Monthly Archives: July 2015

Elephant Garlic and Potato Frittata with Smoked Paprika

Elephant garlic and Potato Frittata with Smoked Paprika

Having recently visited The Garlic Farm on the Isle of Wight, my kitchen is full of new varieties of garlic. New to me, that is. A huge bulb of Elephant Garlic has been awaiting use and added a gorgeous flavour to a potato frittata. It was one of those Sunday lunch situations when there was not much in the fridge except for eggs (always) and quite a number of cold roast potatoes left over from the roast chicken the night before. That chicken, by the way, had inside its cavity a bulb of smoked garlic which suffused the meat with a lovely gentle, smoky garlic-ness. But I digress.

Elephant garlic is a revelation to me. The huge cloves are gentler in flavour than their smaller relatives. I simply sautéed them very slowly, sliced, in olive oil, added the potatoes, sliced, and then added both to a bowl of beaten eggs. Into a hot pan and briefly under the grill. The final flourish was a sprinkle of smoked paprika.
A green salad on the side was all that was needed for a simple and satisfying lunch.

For 4 people:

2 -3 cloves Elephant Garlic – of course you can substitute ordinary garlic or order online
3-4 cooked potatoes, sliced
Olive oil
8 large eggs – preferably organic
¼ cup milk
Sea salt
Smoked paprika

Slice the garlic thinly and sauté slowly in a little olive oil. Slice the potatoes and place on top of the garlic and continue to cook slowly until the potatoes colour a little.

Break the eggs into a mixing bowl and whisk. Add ¼ cup of milk and whisk to combine. Add a pinch of sea salt.

Heat a little olive oil in a pan that can be put under the grill – I use a stainless steel one – and add the egg mixture. Keep tipping the pan while gently lifting the edges of the frittata so that uncooked egg can run underneath. When the egg is nearly set, sprinkle the frittata with a teaspoon of smoked paprika. Place the pan under a hot grill to set and brown slightly.

Serve with a green salad and some wholemeal, crusty bread.

Summertime Living – 29 July 2015

August is almost here which for me means the summer holiday has just about arrived. Well, I have to get to it, the holiday that is, but that is just nit picking. In fact, the stresses involved in getting away for that long awaited two weeks in the sun sometimes feel too much. The final week of work is never easy especially when every loose end seems to need tying up. Why? Very few other people are actually going to receive my emails or letters as they too have probably gone fishing. Then there is the cleaning of the fridge and other parts of the household that will stand empty while I am away, not to mention the annual ironing of my summer wardrobe, most of which will have to remain at home in any case due to rather restricted baggage allowances.

We are off to Spain where it has been very hot, and I mean very hot. I don’t do heat well. Not at all. Today I received a welcome letter from the owner of our rental home which detailed all the usual bits of info like how to get lost driving from the airport following inadequate instructions while the children point out that they did suggest paying extra for the sat nav.

I read through the list – how to dispose of the garbage when we leave, never leaving food around the pool because it attracts furry creatures (I hope that means squirrels and nothing more frightening), and finally I read that we should not squash mosquitoes against the walls. Is there any other way to dispatch of a mosquito other than squashing it against oneself? Apparently there are mosquito nets above the beds. I am quite sure that I did not know this until now. I would never have booked a holiday that requires mosquito nets. Of course I dare not mention this at home as my son has just returned from several weeks in the Central American jungle where mosquitoes were the most friendly of all the flying creatures. I will get the rolled eye treatment if I dare to mention the European variety. Nor will I get any sympathy when I am positively wilting from the heat as down in the jungle it was a lot hotter with 100 % humidity. And my son was planting trees not lying on the beach with a book.

So I turn my thoughts to the food – all ideas of lowering cholesterol put on hold for this lovely fortnight. I imagine platters of tapas in the evenings while the BBQ is fired up to cook the fish bought in the market that morning. Lovely pastries for brunch, ice cream in the afternoons.

I will be taking a blog break for the next few weeks while enjoying a bit of relaxing time. I do hope that you have a relaxing and healthy summer whether on vacation or staycation. Enjoy !

Courgette Pasta with Garlic, Tomatoes and Basil

Courgette Pasta with Garlic, Tomatoes and Basil

What a thrilling time I am having in my kitchen this week. I finally gave in to my gadget envy and treated myself to a spiralizer. Not that I have space for another piece of equipment but all this was forgotten when I took my first mouthful of courgette pasta. I never managed to get excited about the cauliflower ‘rice’ fad, I like my carbs too much and although I am very fond of cauli there are far, far more delicious things to be done with it. Vegetable pasta is another thing altogether I find.

