Monthly Archives: June 2015

Griddled Peach and Cottage Cheese Salad

Griddled Peach with Cottage Cheese Salad

Now that midsummer’s day has come and gone – not that summer has shown itself much as yet – I thought it time to pep up my lunchtime favourite. Several times a week I eat a cottage cheese salad for lunch and the way to keep it from getting unbearably boring is to add different bits to the basic. Peaches are back in the shops and I bought quite a number this week. Some landed up on my griddle pan and from there it was a quick hop and a skip into my salad.

For four people:

A few handfuls of salad leaves
4 scoops of cottage cheese
4 ripe peaches that are still firm – they are easier to get off the pips this way
4 chives
Black pepper
Lemon oil

Begin by halving the peaches and placing cut side down on a hot griddle pan. Leave for a few minutes until grill stripes appear. Remove from the pan and cut each half into two pieces. Return to the pan so that each piece is striped on both sides. Set aside.

I like to plate a salad for lunchtime so that everyone has their own portion.
Divide out the leaves between four plates. Add a scoop of cheese to each serving.
Place 8 pieces of peach on each plate.

Cut a chive over each plate, grind over some black pepper and finish off with a drizzle of lemon olive oil. You can substitute with a squeeze of lemon juice and some extra virgin olive oil.

Can Chocolate Improve Your Health? – 23 June 2015

I always feel a rush of excitement when the newspapers report more good news on the relationship of dark chocolate to improved heart health. Of course, reading the small print often brings my mood back down to normal. Yet, over the years this story just seems to run and run so there does seem to be something in it. Just how big of a something remains unclear, sadly.

Last week it was reported yet again that a research study has shown an association between those who eat chocolate and reduced risk of heart attack and stroke. 21 000 people in the UK were followed up for 12 years and those who ate most chocolate suffered fewer strokes and heart attacks.

Interestingly, most of those chocolate munchers had eaten milk chocolate rather than the dark variety which is higher in flavonoids which, it was previously thought, was the link between chocolate and heart health. Now it appears that fatty acids and the calcium in the milk may have a role to play.

Of course, caution is advised on every front. Firstly, finding a relationship between chocolate and heart health does not mean that eating chocolate causes an improvement in heart health. Secondly, those who eat most chocolate may be putting on weight which is not good for heart health. Thirdly, it is possible that those who eat a moderate amount of chocolate also look after their hearts in other ways such as eating a heart-healthy diet, taking exercise, not smoking and so on. I count myself in the last group. To be honest, I do not eat about 10g of dark chocolate each night – most nights – because a study showed it might be good for my heart. I do it because it is a treat I look forward to in the context of trying to eat healthily most of the time. Sometimes I forego my chocolate as I hope to do this evening as I have already eaten a huge oat cookie that had so much honey in it that my teeth squeaked.

I was amazed at the amount of chocolate that people in the study were eating – up to 100g a day. That is a full slab. If I ate that much dark chocolate in one go I would be awfully ill. Milk chocolate too I would imagine. Still, most respondents were eating much less.

Cardiologists are responding by saying that they would not suggest eating chocolate as a way of looking after one’s heart but that it may do no harm if eaten in moderation and may do some good. If you eat your chocolate in addition to all the other proven ways of looking after your heart, I am sure it will taste sweeter than ever.

Prawns with Passion Fruit, Mango and Avocado Cream

Prawns with Passion Fruit, Mango and Avocado Cream,

One of the finest meals I have eaten in years was enjoyed a few months back in Lyon. In a tiny restaurant called Le 14 Février, I ate a 9 course tasting menu which was memorably marvellous. One of the courses paid homage to the 1970s classic, the Avocado Ritz – except that there was thankfully no Marie Rose sauce. The prawns were marinated in mango and passion fruit and the whole dish was such fun – the prawns with their slightly salty flavour, the sweet fruit adding colour and taste, and the dish was completed by a scoop of avocado ice cream.

I have been thinking a lot about this dish and tried my own version to suit lower cholesterol purposes.

For 4 people:

250g raw tiger prawns, peeled
Half a mango
2 passion fruit
1 ripe avocado
3 tablespoons Total 0% yoghurt
Chives to garnish

Begin by pan frying the prawns for a couple of minutes in a non-stick pan. Remove from the heat as soon as they turn pink. Set aside in a bowl.

Cut half a mango into really small dice. I found this was easier to do while the fruit was on the stone. Peel the skin off and then, using a sharp knife, cut into dice towards the stone. Then gently ease the mango pieces off the stone into the bowl with the cooked prawns.

Cut the passion fruit in half, scoop out the pulp and push it through a fine sieve. This will prevent the pips from creating too much crunch in the dish. If you don’t mind a crunchy effect then you can simply tip all the pulp into the prawn bowl.

Mix carefully so the all the prawns have a fruity marinade and then place in the fridge for a couple of hours. I left them overnight and they did not come to harm. Cover with cling film if you do so.

