Monthly Archives: July 2013

Salmon Spice Rub

Salmon Spice Rub

Always fishing about for something new to use on salmon, I was intrigued to find a pack of West Coast Salmon Rub in a goodie bag from the recent Food Bloggers Connect conference. Since the ‘west coast’ referred to seems to be in Canada, I thought I had better attempt to make my own as the packet we received was but a small one. It tasted great – a hint of spice, but not too hot, and turned my salmon fillet a beautiful rust colour.

So here is my spice rub for salmon inspired by a company in Canada doing good things for fish.

For 4 people:

A fillet of salmon to feed 4. I prefer to cook my fish in one whole fillet but you can use separate pieces if you prefer.

2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon mustard powder
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon sesame seeds
A pinch of sea salt
A pinch of brown sugar
1 tablespoon olive oil
Juice of ½ lemon

Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl. Mix the olive oil and lemon juice with the spices. Rub this paste into the fish – you will need to use your hands or the back of a spoon as it gets sticky. Set aside for 15 minutes on a baking sheet covered with sliver foil.

In the meantime heat your oven to 200 C/400F.

Bake the fish in the hot oven for 20 minutes. Check at this stage that the centre of the fish is cooked as exact cooking time depends on the thickness of the fish fillet.

Serve with wholemeal couscous sprinkled with sumac. Steamed courgettes go well with this too.

Packed Lunch – 31 July 2013

I spent a day this week at a professional conference. At lunchtime we received colourful paper bags containing our lunch. I thought this an efficient way of preventing the lunch hour being spent queuing for vegetarian bake or chicken tikka. The bags were cheerfully colour coded – red for a chicken sandwich, blue for prawn and green for veggie. My green bag in hand, I skipped outside towards the lawn, delighted to enjoy my lunch outdoors on a hot day. Not having had a lunch packed by someone else for a very long time, I was as excited as a child with a party bag, wondering what the caterers had chosen for my delectation.

A falafel sandwich seemed a good place to start. Sadly soggy from too much tomato salsa with yoghurt and mint dressing, it was at least a healthy option. The rest of the bag contained an apple plus a bag of crisps, a muffin and a kitkat. Are these lunch items?

This assortment is precisely the reason that so many schools are now banning home packed lunches because the contents are so often nutritionally damaging. I watched as hundreds of adults sat munching crisps and chocolate as if these were reasonable items to consume as a meal. ‘What a nice lunch’ I heard a woman exclaim as she unpacked her bag. I wondered if I was the only attendee who had hoped to find a roast vegetable salad and some fruit. In fairness, there was the apple. And I needn’t have eaten the crisps, except that I am as susceptible to them as the next person. The muffin was inedible or I would have scoffed it too. I managed to avoid the chocolate as it wasn’t dark.

I was reminded of an article I recently read celebrating the British obsession with crisps. To my knowledge, no other European country considers a bag of crisps to be something you eat for lunch or feed the young on a regular basis.

I returned to the conference feeling sluggish, poorly nourished and a tad disappointed. The topic of the day was treating people with compassion. Pity the caterers weren’t in attendance.

Baked Aubergine with Buttermilk and Pomegranate

Baked Aubergine with Buttermilk and Pomegranate

Like many people the world over, I adore the recipes of Yotam Ottolenghi. This recipe is taken from his beautiful book, Plenty. I have reduced some of the fat content so that I can enjoy it without worrying about too much oil. I usually serve this as a side dish along with a roast chicken but you can of course serve it as a starter. It is useful dish to have up your sleeve if a vegetarian is at your table.

For 4 people:

2 large aubergines, halved
Olive oil for brushing the aubergine
2 teaspoons lemon thyme leaves plus a few sprigs for decorating. If you don’t have lemon thyme in your garden, grow some – it is a wonderfully fragrant herb. Otherwise normal thyme will do.
1 pomegranate, seeds removed
Za’atar – this is a versatile mix of thyme, sesame, sumac which you can buy ready made from middle eastern stores.

For the sauce:

150 ml buttermilk
100g 0% Greek yoghurt or no fat yoghurt
½ tablespoon olive oil
1 small garlic clove, crushed
Pinch of salt

Start by salting your aubergines and leave for ½ hour. Then rinse off and pat dry.

Heat oven to 200 C /400F.

Make three slashes in each aubergine half but don’t cut all the way through. Now cut across the slashes in the other direction so that you have a diamond pattern. Don’t worry too much about the exact pattern as the aubergine will be covered up with the sauce.

