Monthly Archives: April 2014

Beetroot and Red Onion Quinoa

Beetroot and Red Onion Quinoa

On a recent trip to Cape Town I tasted a beetroot quinoa which was delicious. I decided to try to recreate something similar once home and here is my take on it. Quinoa is a very healthy grain dating back to the Aztecs. I think it tastes best slightly undercooked so that it retains its bite. Otherwise I find that it is mushy and unpleasant to eat.

Mixed with the vibrant colour of beetroot, this dish looks very enticing. You could serve it warm but I have let it cool down and served it alongside a main course of fish or chicken. It would also make a lovely salad as part of a vegetarian meal.

For 4 people:

120g quinoa
360ml cold water
4 beetroot
1 large red onion
2 teaspoons very good quality balsamic vinegar
2 handfuls fresh mint leaves, chopped

Heat your oven to 220 C.

Give the beetroot a rinse under the tap but do not peel. Place them on an oven tray. Place the red onion, unpeeled, alongside.

Roast the vegetables for an hour. At this stage remove the onion which should be pretty soft. It the beetroot feel a bit hard, leave them in the oven for another 10 – 15 minutes until they are soft when you pierce with a knife.

Peel off the first tough layers of the onion until you get to the really soft layers within. Roughly chop the flesh, place in a bowl and add a teaspoon of your best balsamic. If you use a cheap vinegar it will spoil the taste of the dish.

When the beetroot have cooled a bit, peel and roughly chop. Place in a food processor along with the onion and puree until smooth.

Place the quinoa and water in a pot, bring to the boil and then reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes. You will need to taste it at this point to see if it is soft enough to eat while retaining its bite.

Drain well.

Add the beetroot and onion puree to the quinoa and mix well. Add a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar and one handful of chopped mint leaves.

Place in a serving bowl and garnish with the second handful of chopped mint leaves.

Something Fishy – 30 April 2014

A couple of months ago I took part in a Happy Hearts Blood Test to establish what percentage of Omega-3 and Omega-6 I have in my blood. This was part of a research project run by the University of Stirling. I was sent a self-testing kit with a contraption to prick my finger and a blotter on which to drip a few drops of the red stuff. Too much information? My men certainly thought so as they watched me package up my sample and put it in the post.

Although I know about the importance of Omegas, I hadn’t really understood much about it. As with most things to do with cholesterol, it is not just the absolute levels but the proportions that are important.

You may be wondering why this matters. I know I did.

The first thing to know is that Omega fatty acids are a type of unsaturated fat found in our food. There are 3 kinds : Omega-3, Omega-6 and Omega-9. Omega-3 and Omega-6 are essential fatty acids which means that the body cannot produce them and we must therefore obtain them through what we eat.

Omega-3 is good for cardiovascular health because it reduces irregular heartbeats, called ventricular arrhythmia, that can be fatal. In affecting the way that electricity travels to the heart and causes the heart to contract, Omega-3 can increase the survival rate of heart attack patients. It also reduces triglycerides which increase the risk of diseased arteries. Omega-3 also plays a positive role in brain development and reduces markers of tissue inflammation which can contribute to cardiovascular disease.

Because Omega-3 and 6 compete in the body, the ratio between them is important. Omega-3 is anti-inflammatory (think arthritis, cancer, cardiovascular disease) and its efficacy is reduced by consuming too much Omega-6. It is thought that our evolutionary forebears ate the omegas in a ratio of 1:1. Modern Western diets now see it being consumed in something like a ratio of 10:1 largely due to the massive increase in vegetable oils in our diet in the preparation of processed foods.

We should try to increase our intake of Omega-3 as we tend to consume too much Omega-6 through various oils (not olive) used in most processed foods and restaurant cooking as the oils are cheap. These include sunflower oil, canola oil, safflower oil, hemp, oil, corn oil. Omega 6 is also found in chicken, avocado, walnuts, pine nuts, pumpkin seeds, grains, wholegrain bread – in other words a fairly long list of otherwise healthy foods.

Omega-3 is found in fish with good levels occurring in oily fish: salmon, trout, sardines, mackerel, swordfish tuna. Interestingly, the Japanese and Inuits who eat a great deal of oily fish have low occurrence of heart attacks.

Sadly, due to pollution we need to consider the mercury content of some of these fish. Swordfish has the highest concentration of mercury and salmon the lowest – wild salmon having less than the farmed variety.

