With figs bursting from their ripe skins at the moment I have been enjoying this gorgeous fruit – even if it carries a few airmiles from Turkey. I have such strong attachment to figs from my childhood when we had a huge tree, that I can never resist a really ripe fig.
In this recipe I griddled my figs on my griddle pan along with a chicken breast. Spotting a ripe papaya in the fruit bowl, I thought I would pop some in the pan too. It tasted really good.
In minutes you have a healthy salad of protein and fruit. A wholemeal flatbread alongside would balance out the meal.
For 4 people:
4 chicken breasts
1 teaspoon olive oil
4 ripe figs
Extra virgin olive oil
Begin by marinating the chicken breasts in the juice of the lemon and the olive oil. You can get ahead and do this in advance in which case put the breasts in the fridge.
When you are ready to cook, heat a griddle pan, spray lightly with a few spritzes of olive oil. Add the figs, skin side down and grill carefully. After a few minutes, turn the fruit cut side down for a minute or two. Set aside.
Peel the papaya and cut into chunks. Pop onto the griddle pan for a couple of minutes. Don’t overcook or the papaya will become mushy. Set aside
Remove the chicken breasts from the marinade and place on the hot griddle pan. Leave to grill for about 4 minutes on each side – this will depend on the thickness of the chicken pieces. You can check they are cooked by making a cut in the centre, it there is no pink meat then your chicken is ready. By this time you will have lovely grilled stripes on your chicken pieces.
On each of 4 plates place a handful of salad leaves and then divide out the chicken breasts, figs and papaya pieces.
Finish with a grinding of black pepper, a squeeze of lemon juice and a final sprinkle of extra virgin olive oil.
This weekend I finally got to see The 100 Foot Journey. This delightful, feel-good movie is one of those productions that looks as good as it tastes. Anything that combines the beauty of a stunning French rural town with visits to Paris and Michelin stars raining down on magnificent plates of food has me happy. The viewer is spoilt for choice between French haut cuisine on the one hand and beautifully spiced Indian food on the other.
Emerging hungry when the credits rolled, however, there was only one option. One is hardly in the mood for Italian or Greek after a film like this. There being no Michelin starred restaurant on my doorstep that left the Indian. Fortunately we have several good outlets to choose from so no need to repeat last week’s takeaway, delicious as that was.
‘Fancy a samosa?’ I suggested tentatively on the way to the car, hoping my husband would not remind me of my healthy eating intentions. Might I add that we had already eaten an unhealthy lunch out as part of my research for an article I am writing. Since we were then in walking distance of a tearoom that serves divine cakes, we agreed we could squeeze in a slice between us. And then, two doors down from tea was one of those chocolate emporiums that imports organic beans from who knows where and handcrafts misshapen chocolates with daft names and ridiculous prices. But who can resist?
So a nocturnal Indian takeout was unnecessary to say the least, but how could I sleep without sating my appetite for a delicately spiced dish? More to the point was how could I sleep after having eaten spicy food late at night. I repented by tossing and turning for hours with indigestion, a surprise really as those curried yam leaves and the dish of baby aubergines in tamarind sauce were really gorgeous. Maybe I ate too many parathas.
Of course I blame the children. They have become so independent that we barely see them on Saturday nights any longer and my husband and I are left to our own devices. With no kids home to eat the evening meal – a healthy dish around the dinner table – we are cast adrift on the weekends, filling the time between calls for our taxi services. We can usually fit in a movie but there is no time for a proper meal and eating takeout feels somewhat subversive. Sad, I know.
Walking in the park at the weekend I was struck by the number of young parents with small kids whooping along on their bicycles or squealing on the swings. I felt a mixture of nostalgia and longing. I brightened up thinking I would hasten home to cook my brood one of those healthy meals, but when I arrived I discovered they had made themselves omelettes and cheese toasties and were not hungry. ‘I’ll make stir fry for dinner’ I suggested. ‘Yeah, whatever.’
I recently ate a delicious plate of sweet potato chips at a restaurant called Karoo in Cape Cod. The chef kindly gave me a bottle of the spice mix she uses that give these potatoes a wonderful flavour. You can use a mix of salt, cinnamon and paprika to sprinkle over yours once they are cooked. Play around with the spicing as fits your taste.
