Remove and set aside.
Wipe out the pan and add a tablespoon of olive oil. Heat and add the partridge breasts. Keeping the heat on high, sear the breasts for 1 minute on each side. Then turn down to heat and cook more gently for a further 5 minutes, turning to cook equally on both sides. Add a splash or two of good quality balsamic vinegar to the pan and swirl around so that the meat gets a slick of balsamic glaze. Finish with a grinding of black pepper.
Arrange the pear slices and partridge breast on plates and add a spoon of walnut pesto as well as a sprig of oregano or thyme if you prefer.
I like to eat this dish with a helping of roast root veg. You will need to make this in advance. Simply peel and chop a selection of beetroot, butternut, peppers, red onion and chestnut mushrooms. Place in a roasting dish, anoint with olive oil and cook at 200 C for an hour.
Last week I was invited to an evening to celebrate the Iberian ham. Not quite the event for someone trying to lower cholesterol I thought as I approached the Good Housekeeping Institute where it was taking place. But I was in for a surprise, for Iberian ham turns out to have the sorts of fats that help to lower cholesterol rather than to push it in the wrong direction.
Of course, this superb-tasting product should be eaten in small quantities to prevent weight gain and salt overload – neither of which is good for the heart – but fortunately it packs such a flavour punch that a little goes a long way.
The evening had three wonderful components – top quality ham, the world’s most prestigious ham cutter, and a warm, engaging Spanish chef who demonstrated a couple of dishes for us which could easily be replicated at home.
Iberian ham is a controlled substance – so to speak – in that it is strictly monitored. Made from a special breed of pig with distinctive black trotters, the animals are raised on the pastures of Southern and Western regions of Spain. Known as the Dehesa, these pastures are filled with cork trees and the pigs roam freely, eating the acorns that fall from the trees. The meat is cured for several years, developing a deep red colour and beautiful marbling of fat. Due to the pigs’ diet of acorns, the meat has polyphenols (micronutrients) which contain antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties which help prevent cardio-vascular disease.
Doing a bit of research I discovered that the fat of these particular pigs contains over 55% oleic acid (a mono-unsaturated fatty acid). Only olive oil has a higher level. This fat is beneficial for those lowering cholesterol as it increases the HDL (the so-called good cholesterol) and reduces LDL (the bad stuff).
When these pigs are fattened on a diet of acorns the proportion of unsaturated fat is over 75% so that makes it healthier than many other animal fats. This results from a combination of the particular DNA structure of this breed of pig coupled with their diet of grasses and acorns.
It is said that aficionados of Iberian ham can taste the difference in the meat depending on who has carved it. I was sceptical of this claim along with the one that meat cut from different areas of the ham has unique flavours. How wrong I was.
At the ham event co-hosted by the Interprofessional Iberian Pig Association, guests gathered around to watch the wonderfully flamboyant and world renowned carver, Florencio Sanchidrián, apply his skill with an array of knives. His love for the large jamón he carved was palpable. While a guitarist played flamenco tunes, he spoke of jamón Ibérico as a lover that seduces him and insisted that it has aphrodisiac qualities. Perhaps for him it does. For the rest of us it had our mouths watering.
When he asked for volunteers to do a tasting my hand shot up. We tasted four different cuts and I was intrigued and delighted to discover that each did in fact have a distinct flavour. The first was intensely deep almost like a rich Rioja, the next was more mellow and caramel-like. Then there was one that tasted of walnuts. I would not have believed that they were all cut from the same ham had I not been standing right in front of the carver. So close in fact, that I ended up eating a slice of ham wrapped around the end of his long carving knife. Seductive indeed. Enough said!
After this extraordinary display we were treated to a cookery demonstration by Omar Allibhoy who has opened four Tapas Revolution restaurants in London. He is a delightful man, approachable, friendly and filled with enthusiasm for his craft. He whipped up a pea and jamón soup in minutes – ‘the sort of thing I cook at home,’ he quipped. ‘Can I come round?’ I wanted to ask. I will just have to make a reservation at the restaurant.