Courgettes are very much in season right now and friends who grow their own are always on the lookout for new ideas. Making these noodles takes minutes and once they have had a brief stirfry they are ready for action.
On a visit to The Garlic Farm on the Isle of Wight recently, I discovered that the health promoting property of garlic is most potent when eaten raw. So in the spirit of promoting health I suggest using raw garlic in this dish. If you find that too pungent, add some crushed garlic to the oil when preparing the noodles.

This dish makes a lovely lunch and does require that you use a spiralizer, officially known as a Spiralcutter. You could otherwise cut your courgettes into really fine julienne strips.

For 4 people:
4 medium courgettes – more if your guests are big eaters.
1 teaspoon olive oil
3 vine ripened tomatoes – neatly chopped into small cubes
1-2 garlic cloves – depending on your taste
A couple of handfuls of fresh basil leaves
Parmesan cheese
Black pepper
Good quality extra virgin olive oil

Make your courgette noodles according to instructions of the spiralizer.

Gently heat the olive oil in a large pan or wok and stirfry the noodles briefly. I like mine crunchy so a minute or two is good for me.

Chop the tomatoes and mix with the garlic which should be very finely chopped.

Add the tomatoes and garlic to the noodles along with the basil leaves which you can chop or tear. Add a few shavings of parmesan cheese and finish with a good grinding of black pepper. The cherry on the top would be a drizzle of good quality extra virgin olive oil which would add a grassy and peppery note.

Too Much Sugar – 22 July 2015

This week there has been a lot of reporting on reducing our sugar intake. In fact, government is now making noises about reducing our daily intake to 5% of daily calories which is about half of the current daily average. I don’t know about you, but I have to admit that my eyes tend to glaze over when health news is filled (as it usually is) with too many figures that don’t mean anything, to me at least. So it was very helpful to read that we should not be consuming more than 7 teaspoons of sugar a day (less for children). A can of Coke or Pepsi apparently contains about 9 teaspoons of sugar and some supermarket colas contain more. Now here is something I can understand. If the sugar intake for a whole day should not exceed 7 teaspoons, then clearly just one can of fizzy stuff is already over the limit. When I told my son this news, he pointed out that if he has a Coke then he shouldn’t be eating any other sugar for the next day and a half.

The problem with this guideline, of course, is how to implement the advice. We might need to be living on a desert island in order to keep our sugar intake low enough. I am someone without much of a sweet tooth, yet even so each day involves sugar intake that I don’t necessarily want. Yesterday I ate a croissant and jam for breakfast – loads of extra sugars there – and would have really overstepped the sugar mark had I also eaten the rather delicious pain au chocolat my husband had bought at the newly opened bakery on our high street.

The question arises as to whose responsibility it is that so much sugar is added to the food we eat. At first I think it must surely be our own responsibility – no-one is holding a gun to our heads and telling us what to eat. Home cooking is obviously going to be healthier than eating processed foods. But living in the real world, not everyone has time to bake their own bread, cook every meal from scratch and install themselves in the role of sugar police. What responsibility do the government and the food industry have? Huge. Yet the politics of this uneasy relationship is affecting our health. The food industry does not want to lose profit by putting items on shelves that people don’t want to buy because it tastes different. The government is reluctant to enforce such change for political reasons – the food industry is a very powerful force. Yet the tobacco industry has been taken on, there have been some reductions in the salt content of foods, trans fats have been removed from supermarket foods. Change can happen.

I think the change really needs to come from a partnership, making it possible for people to adapt. Our tastes can evolve. Just a few weeks ago I was discussing how over sweet is the French-brand jam I have been feeding my family for years. A friend suggested I try a brand only available in health shops. She kindly followed up this advice by giving me three jars of the jam she recommended. The taste difference is striking. The jam tastes of fruit and is tart rather than overly sweet. My son said he preferred the old variety – that is natural as he has been eating it all his life. However, I am resolved to continue to buy the new product and in no time tastes in the family will adjust. Now that we have the new jam, the family eats less sugar at breakfast. Imagine how may more small but significant changes there could be throughout the day if the foods available to us contained less sugar.