Because vegetarians do not eat fish, they should consider taking an Omega-3 supplement. The Cardiology researcher, Lionel Opie (whose book I will shortly write about) recommends Omega-3 fish oil capsules with a total dose of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) plus DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) of 1000mg. Omega-3 is also found in flaxseed oil. Because flaxseed oil oxidises easily, it should be kept in the fridge and used soon after opening.

The only way to know what your levels are is to do a blood test which you can do at home and send off for analysis. I don’t think I would have gone to such an effort if I had not come across this research project and thought it an interesting idea. The actual blood test on my dining room table was a bit yuck but I felt confident that my levels would be ok as I eat oily fish every week. Guess what? My Omega-6 is too high and the Omega-3 too low. Am I going to become obsessed about this? No. But what I do now know is that I have to eat more oily fish. I used to religiously eat a portion twice a week but now only do so once. I also have a bit of a love affair with avocados and eat several a week so that may have to reduce in order to cut back on the Omega-6. Luckily I didn’t see dark chocolate on the list.

Of course everything in moderation is a good way forward. The more I discover about the ins and outs of food, the more I think one would need a very sophisticated computer programme to work out what to eat and in what amounts, when, why and how. Madness lies that way and life is just too short.

However, if you do have cardiovascular risk factors it really is a good idea to research this matter and consider your Omega-3 profile.

Roast Vegetable Salad

Roast Vegetable Salad

This is a great side dish which I like to serve warm. It is also good at room temperature. This looks like a rainbow on a plate as my son observed. That is exactly the kind of healthy variety of vegetables we should be eating.

For 4 people:

3 peppers – I use a mix of red and yellow but orange would be lovely too. I wouldn’t use green.
3 courgettes
1 large red onion
250g good quality cherry tomatoes, choose ones with a taste of sunshine
1 – 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 handfuls fresh basil
Good quality balsamic vinegar
Black pepper

Preheat oven to 180 C.

Deseed the peppers and cut into bite sized chunks.
Cut the courgettes on the diagonal into bite sized chunks
Peel the onion and cut into wedges

Place all the vegetables in a roasting tray and mix in the olive oil.

Roast in the preheated oven for an hour which should be enough time to soften all the veg. If the peppers are charring at the edges all the better.

Remove and set aside to cool a bit.
Pick off the basil leaves and add to the vegetables.
Drizzle over some good quality balsamic and a grind of black pepper.

Let Down By Low Fat – 23 April 2014

I have recently felt very let down by the low fat food industry. Having spent a fortune over many years buying low fat this and that, I now find that the reason that my favourite No Fat yoghurt tastes so good, is that it is packed with sugar. Of course I might have discovered this at any time simply by reading the small print on the back of the tub. From now on I will.

The papers have been full of these revelations about the content of sugar in our food and the link to the obesity crisis as it is known. For those of us who have tried to reduce our saturated fat intake, this has often meant buying foods that, while healthier on the one hand, are much less healthy on the other. I have therefore reverted to buying full fat yoghurt for my children as it has less sugar. I cannot quite bring myself to do so for myself, as I remain concerned about my fat intake. So I have spent some time in my supermarket making mental notes. The only 0% yoghurt with a lower sugar level that I have come across is the Total brand. That is what I am now eating. No surprises that it is not at all sweet – and one can really taste the difference. It takes a bit of getting used to after the sweeter brands and no, adding a teaspoon of honey is not allowed. The Total brand is also a thicker set yoghurt which I don’t always care for, but it is good with a bit of fruit cut into it.

This week I heard on the radio that we are supposed to be eating 7 –a-day rather than 5. This will not be good news for those who are struggling to keep up with the lower level. We are also told that vegetables are healthier than fruit. I think this must be due to the higher sugar content of fruit. So when increasing our intake to 7 –a – day, I understand that we are encouraged to add in extra veg to our meals rather than eat another two apples. I heard one interviewee say that many people will not be able to afford to eat so much fruit and veg and sadly this is a reality for many. For others, the challenge will be how to incorporate as many items into the daily meals. I think a start needs to be made in the morning and for me that means a handful of berries in my muesli and a small glass of fruit juice a few times a week. I have cut back on the purchasing of fruit juice due to the very high sugar levels – as much as a glass of Coke – but still buy it some of the time because it counts as 1 portion of the 7-a-day. Give with the one hand and take with the other. In any case if I don’t buy juice at all, there will be a mutiny from the younger members of the household.