Place the aubergine halves cut side up on a baking tray that you have lined with baking parchment or a non-stick Teflon mat. Brush each half with a little bit of olive oil and then sprinkle with lemon thyme and grind over some pepper. Roast for 30-40 minutes or until the flesh is soft and browned. Allow to cool.

In the meantime make the sauce by mixing together the ingredients. Add a bit of salt if you wish.

When you are ready to serve, place the aubergine on a platter and spoon over some sauce onto each. Now scatter over the pomegranate seeds and za’atar. You can garnish with lemon thyme sprigs if you wish.


A Weekend in France – 24 July 2013

The full details of my weekend in France do not belong on a blog about a healthy heart. Although matters of the heart were very much the focus of this mini-break, it was not of the low cholesterol kind. Yes, my heart has returned in fine fettle, but that results from two uninterrupted days of looking deep into my husband’s eyes without anyone calling for their dinner or a lift from the school bus.

When I think about the many reasons for why our relationship is such a happy one, I have to conclude that our mutual love of eating plays no small part. So we gifted one another with an 8 course tasting menu, Michelin star attached, at a restaurant in rural France. Suffice it to say that I would be abandoning my duty to extol the virtues of a healthy lifestyle if I detailed every dish that we ate. For those who feel this will not corrupt their low cholesterol lifestyle, the full frontal report will be featured on my blog next month.

All I will say is that good food – the more of it the better – makes my heart beat that little bit faster and a raised heartbeat is a good sign of a workout, even if it just the act of eating and digesting. My problem is that once I start, I seem to always want to continue. Although I did not think that we would be hungry after our lunch, I know us well enough after 16 years and took the precaution of stocking up at the morning market. Now I like a farmer’s market above all else. A bread stall sold the most magnificent loaves stuffed full of nuts and fruit. A fromagerie  displayed goats’ cheese hearts, one white and one ash covered. Oh, who could resist such lactic yin and yang? The queue at the butcher’s stall was long, which always indicates good quality, so I felt obliged to stand in line. My plan was to buy a thin slice of pate – for my husband of course – but when I asked for ‘une tranche de pate, s’il vous plait’, the butcher indicated the thickness of the slice he wanted to sell me and I thought it impertinent to resist.

When we left the lunch date, filled with food and counting every blessing in a universe that seemed perfectly in harmony (and that is after only one glass of white), we thought we would never eat again. Some hours later, after a restorative nap, we walked along the ramparts of the medieval town, high up above the countryside which rolled out in every direction. We spread our picnic blanket under a tree and as the sun set, we toasted the good life with champagne in paper cups. We polished off all the cheese, the huge slice of pate, enough bread to feed a family and a bag of cherries.

Today it is back to basics. The taxi service is on call, the work phone is back on line, the low fat dinner is burbling away and I have a few new kilograms to shift. I have my work cut out, for the summer holidays are but weeks away and, on my return, I have an annual cholesterol test. I really want to pass if only to prove that weekends like the one just enjoyed can be part of a healthy lifestyle, so long as they do not become a habit.

Griddled Asparagus, Courgette and Aubergine Salad

Griddled Asparagus, Courgette and aubergine Salad

When the sun is shining there is nothing tastier to eat outdoors than a griddled vegetable salad. Actually it’s pretty good when it is pouring down too as I feel I am eating something Mediterranean which always puts me in a holiday mood.

This salad requires a griddle pan – a definite must have piece of equipment in the kitchen – and a bit of time to grill all the veg. So put the radio on, relax and get out the food tongs (another piece of useful kit). Get your extractor fan on before you start and open the kitchen window if possible. Even taking these precautions does not prevent my smoke alarm going off every time I use my griddle pan.

For 6 – 8 people:

1 large aubergine
4 large courgettes
20 thin asparagus spears
2 tablespoons olive oil
Black Pepper
A pinch of sea salt
6 sundried tomato halves
50 g pine nuts
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
A good handful of fresh basil

Begin by slicing the aubergine and courgettes lengthways into thin strips. Place the aubergine slices in a large mixing bowl and add a tablespoon of olive oil and a good grinding of black pepper. Mix well.

Heat your griddle pan for about 5 minutes before you use it so that it is very hot. Place the slices on the griddle pan in batches. You want each slice to lie flat in the pan. After two to three minutes turn the slices over for a further two minutes. You want the aubergine slices to have good stripes and to have softened. Don’t worry if it looks a  bit charred, that is the effect you are looking for.