About 45 minutes before you want to eat, mash the avocado really well and add the yoghurt. Mix together well. Place in the freezer until it begins to freeze but is still soft. If you leave it too long it will become rock hard.

Divide the prawns and fruit between four glass bowls and add a heaped teaspoon of avocado cream on each portion. Garnish with chives.

A Tasty Snack – 17 June 2015

This week I have had a serious clear out. Being a naturally untidy person, this exercise in throwing things away does not happen often. It was spurred on by my waking up to find that my legs were providing a midnight snack to some sort of creature. I thought it might be lurking in the huge pile of papers in assorted bags that have been lying next to my bed for, well for a very long time. So long in fact, that when I had completed the task at the end of a back breaking day, my husband exclaimed that he hadn’t seen the floor boards on my side of the bed in years.

He was a bit sceptical about the bites happening during the sleeping hours as he had none himself, but I reckon that is because I taste better, having all that fat in my bloodstream due to my higher cholesterol level. In truth it is more likely the result of an increased number of walks of late, across fields and heath where long grasses grow at this time of year.

While I was sorting out the papers – endless recipes from aeons ago and such like – I came across a batch of articles I had referred to when designing our kitchen back in 2006! What struck me about these was the repeated headlines – how to design your perfect kitchen, how to decorate your perfect hallway, how to achieve the perfect guest loo! Such seeking for perfection has really become a selling point not only for our homes but for our bodies. For alongside pages of gorgeous food photos came the obligatory article on how to lose weight, tone up whether through pilates, yoga, gym, personal training and on and on.

Perfection is an exhausting and unachievable aim and spending all day reading through one such goal after another left me feeling rather depressed about the state of the world. It also left me with an aching back, or perhaps that was from the hoovering which took place once the floor began to reappear. Dust phobics look away now! Who knew that pushing a Henry Hoover around the bedroom could be such a good workout.

One good piece of news this week was in an article I read about Spanish food. It turns out that the best quality ham, Jamon Iberico de Bellota, made from pigs that fatten up on acorns (bellota), undergoes a change in fat structure during the curing process. Due to the acorns being rich in antioxidants as well as the lengthy curing time, the saturated fats transform into healthy mono-unsaturated fat which is high in oleic acid. In the fat world, only olive oil scores higher in oleic acid which helps to reduce LDL (that’s the ‘bad’ cholesterol). The pigs that roam around snuffling acorns have a lot of fat in their legs, hence their excellent flavour. Sounds just like my legs. No wonder I am the snack of choice for a creepy crawly with gourmet taste.

Toasted Muesli with Fresh Fruit and Yoghurt

Toasted Muesli with Fresh Fruit and Yoghurt

This is my new-look morning muesli given a good toasting. I have been eating my home-made muesli for many years and enjoyed its cholesterol lowering properties. Now I find that I can get even more flavour by toasting the oats really well and then adding the seeds towards the end so that they do not burn and become bitter.

I make a large batch which I keep in the fridge so that the nuts and seeds do not become rancid. You could add a bit of honey to the oats when toasting but I prefer not to because I want to keep my breakfast as sugar free as possible. I do sometimes add raisins at the end for a little sweet treat but this is also optional.

750g rolled oats
100g ground almonds
100g sunflower seeds
100g pumpkin seeds
50g sesame seeds
50g flaxseeds
50g chia seeds (optional)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon honey (optional)
Raisins (optional)

Summer fruits – strawberries, raspberries, blueberries or other fruit of choice
0% Yoghurt – I like the Total brand as it has less sugar than some other low fat options

Heat the oven to 180 C.
Place the oats in a large oven tray and leave to toast for about 40 minutes. Every 10 minutes or so, give the tray a shake because the seeds around the edges of the tray tend to burn otherwise. Shaking the tray allows all the oats to toast evenly. You can decide how toasty you like your oats. I found that 40 minutes was right for me.

Add the ground nuts, seeds and cinnamon – as well as the honey if using – and stir to combine. Continue to toast for another 10 minutes.

Leave to cool and add a couple of handfuls of raisins.

Enjoy your muesli with fresh fruit and a couple of dollops of yoghurt – a healthy start to the day.

A Breakfast Toast – 10 June 2015

This week the exam season continues. Even my husband has thrown his hat into the ring and had an exam of his own for yet another qualification. I can only admire those who continue to collect degrees and diplomas throughout their career, when doing so requires not only essay preparation over weekends and holidays, but also exam writing to round off the whole enterprise.

As I am still prone to the occasional bad dream about my dreaded maths exam that took place decades ago, I content myself with endless medical examinations which, on reflection, are no less frightening. The only difference is that I no longer need to worry about whether I have left my compass and protractor at home.