Thinking ahead to the Xmas season I will certainly be making the soup and a few canapes with Iberian ham. Knowing it is doing my heart good will fill me with festive cheer.
If you would like to see some photos of this event, take a look at my blog on Kitchen Journeys http://kitchenjourneys.net/2015/11/jamon-jamon/
Oh what a joyful mouthful this dish offers. It has a lovely contrast of textures from silky noodles to crunchy nuts, and so much flavour from lemongrass, chilli, spring onion, ginger, lime and coriander. Get out your wok! Lowering cholesterol never tasted this good.
You can make this into a vegetarian dish by omitting the chicken and prawns (and fish sauce) and using tofu instead.
For four people:
1 tablespoon Rapeseed oil
2 chicken breasts, sliced
1 red chilli, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 lemongrass stalks, peeled and thinly sliced
6 spring onions, sliced
½ ball stem ginger
4 sachets of straight to wok rice noodles
50g almonds, finely chopped
¼ savoy cabbage, shredded
1 courgette, julienned
A good glug of Fish sauce
A good glug of Tamari sauce – Clearspring do a gluten free version if you are avoiding wheat
150g peeled and cooked prawns
A small bunch of coriander, roughly chopped
1 lime, cut into quarters
It might seem that there are many ingredients and stages to this dish but if you do your prep in advance it all comes together. Stir frying is only stressful if you are still trying to chop your ingredients when you are trying to cook.
I like to start by chopping my nuts and giving them a brief toasting in a dry pan so that they take on some colour but do not burn. Set aside.
Heat the rapeseed oil in your wok. When it is hot add the chicken strips and keep moving them around until they take on some colour and are cooked through (no pink inside). At this point you can remove them from the wok.
Now add the chilli, garlic, lemongrass, spring onion and stem ginger. Stir briefly to release fabulous aromas – a minute or two.
Add the savoy cabbage and courgette and continue cooking for another couple of minutes.
Add the fish sauce and tamari (or soy sauce if your prefer) and stir to combine.
Add the prawns to heat through as well as the cooked chicken strips.
Add the rice noodles to warm through.
Garnish with the toasted almonds, chopped coriander and lime wedges.
Serve immediately with green tea.
I had lunch with a friend last week – omelette and salad in case you were wondering – and I was bemoaning my recent weight gain and the boring, soul destroying job of starting all over again. Starting again, too, to lower my cholesterol which does not respond well to non-stop pastry eating. Oh the fun things women discuss when they get together! Actually we did have a great talk about a range of subjects but one of these was our physical state. I am pleased to say that we each went away with a new resolution. She challenged me to give up wheat for three weeks and I returned the challenge with the suggestion that she try 30 minutes of exercise 5 times a week.
I think I got the easier challenge – at least it feels that way thus far. I am not quite sure why I am doing it though as I have never before signed up for any of these exclusion eating plans. A week in and all is fine although I did slip up inadvertently eating tempura prawns – I only thought about it afterwards that tempura batter is made with flour. Lunchtimes are a breeze as I can eat rye bread which I really do enjoy. I like those thinly sliced, dense dark ryes that are sold in packs in the supermarkets. They mostly hail from Germany and have a lot of flavour packed into a small slice.
As I hardly ever eat pasta I did not mind getting out my spiralizer and getting to work on making a large pile of courgette noodles to go with the mushroom, courgette and sundried tomato sauté that accompanied the wholemeal pasta the rest of the family ate last night. I do have to discipline myself not to pick on the leftover bread that seems to be a constant presence on the chopping board. Along with spoons of peanut butter straight out of the jar – there are few more tempting snacks and I have been tempted far, far too often recently.
When I announced that I could not eat a cheese toastie made on my son’s new Panini machine (lovely birthday gifts my foodie boys request) my son was incredulous about my having given up wheat. ‘It’s not Lent, mum’ he quipped. ‘That’s chocolate,’ responded my husband. Well, in fact I do believe that you can choose what to give up for Lent! And anyway my deprivation is my business.