Now repeat with the courgettes. Place them in the bowl with a tablespoon of olive oil and a good grinding of black pepper.  Griddle the slices in batches for two to three minutes on each side.

Prepare the asparagus by snapping off the ends of each spear. They will snap at the right place if you hold them gently while bending the woody end. Place in a row on the griddle pan and turn when they begin to look charred – timing depends on the thickness of the asparagus.

You can prepare all of the veg a few hours in advance.

I use the sundried tomatoes one buys in bags – rather than the ones that come in jars of oil. Rehydrate by placing in a bowl of hot water and leave to soak for ½ hour. Then drain and chop into pieces.

Toast the pine nuts in a small pan over a low heat and watch carefully as they burn very suddenly.

Assemble the salad by placing the griddled vegetables in a large platter. Scatter over the sundried tomato pieces and the pine nuts.

Mix the lemon juice with the extra virgin olive oil and add a pinch of sea salt and a good grinding of black pepper. Add to the salad and mix in.

Finally, tear up the basil leaves and scatter over the salad.

Anyone Had a Coregasm? -17 July 2013

Much as I enjoy my morning walks with some special friends, I can’t say I have ever found these outings to be an arousing experience. Yes, they raise my heart rate and leave me sweating and breathless, but that is as far as it goes. So I was perplexed to read a report that cited research into exercise induced orgasm in women, termed coregasm. While many of the respondents had experienced their aroused state while cycling – ok I sort of get that – others reported a blissed out state from weight lifting (surely not), running (could you slow down, please) and walking. Clearly I must be doing something wrong.

Weight lifting is not something I have ever considered, quite frankly, but from now on I will try to focus intently on my nether regions while I stagger with my groceries from the supermarket, laden with reusable plastic bags. Sadly, recycling is as close as I get to cycling, so no pleasurable sensations there then. As for running, were I to attempt it for research purposes, naturally, I would be in too much pain to feel any possible pleasure and S&M has never got me going. So I guess I am not a candidate for coregasm; I am still working on the multiple variety.

All of which reminds me that our wedding anniversary is coming up at the end of the week. Regular readers of this blog might recall that my husband and I spent a night of celebration at The Lamb Inn last year. Never one to rest on his laurels, my dear, romantic man is whisking me off to France for le weekend for two days of R & R in a B & B. Having done my homework, we are booked for lunch where we will celebrate our lengthening years of marital bliss over the Michelin starred, tasting menu at the modernist La Grenouillere. Think about a French Heston Blumenthal and you have the idea.

I am expecting the food to be pretty sensational – it had better be at the price – but I am not expecting the earth to move. I recall being a teenager, listening to my mother’s friend describing her husband’s chicken dish as ‘orgasmic’. I thought that this was rather pathetic, was this what middle aged sex came down to? This was all well before When Harry Met Sally which globalised the notion of food induced nirvana.

Of course food and sex have long been partners on the big screen, although I do think that if Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider had been using Moose Maple Butter in Last Tango in Paris, they would have spread it on a nice piece of toast and put the kettle on.

So I am not planning to gasp and moan over our anniversary lunch, although a little light exercise might be called for afterwards .  I wonder if carrying my husband over the threshold would count as weight lifting ?

Yoghurt and Chickpea Soup

Yoghurt and Chickpea Soup

Much as I adore yoghurt, and often use it as a garnish for soups, I had never considered using it as the main ingredient until I discovered yoghurt soup in Istanbul. Turns out that yoghurt soup – or yayla corbasi  as it is known in Turkey, is practically a national dish. We ate a sensational version of this soup with tiny meatballs and chickpeas at Ciya Sofrasi, a restaurant in Istanbul that specialises in traditional dishes from the eastern Anatolian provinces. It was a revelation to me and, since returning home, I have been cooking it repeatedly. Sadly, for me, there is no Ciya cookbook, but I have adapted this soup for low cholesterol purposes based on a recipe from a wonderful Turkish blog, A Seasonal Cook in Turkey. Rather than using rice to thicken the soup, I have used bulgar wheat which gives a lovely texture that my guests try to identify.  I also add chickpeas.

To serve 6 – 8 people

½ cup of fine bulgar wheat
2 cups boiling water
6 cups of chicken or vegetable stock
1 tin chickpeas, well rinsed
2 cups of yoghurt – I use a low fat, Turkish variety but any low fat yoghurt will do
2 tablespoons plain flour
1 egg
Black pepper
Salt (optional)
4 teaspoons dried mint
Chilli flakes
Extra virgin olive oil to drizzle (optional)

Begin by cooking the bulgar wheat in a pot, covered by 2 cups of boiling water. Allow it to simmer for 10 -15 minutes by which time the liquid will be absorbed.