For 4 people:
4 sweet potatoes
Preheat the oven to 180 C.
Peel the sweet potatoes and cut into thin slices.
Place on an oven tray (or two) lined with baking paper. Spread the potatoes out in a single layer and spray lightly with olive oil.
Place in oven and bake until the chips have crisped up.
Remove and sprinkle over the spice mix.
I have had several occasions recently to test out how harmful cinema can be to my resolve to eat healthily. I am not referring to the temptation to purchase a tub of popcorn as big as one’s head or a tray of nachos drowned in poor quality melted cheese. No, the danger lurks in the movie itself.
On a recent flight over to New York I watched the film called Chef. Although this was no Babette’s Feast, it nonetheless had me salivating over my British Airways dinner. As one Cuban sandwich after another appeared on screen my desire grew accordingly. By the time we reached our destination, I was nearly ready to pass up my pastrami on rye outing for this newcomer on my culinary radar. In truth I had only recently heard of a Cuban sandwich, discovered while doing my research for what to eat in New York and where to eat it. It sounded like the best toastie ever and the combination of marinated, slow cooked pulled pork plus grilled bacon, cheese and a pickle on a roll fried gently in butter, well it seemed to tick every box.
As it turned out, we had many other cuisines to eat our way through before we got to Cuba and we reached our last night without having ventured to the eatery that had the reputation of the best Cuban sandwich in the city. My sons were not leaving without it as they made clear while we debated where to eat while viewing the lights of Manhattan from Top of the Rock. It is so gratifying raising foodie kids who think nothing of catching the subway across town late at night in pursuit of a toasted sandwich. We walked through a slightly edgy part of town and found the small Cuban outpost which was packed. Luckily a table came free as we arrived and we were greeted warmly by the server dressed in tiny shorts and tattoos. My husband and I were the oldest patrons by a couple of decades but in no time we were sipping our mojitos and grooving to the Latin music. Our sons kept their heads down and concentrated on their food, relieved that none of their school friends would walk in.
This weekend I had another resolve wrecking experience. Both sons dropped off at parties, my man and I had a Saturday night off. Tickets to the new foodie movie were sold out when we arrived which was a shame, but since it had something to do with Indian food the supper seed was sown. A wan offer of ‘I could make us a cold roast vegetable salad’ was swiftly dispatched and a takeaway ordered from an Indian restaurant at which we have tried, unsuccessfully, several times to secure a table. The meal was delicious and we used our peshwari naans and parathas to scoop up platefuls of rich sauces tasting of coconut, nuts and lots of ghee. We watched a delightful DVD, set in New York, which made us nostalgic and which fortunately had no food references.
This week I will keep away from the big screen and try again.
As tomorrow is the anniversary of 9/11 I take this opportunity to share a link for an article of mine that was published last week in Business Day.
While the summer weather continues, light and quick meals are a good option. This salmon dish takes seconds to prepare and only 20 minutes in the oven. I adore za’atar and use it regularly on chicken and vegetables. I tried it on fish and it tastes good too. This is a most versatile spice mix which you can find in Middle Eastern shops and many supermarkets now stock it too.
For 4 people:
4 salmon fillets or one large fillet
Preheat the oven to 200 C.
Lay the fish fillets in a baking dish. Sprinkle over a good layer of za’atar on each fillet.
Bake for 20 minutes. This is an average time depending on how thick your fillets are.
Squeeze some lemon juice over the fish as you dish it up.
Serve with new potatoes and green vegetables.
Travelling with elasticated trousers is an essential sartorial tip for those, like me, who abandon all sense of decorum and concern about health while enjoying the summer holiday.
Having returned from my three week sojourn in the US, I dare not try on my more tailored work trousers as I doubt very much that they will close. Just as well then that I bought myself an elasticated skirt in a lovely boutique on Cape Cod where, while wrapping my purchase, the owner informed me that there have been numerous recent sightings of the Virgin Mary. Considering the rampant fanaticism in religious circles these days, her observation struck me as quaintly benign.