So why have I done it? Well, for one thing I do like a challenge. Secondly, I hope to kick start a bit of weight loss which my friend assures me will happen – although she did acknowledge that the absence of all those other pesky wheaty goods like biscuits, cakes and pastries may make weight loss more likely. As keeping weight under control is an important part of lowering cholesterol, any reasonable method is worth a try at the moment. Lastly, it is always helpful to have someone set a challenge that they will follow up on. Like going to a weight loss club, the thought of reporting no effort seems a bit lame. We have agreed to text our progress and meet up again in three weeks. Then we can discuss our favourite topics again, including ourselves!
This week I came across bunches of rainbow beetroot in a high street food hall. Usually I only find these colourful beetroot at a Farmer’s Market so I popped these happily into my shopping basket.
Back home, I simply roasted them on an oven tray at 180 C for about an hour. Test with a sharp knife from time to time to see when they are cooked through as time needed depends on the size of your beetroot. Leave them in their skins to roast and then slip the skins off while the beetroot is still warm. Too hot and you burn your hands, too cold and the skins are more difficult to remove. Yes, it is a bit like Goldilocks – at the right temperature it all works well.
Slice the beetroots into thin slices. They are so delicious that they need no adornment. The salty, rich flavour of the smoked salmon is a perfect foil for the sweet, earthy taste of the beetroot. I love the pink, orange, red colour scheme.
Eat with a slice of wholemeal, or even better, a dark rye.
Watching a bunch of men running around a muddy field chasing a ball has never been my idea of a fun way to pass the time. Yet one would have to be a Martian to be unaware of the rugby world cup currently absorbing anyone with even a vague interest in sport. Even I, with a scant interest in ball games, have found the last few weeks offering strangely compelling viewing. Perhaps it is the high emotion of teams collapsing when they were supposed to be victorious, or games when the teams are so evenly matched that the end result cannot be predicted until the final whistle blows.
While I am no domestic goddess, I must admit to wondering at times how on earth all those filthy white shorts ever get properly cleaned! Mostly, though, what the rugby comes down to for me is food. For the past few weekends my husband and friends have been watching the games while I have happily pottered around in the kitchen rustling up snacks for half time. After all, watching sport can provoke quite an appetite and all those beers need some food to soak up the alcohol.
‘Just open a bag of crisps’ suggested a friend. And there’s the rub, to pinch a few words from the Bard. Crisps. My Achilles heel.
I have never shown any addictive inclinations to alcohol, drugs or cigarettes. I don’t even like shopping. But open a bag of crisps and if I even eat one I am done for. When I first began to lower my cholesterol I knew that I would have to avoid all and any crisps that might come into view. And I did for months on end.
Those days of iron discipline have faded into memory. These days I struggle. A few weeks ago I bought a large tube of Pringles to tide the family over any peckishness on a short haul flight. As I opened the tube I was happy to notice that I was the only one of us awake, it having been one of those early morning flights. So I read my book and contentedly ate the whole tube myself. What is it about these salty, crunchy totally unhealthy snacks that is so addictive?
Crisps do not have any health redeeming features whatsoever as far as I am aware. They are like poison to the body. Yet, I can no more turn one down once I start picking at them than an alcoholic can walk away from the bottle.
And so I really cannot wait until the World Cup is over. Much as I enjoy the primal sound of men roaring in my living room, the half time snacks are making a mockery of my new resolve to get my cholesterol back in order and knock off the extra weight still hanging about since the summer hols. Of course I could just throw out the bags of crisps my husband has bought in to see him and his mates through the competition, but who am I kidding? When it comes to crisp eating I am the world champion – I just hope the final whistle is blown soon.
One of the best bits about travelling is finding new dishes which can be attempted back home. On a summer holiday to Majorca we discovered this vegetarian dish on almost every menu. It is often served as a starter course but it goes very well as a side dish to the main course. Having enjoyed many variants of this during a two week stay, I had to give it a go in my own kitchen.