Next add 6 cups of chicken or vegetable stock to the pot. Rinse the chickpeas to get rid of the taste of the liquid in the can. Now add to the soup. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 15 minutes.

In the meantime, place the yoghurt in a bowl and add the flour and egg. Mix well with a small whisk until it is smooth.  You should now have a pale yellow mixture.

The next step involves taking a ladleful of the liquid from the soup and adding it to the yoghurt mix. Stir this in and then add one more ladleful of soup liquid. Stir this in too. Now you are ready to add the yoghurt mix to the pot of soup.

At this point add some ground pepper and a bit of salt if you think it needs any. This depends on the salt content of the stock you have used.

Traditionally, this soup calls for 4 tablespoons of butter which is added to the soup. Obviously this is no good for low cholesterol purposes. I tried the soup without the butter and it still tasted delicious. Such are the sacrifices we need to make!  Add 4 teaspoons of dried mint and a few shakes of chilli flakes. Taste and add more if you like more heat. The first time I made the soup I substituted fresh mint but it does not give the soup the minty hit you get from the dried variety.

You can drizzle a few drops of extra virgin olive oil onto each portion of soup if you like. Use your best quality oil for this purpose or it won’t be worth it. A top quality oil adds a lovely extra note of flavour which cheaper oils don’t.



Spreading The Love – 10 July 2013

At the weekend I had a slice of toast with the most beautiful – indeed divine – topping I have tasted in years. Sadly it cannot limbo its way under the low fat bar. Nay, it is a full fat beauty. Even its name fills the mouth with pleasure. Moose Maple Butter is possibly the best thing on sliced bread. Fortunately it is not yet on sale in a supermarket near me. When it is, I will be in serious trouble.

If this is beginning to read like a product promotion it is simply due to my having spent a weekend that was a disaster for my low cholesterol lifestyle. From the endless chocolate brownies – who knew gluten free could taste this good? – to whiskey and caramel popcorn, Polish plum cake or Lebanese sour cherries nestling on a birds nest of kataifi pastry – I ate almost continuously for three days.

The Food Bloggers Connect conference was an eye-opening insight into the world of food blogging. Big names mingled with no names, sharing ideas, obsessions and business cards. I was delighted to find several bloggers with similar foci on healthy eating ranging from Paleo through to gluten free, vegan and organic.

Three days of talking about food requires a fair bit of sustenance. And were we sustained! The range of sweet goodies seemed endless and I abandoned all sense of proportion or decorum. A baking stall with minute chocolate muffins filled with raspberries that make ‘melt in the mouth’ seem stale, turns out to be selling its wares in a new Saturday artisanal market not 10 minutes’ drive from my house! Dangerous. I am an enthusiastic supporter of local markets, but since this stall is exceptional, I may need to make an exception and stay away.

Oh, the downsides of this low cholesterol malarkey are many and various. I met a wonderfully empowering blogger at the conference who makes a virtue – and a living – by cocking a snoot at authority. She was engaging and hilarious. We fell to chatting at the washbasin in the Ladies and when she heard what I blog about, she confessed to having high cholesterol herself which she ignored as she refused to buy into ‘the whole cholesterol scare’. Confronted with all this gorgeous food I didn’t want to buy into it either. But on reflection, I think I will continue to hedge my bets.

As luck would have it one of my new blogger friends invited me on an eating tour of London. This involves a three hour walk and much eating in foodie places along the way. Sign me up, Scottie. They say that when you tire of London you tire of life. The same can surely be said about food.

This morning I got back to basics, made a slice of wholemeal toast and opened the fridge for a scraping of low fat cheese spread. A small pot of Moose Maple Butter sat winking at me, leftover from the freebies I brought home for my men to taste. When my boys arrive home hungry from school this afternoon they are in for a wonderful surprise on their teatime toast. My pleasure will be vicarious. I call it spreading the love.


Baked Melon with Lentil and Mushroom Stuffing

Baked Melon with Lentil and Mushroom Stuffing

One of the most unusual dishes I tasted on a recent trip to Istanbul was a baked melon with meat stuffing. I ate this at a restaurant named Asitane that recreates dishes that were prepared for feasts hosted by the Ottoman Sultans in Topkapi Palace. Because no recipes were written down in those kitchens, in fact were closely guarded secrets, Asitane have had to research palace kitchen records to get lists of ingredients, read reports and descriptions of palace meals written by visiting dignitaries and so on. Now that is a research job I would love.

