Monthly Archives: September 2014

Fennel and Green Olive Tagine with Brown Rice and Red Quinoa

Fennel and Green Olive Tagine

I am the happy recipient of a parcel filled with boxes and bottles from the Clearspring company. This is exactly my idea of a great gift as the boxes are grains of various sorts while the bottles are of Tamari soy sauce (which I noticed has just won a Good Taste Award) and a Flax Oil Blend which gives me a good ration of Omega 3, 6 and 9.
Inspired by all these goodies I set about cooking dinner. It is not quite yet soup weather when the pulses and grains will be making their way into a warm pot with vegetables. A tagine seemed just the business, especially as I had rather a lot of fennel in the fridge left over from another meal.

I love tagines of all descriptions and realised that they don’t have to contain animal protein in order to taste really good. So popular was this dish at my table that the very last drops were spooned out by my kids.

Although I usually serve couscous with tagines, I found that the Clearsrping Long Grain Brown Rice and Red Quinoa mix made a delicious change and mopped up the juices perfectly. I cooked the grains in a light vegetable stock and when it was ready, added sumac, chopped coriander, preserved lemon and pomegranate seeds.

For 4 people:

250g Clearspring Quick Cook Organic Long Grain Brown Rice and Red
1 teaspoon Marigold vegetable bouillon
1 tablespoon sumac
1 handful coriander, roughly chopped
1 preserved lemon, pulp removed skin chopped
½ pomegranate, seeds removed

For tagine:

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 ball stem ginger, chopped
1 preserved lemon, pulp removed, skin chopped
2 large fennel, each cut into 8 wedges
1l vegetable stock, I use Marigold bouillon
½ teaspoon tumeric
1 handful coriander, roughly chopped
12 pitted, green olives, halved

To made the fennel and olive tagine, gently heat the olive oil in a generous sized pot. Add the chopped onion and allow to sweat gently until the onion is softened. Add the chopped garlic, ginger and preserved lemon peel. Stir to combine and allow to cook gently for a couple of minutes.

Add the fennel wedges and then pour over the vegetable stock into which you have mixed the turmeric. Bring to the boil and then reduce heat and allow to bubble away for about half an hour until the fennel is cooked through.
Add the coriander and green olives.

While the tagine is cooking you can prepare the rice and quinoa. As this brand is a quick cook product, it only needs 10 minutes in boiling water. Drain and then add the sumac, coriander, lemon peel and pomegranate seeds.

Serve the tagine with a bowl of harissa which adds a wonderfully spicy note to the dish. Each diner gets to decide how much heat they want.

The No Campaign – 24 September 2014

What a week it has been! For someone who hardly ever turns on the tv, I have been glued to late night commentary about the Scottish referendum. Naturally I found the political spectacle as fascinating as the next person. I have also been relieved that I didn’t have a vote to cast as I suspect that my head and my heart might have pulled in opposite directions.

The idea of Better Together made me wonder about the future of shortbread, oats and haggis. Would these become foreign foods, imported goods sold in specialist shops? Not that I often eat a haggis, and I try to avoid shortbread, but don’t mess about with my oats please. As I struggle – I mean really, really struggle – to get back onto even a vaguely healthy track since my summer holiday, I realise that at least I have remained faithful to my oats for breakfast. But the Scottish referendum has wrecked even that resolve this week.

As usual, I experience life through the needs of my stomach or at least the ingredients in my fridge. The Scottish referendum has been no different. Some weeks ago, my son took a bet with a family friend about the outcome of this week’s vote. His conviction about his position as a ‘no’ man has turned out to be profitable, his having already won £10 from a friend, a disappointed yes-man. The bet with the family friend was more culinary than pecuniary. The agreement was that if the Yes campaign triumphed, my son would cook a breakfast that she would attend. If the No vote triumphed, I was to cook! Quite how I became inveigled in this situation I was never informed.

As I did support the No campaign – easy for me as a citizen of England – I thought I would put my money where my mouth is and get on with the breakfast shift without complaint. Unfortunately for my arteries, my son’s victory meal did not include the Scottish oats with which he was so keen to share the Union. No, my orders were sausage, bacon, blueberry pancakes and maple syrup.

As the bet was made one morning in a restaurant on Cape Cod while my men were hidden behind stacks of blueberry pancakes, it was agreed that a recreation of this breakfast would be the winner’s prize. These were not pancakes as we know them, nor the low fat version I have previously featured on this blog. These were what we dubbed ‘mancakes’. Large as plates. Impossible to finish a pile of these I assumed, but never underestimate the appetite of my men.

So on Sunday morning I made a huge volume of batter, grilled the bacon, poured the maple syrup and enjoyed a thoroughly wonderful brunch. We reminisced about the marvelous holiday we had shared and the meals we had enjoyed. Sadly for me, the holiday is not just a memory but is hanging around my waist, a daily reminder of too much of a good time.

Grilled Chicken with Figs and Papaya

Grilled Chicken with Figs and Papaya

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 lemon
1 teaspoon olive oil
4 ripe figs
1 papaya
Salad leaves
Black pepper
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.

Indian Summer – 17 September 2014

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.’

Sweet Potato Chips

Sweet Potato Chips From The Healthy Heart

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
Olive oil

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.

Cinema can harm your health – 10 September 2014

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.–when-the-world-changed

Baked Salmon with Za’atar

Baked Salmon with Za'atar

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
Lemon juice

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.

The Squeezed Middle – 3 September 2014

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!