Emergency Tomato Soup

Emergency Tomato Soup

Many years ago a relative gave me this recipe which, she told me, was called Emergency Tomato Soup. I understood this to mean that it was to be made under certain conditions when only soup would do. My son was ill this week and struggling to eat due to a very painful throat. He suddenly asked for tomato soup. It was then that I recalled this recipe. As you will see, it is made from store cupboard ingredients and perhaps that is also why it can be made in an emergency.

It has a lot of garlic which is supposed to be good for colds and makes the house smell wonderful. Sadly my son could not taste the garlic but he ate several bowls of the soup which no doubt gave his body a good dose of vitamins.

For 4 people:

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 carrots, grated
750ml chicken stock – I used a couple of cubes
2 x 410g cans chopped tomatoes
200g tomato puree
1 teaspoon sugar
6 large cloves garlic, crushed
12 basil leaves, chopped.
Black pepper
Parmesan cheese, grated (optional)

Gently heat the olive oil in a pot and add the chopped onion and carrot. Saute for 5 – 10 minutes to let the vegetables soften. Add the chicken stock, tomatoes, tomato puree, garlic, sugar and a grinding of black pepper. Stir to combine. Bring to the boil and then reduce the heat and simmer for 45 minutes.

Allow the soup to cool off a bit and then blend in the food processor.

Reheat and serve with a good handful of basil leaves in each bowl.

If you are not watching your cholesterol you can add a grating of parmesan to your bowl.

Eat, enjoy and feel better – whatever your emergency.

Food Glorious Food – 9 April 2014

There are times in life when priorities collide. This happened to me recently when I was invited by Eating London Tours to participate in one of their walking and eating tours of the East End. I said ‘yes’ before you could say jellied eels. Such an opportunity does not come along regularly and I knew that my cholesterol would still be there to be lowered the following day.

Having recently visited the East End – and written about the magnificent salt beef bagels – I was itching to return. The tour, which involves 3 ½ hours of strolling and eating was a gustatory gluttonfest which you can read about in full on my Kitchen Journeys blog. (

Suffice it to say that the morning began at 10 am with a toasted bacon sarnie that is said to the best in London and I challenge anyone to improve on it. For those who might refuse such a magnificent mouthful because of religious practice, vegetarianism or a higher plane of discipline than me, all you need to know is that it is the best bacon sandwich you will never eat.

The morning ended with a salted caramel and chocolate tart with a dollop of cream – no half measures. In between we ate an exquisite bread and butter pudding with rum infused custard, a platter of British cheese, fish and chips with mushy peas, three curries with naan, a salt beef bagel and some ale and cider for good measure. I kid you not. Along the way we learnt about the history of immigration to the area, walked the streets admiring street art and making room for the next food stop.

In the evening I served my three hungry men a virtuous meal of baked salmon, broccoli and wholemeal couscous followed by strawberries and yoghurt. I couldn’t eat a thing. Yet, by midnight I was sat in bed, warm under the duvet with a mug of chamomile and a thick slice of bread generously covered with peanut butter. Food, Glorious Food!!

Tomorrow I leave for the Southern Hemisphere. I hope to be enjoying lots of fresh fish and fresh air, sunshine and warm weather. I am not sure whether I will have access to Wi-Fi and so will be back on the blog in 2 weeks. Until then, I wish you happy and healthy eating.

Roast Haunch of Venison

Roast Haunch of Venison

I eat very little red meat buy when I do my preference is for game which is low fat. I bought a venison haunch from my farmer’s market where the man who sold it to me could tell me all about its provenance down to the date it was turned into joints ready to be sold. He himself had shot the animal and this was as fresh a piece of meat I was likely to find. This is the way I like to buy meat – straight from the supplier.

I was quite excited about my purchase because I have never cooked a haunch before, albeit that I regularly sear a few venison steaks for our dinner. This seemed more of a challenge and one that I treated myself to on Mother’s Day. I know that mums are supposed to let the family cook lunch on this day, but there was no way I was letting anyone near my haunch. No, this was my treat to myself.

I did some research on cooking methods and discovered some difference of opinion on whether to lard the meat, or to bard it by covering it in bacon before cooking, or even to marinade it overnight. I decided to follow the advice in Game (by Trish Hilferty and Tom Norrington Davies) which suggested that none of the above methods was necessary. However, to avoid overcooking venison – very easy to do as it has so little fat and dries out quickly – one has to attend to the cooking process. This is not one of those slow roasts that you stick in the oven and forget about for several hours.

Ideally game should be cooked with a meat thermometer to hand, but since my kitchen equipment does not extend to this level of precision, I followed the timing suggestions to the letter. And was well rewarded.

