Monthly Archives: June 2013

Stuffed Courgettes

Stuffed Courgettes From The Healthy Heart

There is an old saying that life is too short to stuff a mushroom. Despite this, in Mediterranean countries stuffed vegetables of all sorts are very popular. Having a quantity of mixed mushroom ragout left over from another dish, I thought I would have a go at stuffing some courgettes that needed using up. Yes it is a bit of a time consuming dish but the mushroom stuffing can be made the day before. Since a tub of ricotta was waiting patiently in the fridge I used that too to create a contrasting, creamy stuffing.

For 4 people:

1 teaspoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
100g portabello mushrooms, chopped
100g chestnut mushrooms, chopped
100g shiitake mushrooms, chopped
A few sprigs oregano, leaves picked
4 large courgettes
½ tub of low fat ricotta
A few sprigs of oregano, leaves picked
A tablespoon of chopped chives
A handful of chopped parsley
Black pepper

Start by making the mushroom stuffing. Heat the olive oil and gently sauté 2 cloves of crushed garlic. Add the chopped mushrooms along with the oregano and allow to gently cook until the mushrooms are soft. Add some black pepper. Set aside.

Now get the courgettes ready. Heat the oven to 200 C/ 400 F.

Cut each courgette in half lengthways and carefully scoop out a channel for the filling to fit into. Don’t remove too much courgette flesh or the skin will not hold up later. Place on a baking tray and bake for 20 minutes.

While the courgettes are cooking, make the ricotta filling.

Place the ricotta in a bowl and loosen with a fork. Now add the herbs and a few twists of the pepper mill.

Stuff half the courgettes with mushrooms and the other half with the ricotta. Reduce the heat to 180 C / 350 F and bake for 10 minutes.

When serving, sprinkle the mushrooms with chopped parsley and the ricotta with a few oregano leaves. Give a final twist of black pepper.

Serve with brown basmati rice with pomegranate seeds and chopped parsley.

Summer’s Out – 26 June 2013

Summer arrived this week with an impressive torrential downpour. I watched the longest day of the year pass by through the rain and sighed. After all, only the night before we had sat outside for dinner for the first time this season – possibly the last time if the rain is any indicator of how little we will be using our patio this year. Again. My husband and I reminisced about a similar summer rainstorm that had wrecked his 40th birthday party and how it had taken the next decade to use up all the outdoor candles we had bought for the occasion.

Now that summer is here – at least officially – it is time to be eating lots of salads and lighter meals. It is also a time of getting out the deck chairs and getting friends round to share the sunshine days. This weekend we had house guests and although the sun was shy to appear, I thought that at least the ingredients should be seasonal.

So it was that the fridge filled up with boxes of strawberries, cherries, peaches and asparagus. We ate fruit for desserts, just a bit of smooth dark chocolate brought to me from a fine chocolatier; I even found a reasonably light lamb dish for one of the dinners. The final meal of the weekend was to be a brunch and I envisaged a table laden with healthy goodies. I felt torn between treating my guests with full fat food and my own need to keep things lite. In fact my guests were Paleo converts and made my own weight loss over the past year fade into insignificance. Could I be responsible for wrecking their discipline?

I rose early to bake blueberry and almond muffins but made the mistake of missing my first cup of tea without which I can barely function. I am not a morning person. About to put the muffins in the oven, I realised I had not added the ground almonds. Light swearing ensued while I scraped the muffin batter out of their pretty paper cases, back into the mixing bowl to add the almonds. While they baked, I complimented my kitchen goddess self for averting disaster and dusted off the cake plate on which to display my wares. They looked gorgeous, all nutty and purple as the blueberries burst and their juices seeped into the dough. Having woken hungry with no desire to wait until brunchtime, my son sampled a warm muffin and warned me that they were ‘watery’. I took a bite and realised something was clearly missing. On rereading my recipe, the word ‘sugar’  suddenly appeared where it had not been  before.