Venison and Avocado Burger

Venison and Avocado Burger From The Healthy Heart

Summer is not always an easy time for those trying to lower cholesterol. All those BBQs with sizzling steaks, chops and sausages. There is only so much salmon on the grill that I can eat as an alternative. Sometimes I just want to break free as Freddie Mercury once sang. Yes, there are times when only red meat will do. This doesn’t mean that the whole cholesterol watch programme has to be abandoned, however. Venison is a good choice for a very tasty alternative, a lot lower in fat. While I usually have venison in steak form, this weekend the family wanted burgers so I popped a batch of venison burgers on my trusty griddle pan and we ate lunch while watching the Wimbledon men’s final.

Of course one can make one’s own burger patties using venison mince, but sometimes the chef deserves a break too and on these occasions I let my supermarket do the work.

In order to pep them up I opened a bottle of Jalapeno sauce. You could equally use a few spoons of an interesting chutney.

For 4 burgers:

4 venison burgers
1 teaspoon olive oil
4 ciabatta rolls or wholemeal rolls, halved
A few handfuls of mixed salad leaves
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
2 ripe avocados, halved and each half sliced into 4
A full flavoured relish

Get your griddle pan really hot. Add ½ teaspoon olive oil – I like to just wipe it round the pan with a bit of kitchen towel.
Add the venison patties and cook on a high heat for 15 minutes, turning half way through. Make sure there is no pink meat left after cooking.
Set aside to keep warm for a minute while you add the ciabatta rolls to the griddle pan just to get those charred stripes and to toast slightly.

Assemble the burgers – ciabatta, salad, a few slices of red onion, venison, avocado slices and finally a drizzle of sauce or relish.

Now let’s just hope the sun keeps shining.

Summertime and the eating ain’t easy – 15 July 2015

Recently we have had a decent stretch of really good summer weather. We even had a one day heatwave. While this has all been good news for those of us with summer dresses that rarely get an outing, it is not always so easy on the eating front. Yes, it is a great time of year for preparing salads and lighter foods. But it is also a time when strawberries and cream beckon, BBQs are fired up and the enticing aroma of meat wafts across the neighbourhood.

It reminds me of a particularly warm summer, years ago, when we seemed to be barbecuing constantly. That might have been the summer we had our kitchen done. As we were staying at home without a kitchen, we practically lived outdoors. The only running water we had was an outside tap and we washed our dishes in cold water in a bowl in the garden. It was as makeshift as a kitchen could get. It was all a bit Robinson Crusoe but the kids were young then and no one minded spending every mealtime on the lawn. There was the odd day when it rained and we sat indoors without electricity, lighting candles when it grew dark. These were the days of innocence before our kids were glued to their laptops and phones and, to be honest, before I was too.

The moral of my misty-eyed reminiscing is that by the end of the summer of barbecued meat eating, my cholesterol level had leapt up and I received my first raised cholesterol result. Since that summer I have never again been able to indulge my enjoyment of a pink lamb chop or three. Not to mention a platter of meaty sausages, corn on the cob with chilli butter, potato salad with lashings of mayonnaise – you get the picture.

The other challenge of the summer is, of course, the summer holiday. I once managed an entire holiday abroad without so much as a slice of paté or an oozing cheese, no meat, no ice cream – I was a complete zealot. I felt proud of eating tomato on rye sandwiches while the family tucked into the beach picnic I had prepared where fabulous breads overflowed with ham, cheese and other full fat delights. I no longer have that sort of resolve and so I tend to abandon the low fat regimen for a couple of weeks while I am away. No, it is not ideal but then what is?

Samphire with Preserved Lemon

Samphire with preserved lemon

I get so excited when my fishmonger displays crates of samphire. As the season is not long, I make as much use of it as possible, usually serving it up alongside fish. It has a distinctive taste and I really encourage you to try some if you have not done so in the past. It is sometimes known as sea asparagus.

I think that samphire needs almost no preparation. In fact I like to just give it a good soak – it can be salty otherwise – and then just a very light steaming. It is delicious alongside oily fish like salmon which is so good for lowering cholesterol. It also goes well with white fish.

In order to ring the changes I thought I would add an extra note of flavour by chopping up some preserved lemon and adding this to the samphire. It was lovely, refreshing and an excellent foil to the fish which I served with sumac, to further the lemony theme.