This recipe is very simple indeed but I do think that with a great quality product one should faff around as little as possible. My husband said this was the best venison he has ever eaten. That is good enough for me.

I served the meat with a celeriac puree as smooth as butter, balsamic glazed shallots and, finally, a Francatetelli sauce. Apparently Francatelli was chef to Queen Victoria, who no doubt had a great herd of deer.

For 6 – 8 people:

1 venison haunch about 2kg
½ teaspoon sea salt
Black pepper
Olive oil
1 roasting tray with a rack

Preheat the oven to 220 C.

Rub the meat well with the salt and freshly ground pepper and set aside.

Pour the oil into a roasting tray and heat it. I actually used the last of the goose fat I had lurking in the fridge since xmas which is not exactly low fat. Bear in mind that you are only going to seal the meat in the oil and then cook it above on a rack.

When the oil is hot, seal the meat on all sides. Do this quickly as venison dries out quickly so you don’t need to get it to brown too much.

Now place the rack into the roasting tray and place the venison on top. Put it into the hot oven and time it for 20 minutes.

Reduce the heat to 150 C and time it for 10 minutes per 500g. This will give you a wonderfully tender and pink meat, medium rare. As the writers of Game point out, if you do not like your venison pink then a haunch is the wrong cut. They suggest a pot roasted shoulder as an alternative.

Once the ten minutes is up, wrap the venison loosely in foil and keep in a warm place for 20 minutes. I never quite know what that means so I switch off my oven and place the meat inside with the door open.

Have all your accompaniments ready by now and you can carve the meat. Serve on hot plates so that it doesn’t get cold too quickly.

To make a Francatelli sauce (I used a recipe from the Ballymaloe Cookery Course, Darina Allen):
225 g Redcurrant jelly
1 cinnamon stick, give it a bash
Peel of one lemon
2 tablespoons port

Heat gently and simmer for 5 minutes

This sauce is so delicious that it disappeared in a trice. I would advise making double the amount.

Spring Fever – 2 April 2014

Spring is traditionally the season for cleaning and decluttering. Suffice it to say that I have no talent for either of these worthy activities. I am much happier sitting in the garden admiring the blossoms. Decluttering, however, has become a necessity of late in my household as we have discovered tiny droppings in the loft, raising the unpleasant thought that we are playing host to an uninvited guest. Mind you, it is a very quiet creature. We hear no pitter patter of tiny feet above our heads in the quiet of the night. Still, the time has come to tackle the junk shop that is our loft space. My husband, a declutterer of note, has taken to the task willingly. He disappears up the wobbly ladder with regularity, returning rather dirty and brandishing bags of uncertain origin filled with detritus that must be separated into those three piles you read about in magazines – keep, donate, sell. In our household that equates to charity shop (smallish pile), forgotten items that rejoin the wardrobe after years of exile (larger pile), and stuff that sits around for a further few months before returning to the loft (largest pile).

Recently a collection of gifts made for previous mother’s days has emerged and my bedroom is now littered with tiny boxes decorated with a lot of glue and a few jewel-like beads, a mirror in a pink frame, lovingly crafted cards in handwritings that begin in large, hard to decipher letters and evolve into more mature scripts that chart the passing of the years. Bless the teachers who had the patience to help create these precious tokens of a child’s love for his mother – or at least ticking the boxes of the creative curriculum such as it still exists in our schools.

I was much at my mothering post this Mother’s Day with an ill child. Much TLC and chicken soup is my prescription. My husband and I went to Waitrose to stock up on supplies of tissues and Neurofen. We paused at the bakery section where piles of freshly baked and butter enriched croissants sat awaiting their place on trays up and down the nation as part of mother’s breakfast in bed. I was struck by the size of these pastries which confirms one of the observations in French Women Don’t Get Fat, which is that in France the average croissant is smaller than in the UK. From my observations this is true.

This week there has been much in the news about how 2/3 of UK adults and 1/3 of children are overweight. This is partly due to what we are eating and how little exercise we are doing. Not that I am lecturing. Not this week at any rate. I have eaten several slices of birthday cake – Carrot if you are wondering and yes I will supply the recipe as it is divine and for a special occasion it can’t harm. On Mother’s Day I cooked a venison haunch as a treat to myself. It was the sort of fun in the kitchen that makes a Sunday sing and is low fat to boot. My husband said it was the best venison he has ever eaten. That made my day. Homemade cards adorn the mantelpiece for the next few days. Better watch out for the declutterer.