A similarly unpleasant mouthful awaited me when I ate a slice of raspberry and pear cake made with loads of oats – my attempt to keep the baking healthy. Hours later, circling the IKEA parking lot hoping for a free space on a Sunday afternoon, the cake sat in my stomach like a stone. I had plenty of time to reflect that baked goods should not be healthy. Cake is cake not punishment. Much as I love oats, I should continue to enjoy them in my breakfast muesli and not feature them as a healthier option in the baked goods department. Not that this stopped me eating a further two slices when I staggered home, having bagged the last few turquoise lanterns for a garden party we are planning. In a marquee. Who says I don’t learn from experience? As for the cake, well of course it would have been smarter to have gone for a relaxing walk, but it was raining. Sometimes I just love summer!

Smoked Trout Wrapped Asparagus

Smoked Trout Wrapped Asaragus From The Healthy Heart

With asparagus season in full swing I am eating my fill of this delicious vegetable. Boiled, griddled, roasted and even baked – all of these incarnations have been served up over the past few weeks. The other foodstuff I can’t seem to get enough of is smoked trout. My local food hall had a special offer on and being someone who cannot resist a bargain, I returned home with far too much of the stuff. I ate it for lunch in a salad with cottage cheese all week which is probably far too much smoked food all at once, but my oily fish quotient is flying high.

Eventually I thought why not combine my two favourite ingredients of the moment ? When my son, who is not mad about asparagus, wolfed these down, I knew I was on to a good thing.

For 4 people:

8 slices of smoked trout
8 asparagus – use the thicker ones if available
A handful of fresh dill, chopped
Black Pepper

Prepare the asparagus by washing the tips them under cold running water in case any little bugs are nestling within. Next snap off the woody bit at the bottom of each stalk. The stalk tends to snap off at the right spot. Place the asparagus in a pot of boiling water or steam them. Either way you want them to have a bit of bite or they tend to get a bit soggy. Keep an eye so they do not overcook. I usually pick one out and take a nibble off the stalk end to see if it is ready. Once cooked, carefully drain and set aside to cool.

Lay out a slice of smoked trout. Place an asparagus on top of the trout and roll up, leaving the tip exposed. Repeat until you have used up the trout slices and asparagus. Lay on a serving plate and scatter with the dill, and a grinding of black pepper.

Serve with lemon wedges and a dark rye bread.

The Slippery Slope – 19 June 2013

Today I am having one of those ‘this is for life’ moments. Moments when I cannot face a lifetime of low cholesterol eating. Moments when I just want to be like a normal person, eating everything and anything. A time when I am sick of being virtuous, thoughtful and considered. A time when I also want to have cream on my pancakes.

What has brought on this crisis? It has been growing of late, if truth be told. Having done a fair amount of travelling over the past few months, I have had too many weeks of time out. These are times I put aside my concerns with cholesterol and focus on the joys of exploring other food cultures. I tend to do so with abandon – is there any other way? – and then find it difficult to return home to my lentils and brown rice. The result of all this laxity in my discipline is that I can see and feel the weight creeping back on and I know that my cholesterol level must be heading in the wrong direction.

Clearly I have to get myself in hand but I seem to be doing so in a very haphazard way. At the weekend I made a meringue roulade for dessert since we had guests for dinner. I had intended to make mini meringues with strawberries and cream (for some) and yoghurt for me. But I got diverted by the thought of a roulade with sliced strawberries and chopped pistachios – since returning from Istanbul I have developed a bit of an infatuation with those gorgeously green nuts. A meringue roulade is made with a layer of thick, whipped cream and I gave little thought to my arteries as I spread it on and, later, ate a thick slice.

The following night we were invited out to dinner at a friend’s house where tiramisu was served for dessert. In previous times I would have politely declined and contented myself with the berries that were served alongside. The thought did not even cross my mind until I was eyeing the left over tiramisu and wondering if I could help myself to another piece when nobody else was doing so.

The next morning was Father’s Day. My sons busied themselves making American pancakes. When we sat down to breakfast they presented my husband with a fabulous plate stacked with pancakes, cherry compote and cream. I was so impressed with how gorgeous it looked and took a mother’s pride in their cooking and presentation skills. When my plate was served I could not help noticing it contained no cream. No one had asked my preference, my boys having long accustomed themselves to mum’s cholesterol issues. Just as well they had not asked, as having eating lashings of cream over the past two days, why would I stop now?