This melon and meat dish was called Kavun Dolmasi and was dated 1539. Having thoroughly enjoyed my meal at Asitane, I resolved to create my own version. I have used lentils and mushrooms instead of minced lamb to make it fit for low cholesterol purpose and for vegetarians. I am not sure what the Sultans would have said about it, but my princes liked it and that is all the feedback I need.

It might seem a bit far out but I encourage you to give it a try. When cooked, the melon tastes like a sweet squash. You can make the stuffing ahead of time.

For 4 people:

2 melons – the green ones, not orange – halved and pips removed with a spoon
1 onion, finely chopped
1 large carrot, finely chopped
2 sticks celery, finely chopped
1 teaspoon olive oil

1 portabello mushroom
2 -3 chestnut mushrooms
2 -3 shiitake mushrooms
A sprig or two of oregano, leaves picked
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon olive oil

200g lentils – preferably Le Puy or green lentils
1 bay leaf
1 clove garlic, peeled, left whole
100g brown basmati rice

1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
½ teaspoon ground cumin
20 blanched almonds

Start by gently heating a teaspoon of olive oil. Add the chopped onion, carrot and celery and sweat slowly over a low heat. Keep an eye that it does not stick and add a bit of water if needed. Once the vegetables are soft – about 20 minutes – allow to cool a little and then pop into the Magimix and puree.

To make the mushrooms, gently heat a teaspoon of olive oil and the crushed garlic in a small pan. After a minute add the chopped mushrooms and oregano and cook until soft. Add a grinding of black pepper.

Meanwhile place the lentils in a pot, cover with water, add a bay leaf and a clove of garlic and bring  to the boil. Reduce heat and cook until soft – the timing will depend on the age of your lentils. Drain well.

In another pot cook the rice. Drain well.

Mix the cooked lentils with the pureed vegetables. Add 1 tablespoon of pomegranate molasses and the ground cumin. Now add the mushrooms and the rice.

Heat oven to 180 C/ 350 F.

Place the almonds on an oven tray and roast until golden. Set aside.

Place the melon halves, cut side up on an oven tray and fill with the stuffing that you have shaped into balls that fit into the cavity in the melons. You will probably have some stuffing left over.

Bake for 15 minutes. You want the melon to have softened but not mushy.

When ready to serve, place 5 almonds in each ball of stuffing.

Those Were The Days – 3 July 2013

Sizing up the huge portabello mushrooms in my supermarket this week, their gills just begging to be gently strummed, I was reminded of a recipe I used to make decades ago when I was more concerned with matters of the heart than what mattered to my heart.

Back then I would sauté the mushrooms in a quantity of melted butter, salted of course. Crushed garlic would follow to turn golden, after which the mushrooms would fall with their bums in the butter, so to speak. Once they had begun to release their juices, a significant amount of cream would be added to the pan, gently stirred. A scattering of chopped parsley finished off what was a plate scrapingly, seductive dish. Flirting with food is a game that only improves with age I find. Learn it young and you have the whole of middle age stretching ahead to perfect your art. Even without full fat ingredients. After all, what is more evocative than a lentil ragout on a starlit night?

Those fat filled meals are the stuff of memories now, but I was determined to recreate at least a taste of my youthful escapades. Could I get close with a dash of olive oil and some Quark?

I set to work as the rain pelted down relentlessly. ‘At least I don’t have to water my plants’, muttered my younger son who is rearing his first courgettes this season. Despite the inclement weather putting paid to my visions of an al fresco candlelit dinner with my husband, I felt a shiver in my liver as I chopped the garlic. When my sons asked their daily ‘what’s for dinner? ‘ question, I was not put off by their incredulous ‘mushrooms! What else?’ For in my recollection, there had rarely been a need for anything else. Not at the table at least.

Those were the days my friends, we thought they’d never end – as the song goes. Yet the daily grind of getting dinner on the table, preceded by football lifts and followed by hours of mind numbing homework, tends to render the evening meal a chore rather than a time for fantasy. As children are the fruits of love so we must tend our crop. Watching them grow by just adding food and water is a constant amazement to me.

Yet I know that before too many more rainy summers have come and gone, they will no longer grace our evening meals. How I will long for their cheerful banter and their hungry appetites, devourers of a dinner plate stacked with flavours. So perhaps tonight is a time to make food to love rather than food for love. There will be plenty time for romantic meals for two in years to come.