I chose said skirt following a large lobster and clam chowder lunch at a restaurant aptly named The Lobster Pot. This was just one of many such meals that tasted so good that I could not resist the temptation to repeat and repeat. Yes I know that lobster is not good for one’s cholesterol level.
This unfussed with food was the best of what was on offer in a region that I quickly discovered to be as committed to deep frying as the Scottish. While I did not encounter deep fried mars bar – that ubiquitous snack beloved in what might soon be an independent country! – I did find that every fabulous shellfish – including oysters – was battered to death and thrown into a vat of hot oil.
I rather quickly tired of these mouthfuls of tastelessness and grew indignant at the desecration of the local produce. Think of the respectful way Italians treat a clam – the fabulous spaghetti alle vongole, for example, and then consider the Cape Cod fried clam belly on a white roll. Go compare.
Then there are the health considerations. This was brought home to me one evening as we sat plodding our way through a mound of fried stuff – heaps of fries the same caramel colour as the surrounding piles of fried calamari and clams. Hard to distinguish one from the other purely by taste. All around us were sat some of the largest people I have ever seen in one space, all chomping their way through similar meals. The restaurant in question – an award winning one I hasten to add – proudly advertised its 24 flavours of ice cream. We put our faith in dessert and sampled 4 flavours, or would have if the ginormous helpings had any flavour. It was like Mr Whippy with food colouring. So nasty that we threw ours away after a few desultory licks.
I left that eatery feeling depressed about the health of those around me and could not look at fried food for the rest of the trip. Hence I ate more boiled lobsters than I can recall and how divine were they!
One day we cycled 26 miles but ate the calories back through the huge helpings of ice cream we received when asking for a ‘small’ serving. This was the good stuff and we licked our bowls clean. A little light paddling in lakes and much walking between museums was the only other form of exercise.
So this week it is back to basics. Muesli replacing croissants and pastries for breakfast; whole grains instead of endless white rolls; platefuls of vegetables and fruits constituting central parts of daily meals. Away with ice cream and fried anything.
If you have had a summer of eating more that you need and less of what is good, join me – the squeezed middle – in getting back on track. Xmas is less than four months away!
This beautiful fruit salad was made by my neighbour who is a wonderful cook. She called me over to have a look at her creation and kindly suggested I use it for the blog as it is a low fat recipe. She explained that she had simply layered the fruits and poured over a mixture of vegan gelatine and grape juice. This makes it vegetarian too.
One could of course make this for a smaller group but I think it looks quite superb in this large glass bowl and served for a summer party. It certainly has the WOW factor.
A selection of summer fruits – here we have strawberries, grapes, blueberries, peaches, apricots and figs.
A leaf of gelatine, melted and mixed with a small amount of grape juice (just to sweeten the gelatine).
Carefully layer the fruit in a glass bowl.
Dissolve the gelatine and add the grape juice. Pour over the fruit and leave in the fridge to set.
Next week I will be across the pond on a three week trip to the land of oversized portions and equal opportunity obesity. I plan to get stuck in to the culinary melting pot that is the USA, eating as many different cuisines as I can feasibly fit into 21 days. I want to explore the food markets in New York and Washington, the delis and the diners, from pastrami on rye to the alligator dish I read about in a restaurant up the street from our hotel.
As our trip includes a week on Cape Cod, I plan to eat my way through a surfeit of oysters, clambake and lobster rolls, coming up for air from time to time for a cycle through the woods to find the French bakery.
Although I plan to walk a great deal between museums in the big cities – think elegant from the knee up and trainers from the ankle down – I doubt that my calorie expenditure will match my intake. So come September, I will be much in need of a bootcamp. I plan to get back to basics with cholesterol lowering eating, walking 5 times a week and starting with the Pilates classes which I have had as a ‘must do’ for far too long. All of which will hopefully get me back to a healthier place in time for my annual cholesterol test which should take place before Christmas.
Of course it would be easier to not overindulge over the summer holiday. But why travel half way across the world only to eat what I can do at home? I am well aware that New York is the home of the ‘hold that’ style of menu-ordering but in truth I don’t want to have any ingredient removed from my portion. I want to eat Korean khanom jiin naam ngiew, Mexican torta ahogada, Vietnamese banh Mi Chay, Cuban battered catfish, Chinese dim sum, the best Italian pizzas, not to mention the American pancakes, muffins, hotdogs, and mac and cheese served as side orders! I will have to pay a visit to a restaurant called Mother’s Ruin which just about sums up what this trip will be doing to my resolve to lower my cholesterol.