Waiting to provide transport home from a morning exam this week, I went to have breakfast in a café, the kind of which are sorely lacking in my neighbourhood. My fellow diners were an assortment of retired men, mothers with toddlers and young parents with babies and grandparents in tow. There was also a harassed looking woman busy with emails on her iPad while having a business meeting. I imagined her to be a literary agent with a well-known writer whose name I might have recalled but whose face I could not recognise. Sadly the espresso machine made such a racket that effective eavesdropping was impossible.

The menu presented me with that ongoing temptation to eat what everyone else was enjoying – eggs bathed in Hollandaise sauce, large breakfast platters, pancakes with bacon and maple syrup and yummy looking patisserie.

Having overeaten at the weekend in pursuit of a social life, I was feeling contrite. I chose a demure toasted muesli with fresh fruit and yoghurt. It is always interesting to see what is considered a portion. At home, I spoon out the yoghurt in large scoops whereas here I received a small ramekin full. When I serve myself fresh fruit it is by the bowl-full , whereas the café presented but a few strawberries, a couple of cherries and a scattering of blueberries. I appreciate that restaurants have to make a profit, but more to the point was my observation that my portions at home are rather on the large size.

The biggest revelation was the toasted muesli. Considering that I eat home-made muesli almost every day of the year, you might think that my breakfast choice was a bit of a busman’s holiday. Yet I came away with a spring in my step and a new plan hatched. As I write, a batch of oats is toasting away in the oven for far longer that I would ever have imagined possible without burning to a crisp. My research thus far does not indicate any negative effects of toasting on the cholesterol-lowering properties of the oats. I am certainly looking forward to my breakfast tomorrow and the next day and the next. Never mind the eggs Benedict!

Strawberry and Cherry Tomato Salad

Strawberry and Cherry Tomato Salad

New ideas can be found in unlikely places. In this case I was sitting in the hairdresser leafing through a pile of new magazines – the best bit of having a haircut in my view. I came across a recipe for strawberry and tomato salad and was reminded of the maxim that knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit while wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.

Well, if House and Garden magazine could feature this combination which, it reported was big news in Montreal last year, then I was certainly going to give it a go. I made a big adjustment to the dressing as it had vinegars I don’t keep in my cupboard and loads of sugar. I kept it more simple and I thought it tasted refreshing.

For 4 people:

450g strawberries – use ripe but firm ones that are sweet
250g good quality cherry tomatoes – one of those specialist ones with great flavour
A handful of fresh mint
1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon caster sugar

Wash, dry and hull the strawberries and cut them in half. Put them in a serving bowl.
Wash, dry and halve the cherry tomatoes and add to the bowl.

Pour over the balsamic vinegar – white will not discolour the fruit – and sprinkle over the sugar. Stir gently to combine.

Remove the mint leaves and tear them into pieces and add to the salad.

Confession Session – 3 June 2015

It is already June which means that the summer holidays are over the next hill or two and the magazines and health columns are full of advice and warnings about getting your body ready for the beach. I have never paid the slightest heed to this tosh which only encourage women (mostly) to feel bad about themselves, and I certainly don’t aim to start paying attention now. Aside from anything else, I am so many years past my bikini days that I can hardly remember the pain of all-over sunburn. Nowadays I go to the beach sparingly – two weeks a year usually – and if truth be told, if I didn’t have kids I possibly wouldn’t go at all. I sit under an umbrella with a large hat and UV50 top and hardly go in the sun at all. So I don’t really need to be worrying about whether my body is ready for the beach – whatever that means.

What it being June does mean is a moment to reflect on the year so far and I certainly have little to be proud of in the keeping healthy department. In fact, I have lost control of my good habits and this week seems an apt time to give them a bit of a shake-up. Perhaps you find yourself in the same place and want to shake up too.

A quick review on what should be happening to lower cholesterol:

1. 30 minutes of aerobic exercise 5 times a week ie 150 minutes per week.
2. Healthy eating – 5 fruit and veg a day, a handful of almonds, lots of pulses, oily fish twice a week
3. Keeping the weight down

I don’t know how you are scoring on these three points but I will reveal that I am not doing well. I am walking still but not 5 times a week, that’s for sure. Laziness has settled in nicely and although I now go to Pilates most weeks that is non-aerobic so doesn’t count.

As for healthy eating, I am eating many handfuls of almonds a day which is only helping my weight increase. I am eating all manner of sweet goods – much more in the house at the moment because of the exams my teenager is writing (at least that is my excuse). As many people find once they start on the sugary foods, it just creates a craving for more and I have certainly fallen victim to this the past months. I won’t tell you just how bad it has become but let’s just say that hardly a day goes by without some cake/biscuit combo on my plate.

It goes without saying that my weight is now heading in the wrong direction altogether. No doubt my cholesterol level is heading north too.

So, if you find yourself in a similar situation, join me in resolving to spend the next two months mending ways and, by August, being in a better position to face the eat-a-thon that I love to enjoy on the summer holiday. Yes I know that come September the good work has been undone but that is life if you are not one of those people with steely determination.

Right, having confessed all, it is time to put some action into the words. Join me if you need to.