Tumbet is similar to a ratatouille in that it contains aubergine, courgette, peppers and tomato sauce. Rather than being served as a stew, however, it is layered and much drier than its French relative. It also contains potato. One of the tastiest versions we ate appeared to have stewed the vegetables in olive oil but I think it is more authentic to bake the vegetables separately. As we are trying to reduce cholesterol, I have baked the veg without oil but feel free to toss the veg in olive oil if you wish.
This is one of those dishes that can be prepared in advance with the final baking done when you are ready to eat. I made a large tray full as it is very tasty eaten at room temperature the next day or even gently reheated.
For 4 people – with leftovers:
4 large potatoes – sliced the thickness of a pound coin.
4 aubergines – sliced in rings
4 large courgettes – sliced in rings
4 red peppers – seeded and cut into large chunks
For the tomato sauce:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion
2-3 cloves garlic
1 large jar passata
1 small tin or tube of tomato paste
Slice the veg into slices. Place each type of veg on a separate oven tray lined with non-stick paper. Heat the oven to 180 C and bake each vegetable until soft. The times will vary, the potatoes taking longer.
In the meantime make the tomato sauce. Gently heat the olive oil in a saucepan. Chop the onion and sauté gently until soft, add the garlic, chopped and continue to cook for a couple of minutes. Now add the passata or 3 tins of chopped tomatoes. Add the tomato paste and cook slowly until you have a thick sauce. Season with black pepper.
When all the components are ready you can layer the veg in a flat-ish casserole dish or ovenproof dish and prepare for the final baking.
Brush the bottom of the dish with a little olive oil and then layer as follows:
Potato slices, courgette slices, red pepper chunks, aubergine slices.
Now pour over the tomato sauce.
Place in the heated oven until hot.
Serve with a green salad as a light lunch or as a side dish with grilled fish or chicken.
Last week I was tucking into a second slice of lemon and raspberry cake when a friend asked ‘what has happened to your blog?’ Good question. Since I took two weeks off in August to spend my summer holiday in Majorca, I have not found my way back to my computer, until now. What have I been doing in the interim? Travelling and eating. Eating mainly.
I have done almost zero exercise except for long walks through cities, lolling around in swimming pools to escape unbearable heat, and eating and eating.
The distressing thing about straying from one’s healthy path is that the life of sloth and eating anything and everything is just so much more fun. And so, a couple of months down the line I find myself unable to fit into any of my clothes comfortably and I don’t even want to think about the state of my arteries.
On the plane to Venice a couple of weeks ago, I wore the only pair of trousers that I could still vaguely close. On arrival, I stood up to retrieve my cabin bag only to find that my trouser button could no longer take the strain. It bailed out and fortunately no – one was hit in the eye as it made a dash for freedom. I have it on my mantelpiece as a reminder that something has got to be done.
So this week I have been for a walk and returned to my Pilates class. The look of surprise on the instructor’s face said it all. ‘I hardly recognised you,’ she exclaimed. I wasn’t sure whether it was my long absence she was referring to or the rather obvious change in my shape.
It is alarming how quickly weight returns after only a short time. Compared to how very long it takes to get rid of excess fat it hardly seems worth it, especially for those of us who yo-yo up and down the same set of kilos every now and then. Every time I lose weight I intend to keep it off but if the past is any predictor of the future, this will probably never be the case. I love food far too much and dislike exercise far too much to change this state of affairs.
So it is back to the beginning, getting the cholesterol back in check, getting some weight off and rebuilding a modicum of fitness. Having squandered the long days and warm weather while stuffing my face, I now have the colder weather to look forward to while trying to get back into my 5 times a week, 30 minutes of brisk walking. To think that I must keep this up, well forever, is not a cheerful thought.
Having spent some time recently with an octogenarian I can see how important it is to keep moving and exercising regularly, to look after one’s heart and to take good care of one’s health. It is one of those long term investments that is worth making. I just need to keep that in mind when I pass my local bakery on the way home from my walk. The brilliant lemon drizzle cakes on display in the window are a health hazard. For me at least.