As I will be so busy eating, I will be taking a three week break from the blog while on my trip and will resume in September. I hope that you have some fun plans for the summer holidays whether it is a staycation or somewhere further from home. Enjoy and relax. Come the autumn there will be time for drawing in the waistband while walking briskly through the falling leaves.
I found some huge peaches at a farm stall in Kent. They were so large they reminded me of the story of James and the Giant Peach. I served them very simply, cut into slices along with vanilla flavoured Quark and chopped mint. A sprinkle of orange flower water gave some extra fragrance. A scattering of chopped pistachios would add a bit of crunch if you have any to hand.
For 4 people:
4 peaches, ripe but firm
1 tub Vanilla Flavoured Quark
Orange Flower Water
Slice the peach into segments while it is still on the pip. This way you can carefully remove each segment which will hold its shape. Lay the segments down on a serving platter. I like to serve my peaches slightly chilled on a hot day so I cut them just before I am going to serve.
Orange Flower Water is easily overdone. Less is more I always think with this ingredient. I therefore always pour it into a teaspoon first so that I can use just a few drops on the peaches.
Remove the mint leaves from their stalks and tear or chop roughly. Scatter over the peaches.
If you have pistachios to hand, chop these roughly and add these to the peaches for some added texture, colour and taste.
Decant the tub of Quark into a pretty bowl.
When I first began to find edible ways to lower my cholesterol some years ago, I came across a product which quickly became my new best friend. It had a quirky name, Quark. I wrote about it fairly often and used it weekly as a cheese substitute on dark rye bread. It became a favourite lunch for some time and it appeared regularly in my shopping basket.
Somehow I have neglected this old friend of late, so I was pleased to be invited this week to a promotion of Quark-based sauces. The event was held in the London Underground Cookery School which I found down a flight of steps behind a vacant restaurant space near Old Street. A clean, white space with a long wooden table set for dinner, funky red chairs, and a dozen gleaming pasta machines clamped to stainless steel stands.
It felt like a setting for an art house film although movies were not on the agenda. Cooking and eating were. My favourite activities. I was interested to see how Quark, that low fat milk product, would be integrated into the evening as I have used it in many of my recipes on the blog and it even plays a starring role in my cheesecake which is sadly far from cholesterol friendly.
The evening took an unexpectedly instructive turn when we were each given a pair of surgical gloves and a whole chicken. With a few deft strokes of my very sharp knife, my chicken lay beautifully jointed. It’s easy when you know how. The carcasses were set to roast in an oven which had me fainting with desire. The chef showed me its features and functions which just proved why what we can create in our own home kitchens bears little resemblance to restaurant fare. In no time we were marinating chicken fillets in a Chicken Tikka Quark sauce.
Next we were led to our personal pasta machine. Mixing our flour and egg, we made pasta dough, kneaded it and rolled it out into lasagne sheets – more magic – which we cut out into large ravioli, filled with tomato and basil quark sauce.
Lastly we mixed lemon flavoured quark into a custard base which was popped into an ice cream machine.
The chefs got on with the rest of the dinner prep while the guests chatted and the Prosecco flowed. When dinner was served we ate ravioli in tomato and basil quark sauce – our ravioli were on the stodgy side due to our having made them ourselves, but I noticed many plates wiped clean of sauce.
Our chicken skewers were served with an okra salad – something new to me as I have only ever eaten stewed okra – with a vinaigrette made with garlic and herb quark sauce.
The lemon ice cream was delicious and was eaten with great enthusiasm by all. I will certainly be having a go at making a frozen Quark lemon ice in the weeks to come.
Although I prefer not to use pre-prepared sauces myself, I was impressed that these are low fat and can turn any number of ingredients into a quick meal. I would be a bit concerned about the amber rating for salt and sugar on some of the flavours although these are lower than many other sauces in the supermarket. I will certainly be looking out for the plain version of this British made product from the Lake District Dairy Co. as it is time that Quark and I renewed our friendship.