All of which has made me wake up to the fact that I am rapidly sliding down a very steep slope and,  if I do not call time on my behaviour, I will soon be back to where I started in the GP’s surgery being given three months to reduce my cholesterol – AGAIN!

Roasted Carrots with Caraway

Roasted Carrots with Caraway From The Healthy Heart

Since travelling to Istanbul I have mezze on my mind. Sometimes the simplest ingredients make a very tasty nibble. Here I have used baby carrots that are available at this time of year. While you could as easily use larger carrots cut into batons, there is something particularly satisfying about eating these small specimens. Roast carrots are very good with caraway seeds whose taste is intensified with a light toasting.

For 4 people :

A bunch of baby carrots, preferably organic, peeled or just scrubbed.
1 tablespoon olive oil
A few sprigs of fresh thyme
Caraway seeds
Black pepper

Heat the oven to 180 C/ 350 F.

Top and tail the carrots, peel or scrub. Toss in the olive oil in a small bowl and add a grinding of black pepper. Lay out the carrots in a single layer on an oven tray. Scatter over the thyme sprigs.

Place a handful of caraway seeds in a non stick pan and toast gently until the seeds release their aroma. Set aside.

Roast the carrots for 20 minutes.

Remove and allow to cool.

When ready to serve, lay out on a plate and sprinkle with caraway seeds.


Top of the Chocs – 12 June 2013

I read an article over the weekend which really caught my fancy. It was written by a man who had organised a World Cup of chocolate bars on Twitter with the public voting on their favourites. He divided a range of bars into groups, the winner of each going forward to the semi-finals and so on. Eventually a winner was found – the most popular chocolate amongst the Twits. My favourite 70 % dark cocoa solids chocolate was noticeably absent from the list. In fact, I only recognised a few varieties, mostly those that have survived since my childhood and so can truly said to have stood the test of time!

I was so entertained by this well written race to the top of the chocolate world, that I asked my boys if I could read it to them.  They looked up briefly from their computers and gave me a minute in which to amuse them. In no time they were voting their way up through the group stages, at points agreeing and at others diverging with the public vote. No doubt I was giving them much food for thought, food they would be buying at the newsagents later with their pocket money. But what really surprised me was that they seemed on familiar terms with almost every one of the chocolate bars on a rather long list. When I naively asked how come they knew so many of these chocolates, my son quipped ‘it’s because we take no notice of this low cholesterol obsession of yours’. Ask a silly question and all that …

Part of the reason I so related to this article is that I do admire a bit of benign obsessionality, the sort of dedication to his chocoholism that would have someone organise a Twitter vote . He also observed that most people prefer to talk about snack food – and eat it – than to read about fancier goods or, dare I suggest, healthy foods. To prove the point he said he wondered how many responses there would be to a World Cup of Watercress Soup. Point taken.

I once had my own tasting test on the dark stuff. I bought in a range of 70 % chocolate from different producers which were rated against one another and then against 80 and 90 % chocolate. Not all on the same night, mind you. My husband and I voted on each square until we found our favourite. Yes, we need to get out more. But why bother when such fun can be had at home?

In fairnesss, dark chocolate is supposed to be one of those healthy – in –small – amounts foods without which my evenings would be less enjoyable. Over many months of virtuous  eating, I simply cannot give up dark chocolate for any length of time. It has antioxidants which are good news and is mostly good for one’s mood, releasing endorphins as it melts. Because it is so rich I find it difficult to eat more than a square or two so it is self limiting. I do find that one of the essentials for healthy eating is a small amount of unhealthy eating. A paradox perhaps, but I can eat a whole lot of broccoli if I know that at the end of the day, my favourite chocolate bar is waiting for me. Let the Twits keep the Twix.