I have decided to blog in a slightly new way from here on in. I intend to post once a fortnight – rather than weekly – so as to have more time to continue with other writing projects. Although these are not related to cholesterol control, readers may find some of these articles of more general interest as they relate to food and travel.
Here is the link to one published a couple of weeks ago in The Boston Globe
Having recently visited The Garlic Farm on the Isle of Wight, my kitchen is full of new varieties of garlic. New to me, that is. A huge bulb of Elephant Garlic has been awaiting use and added a gorgeous flavour to a potato frittata. It was one of those Sunday lunch situations when there was not much in the fridge except for eggs (always) and quite a number of cold roast potatoes left over from the roast chicken the night before. That chicken, by the way, had inside its cavity a bulb of smoked garlic which suffused the meat with a lovely gentle, smoky garlic-ness. But I digress.
Elephant garlic is a revelation to me. The huge cloves are gentler in flavour than their smaller relatives. I simply sautéed them very slowly, sliced, in olive oil, added the potatoes, sliced, and then added both to a bowl of beaten eggs. Into a hot pan and briefly under the grill. The final flourish was a sprinkle of smoked paprika.
A green salad on the side was all that was needed for a simple and satisfying lunch.
For 4 people:
2 -3 cloves Elephant Garlic – of course you can substitute ordinary garlic or order online
3-4 cooked potatoes, sliced
8 large eggs – preferably organic
¼ cup milk
Slice the garlic thinly and sauté slowly in a little olive oil. Slice the potatoes and place on top of the garlic and continue to cook slowly until the potatoes colour a little.
Break the eggs into a mixing bowl and whisk. Add ¼ cup of milk and whisk to combine. Add a pinch of sea salt.
Heat a little olive oil in a pan that can be put under the grill – I use a stainless steel one – and add the egg mixture. Keep tipping the pan while gently lifting the edges of the frittata so that uncooked egg can run underneath. When the egg is nearly set, sprinkle the frittata with a teaspoon of smoked paprika. Place the pan under a hot grill to set and brown slightly.
Serve with a green salad and some wholemeal, crusty bread.
August is almost here which for me means the summer holiday has just about arrived. Well, I have to get to it, the holiday that is, but that is just nit picking. In fact, the stresses involved in getting away for that long awaited two weeks in the sun sometimes feel too much. The final week of work is never easy especially when every loose end seems to need tying up. Why? Very few other people are actually going to receive my emails or letters as they too have probably gone fishing. Then there is the cleaning of the fridge and other parts of the household that will stand empty while I am away, not to mention the annual ironing of my summer wardrobe, most of which will have to remain at home in any case due to rather restricted baggage allowances.
We are off to Spain where it has been very hot, and I mean very hot. I don’t do heat well. Not at all. Today I received a welcome letter from the owner of our rental home which detailed all the usual bits of info like how to get lost driving from the airport following inadequate instructions while the children point out that they did suggest paying extra for the sat nav.
I read through the list – how to dispose of the garbage when we leave, never leaving food around the pool because it attracts furry creatures (I hope that means squirrels and nothing more frightening), and finally I read that we should not squash mosquitoes against the walls. Is there any other way to dispatch of a mosquito other than squashing it against oneself? Apparently there are mosquito nets above the beds. I am quite sure that I did not know this until now. I would never have booked a holiday that requires mosquito nets. Of course I dare not mention this at home as my son has just returned from several weeks in the Central American jungle where mosquitoes were the most friendly of all the flying creatures. I will get the rolled eye treatment if I dare to mention the European variety. Nor will I get any sympathy when I am positively wilting from the heat as down in the jungle it was a lot hotter with 100 % humidity. And my son was planting trees not lying on the beach with a book.
So I turn my thoughts to the food – all ideas of lowering cholesterol put on hold for this lovely fortnight. I imagine platters of tapas in the evenings while the BBQ is fired up to cook the fish bought in the market that morning. Lovely pastries for brunch, ice cream in the afternoons.
I will be taking a blog break for the next few weeks while enjoying a bit of relaxing time. I do hope that you have a relaxing and healthy summer whether on vacation or staycation. Enjoy !