Moutabal From The Healthy Heart

While in Istanbul recently, we ate an array of mezze, amongst which was Moutabal. I watched with interest while my men tucked into it hungrily, scooping up the smoky aubergine with relish. This surprised me because I tried this dish at home years ago and no one would eat more than the first nibble. I was forced to eat the rest of the bowl myself. Such a hard life. On my return from Turkey I headed straight for the aubergines at my local Turkish grocers and returned home to make moutabal. To my delight,t the men scraped the bowl clean. Now I have to share.

For 4 people:

1 large aubergine
60g tahini
Juice of ½ lemon
4 tablespoons of water
Seeds of ½ pomegranate
Flat leaf parsley

What distinguishes moutabal from ordinary aubergine puree is that it has a wonderfully smoky taste. To achieve this without lighting your barbecue, simply place the aubergine on a lit gas ring for about 15 minutes. Turn it from time to time so that all sides are charred. Mind you don’t burn your fingers . I use my long tongs. You can grill the aubergine instead but you won’t get the same charred flavour.

Once the aubergine is charred all over, remove it and allow to cool a bit. Now carefully pick off and discard all the charred skin to reveal the cooked flesh within. Mash the flesh with a fork and pour off any liquid. You can also do so by draining it in a colander.

Mix the tahini with the water and lemon juice until it forms a smooth paste. Add this to the mashed aubergine. Set aside.

Remove the seeds from the pomegranate taking care to remove the pith.

Chop a handful of flat leaf parsley.

Spread the aubergine puree on a dish and garnish with the pomegranate seeds and chopped parsley.

Serve with flatbread or pitta – wholemeal preferably.

Goodbye Mr Chips – 5 June 2013

Driving to work this week I heard a discussion between a cardiologist and a chip shop owner. Not your average set of guests on the Today programme perhaps, but together they were lined up to talk about the obesity crisis; more specifically the decision by a local council to throw a cordon sanitaire around its school children by banning fast food outlets from selling takeaways before 5pm.

It’s not often that I support anything coming out of a chip shop, but the owner’s frustration at his product being implicated in the obesity crisis had me nodding in agreement. Yes 60 % of UK adults and 1 in 3 children are overweight or obese. But blaming fast food outlets for the nation’s ills struck me as mistaking the part for the whole. The chip shop owner summed up the problem by saying ‘it’s the whole society’. He pointed out that parental responsibility must surely shoulder some of the blame as well as the fact that children do not exercise enough, tending to spend their leisure time on the computer.

As a parent I have to agree. It is a drag to keep nagging at the kids to switch off the computers and play real sports rather than mindless hours of online football. It is a slog to actually take them to the park so that they can run around. And it is a serious commitment to cook for them from scratch – easier and cheaper to serve up ready meals.

Jamie Oliver had a go at this problem by trying to encourage healthy eating at school age by making the healthier food available. Then he tried to roll out healthy eating in the community by teaching people to cook. He identified some very basic issues which are that people will not eat more healthily if they don’t know how to prepare the stuff and aren’t used to eating it. But there remains a persistent problem for many people – how to afford it?

The supermarkets bang on about healthy eating while our waistlines expand as fast as their profits. It they really cared about the nation’s health, the price of fresh fruit and veg would drop to enable more people to actually afford to eat healthily.

Today I have exercise in mind as I am attending my son’s sports award evening at his school. He gets to play a fair amount of sport at school because he has an aptitude. But the vast majority of his peers do not get a chance because there is not enough funding to pay for coaches for more than a team or two. If you want your child to be able to play sport at school no matter how good they are at it, you had better be able to fork out for private school fees. This is not discussed in the debate about obesity. Let’s just shut the chip shops so that kids can’t eat junk food on their way home. If the kids had an opportunity to represent their school on the sports field in the afternoons they may have less time and inclination to be getting obese in the first place.

Children respond well to being given viable alternatives to bad behaviour rather than being punished. The nanny state would do better to put its money where its mouth is by funding sports in schools, making it possible for children to exercise. It would do better to pressure supermarkets into reducing the prices on healthy foods, making it possible for people to afford to eat well. All of this will cost it dear. I don’t see that happening anytime soon.