For 4 people:
A few handfuls of samphire
1 -2 preserved lemons, pulp removed
A teaspoon of good quality extra virgin olive oil

Leave the samphire to soak for ½ hour in a large bowl of cold water. Drain.

Steam the samphire for a couple of minutes – it will turn a deep green.

Chop the peel of the preserved lemons and add to the steamed samphire.
Stir in a teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil. It is worth using a really good quality oil here.

I served this alongside fillets of cod which were baked at 180 C for about 20 minutes. Before baking I sprinkled the fish with sumac and placed a slice of lemon on each fillet.

Seeing Red – 8 July 2015

Over the years I have written many times about the effects of statins. This week I read about a research study which really took the biscuit. Actually, I had already finished scoffing the biscuits, but you know what I mean. It has been reported that statins may be making women angrier while making men calmer.

I had to read it a few times. The research was conducted at San Diego University and had 1 000 subjects – men and post-menopausal women. Two statins were used in the research project – simvastatin and pravastatin.

The participants were divided into two groups – one group was given statins and the other a placebo. Levels of aggression were measured weekly – this involved aggressive acts towards others, self or objects. After 6 months it was found that the women taking the statins displayed significantly higher levels of aggression whereas the men showed less.

Women who had most difficulty falling asleep were the ones who displayed the highest levels of aggression. As someone who suffers with bouts of insomnia, I can quite imagine that if my levels of snappiness were measured during one of my sleep deprived periods, I too would be considered to be more aggressive. Yet another reason, I find, to resist statins. As I have previously written, the efficacy of statins for women who have never had a heart attack or stroke is considered controversial. Now we have mood disturbance to take into account on top of questionable effectiveness.

The fact that men tend to become calmer on statins is related to the drop in their level of testosterone. Two years ago I wrote about the fact that some statins lower men’s testosterone level which could result in erectile dysfunction.

Since blocked arteries can also result in erectile dysfunction – due to decreased blood flow – it seems that men with raised cholesterol may be stuck between a rock and a hard place – not the best description perhaps. If they don’t take statins, their raised cholesterol may result in a drop off of sexual function, while if they do take some statins they may also experience a loss of sexual function. While the statins may be making men calmer, I would imagine that negative effects to sexual function might well get some men rather aggravated.

Some statins have in past research been associated with sleep disturbance and a drop in testosterone. Now we read that women not sleeping are angry, men are calmer but less sexually charged – doesn’t sound like happy families. Some researchers are now questioning whether statins may affect levels of serotonin in the brain.

Considering the huge numbers of people who are put onto statins, these behavioural issues need to be taken into consideration. It you are put on a statin and notice an unusual change in mood, this should be discussed with your doctor. Calmly, if possible!

White and Green Asparagus with Bottarga

White and Green Asparagus with Bottarga

In the UK we seem to eat mainly green asparagus but on the Continent white asparagus reign supreme. I was lucky to receive a generous bundle of white asparagus from a friend this week who returned from abroad. These are the last of the season. I set about cooking them in the simplest way possible. The first batch were boiled and served very simply with a lemon butter sauce. Tasty but not great for cholesterol lowering purposes. So the second batch got a lower fat topping. Since I had green asparagus in the fridge I thought I would mix up the colours and the textures and the tastes. I boiled the white and griddled the green. I then finished the white ones on the griddle.

In the back of my grocery cupboard I found a small jar of bottarga from a trip to Sardinia two summers back. Bottarga is an Italian, cured fish roe. In restaurants it is served thinly sliced – it has a salty fishy taste. It is also shaved or grated over a variety of dishes – my favourite was a huge bowl of homemade pasta with shellfish and a generous grating of bottarga. Divine.

I thought it would ring the changes with asparagus and so it did – just adding a salty flavour that one can’t quite identify if you don’t know what it is. If you don’t have bottarga hanging about in the cupboard, just leave it out and perhaps add a few chopped capers to the chopped egg topping.

For 4 people:

A mix of white and green asparagus – about 4-6 in total per person for a starter
1 -2 eggs, hard boiled for 10 minutes, peeled and chopped
Grated bottarga – or, alternatively a teaspoon of capers, rinsed and chopped

Bring a large pot of water to the boil and boil the white asparagus for 10 minutes. You need to test them to see how well cooked they are as their thickness varies. I like mine to retain a bit of bite so I tend to cook them less than some others may prefer. Drain carefully and set aside.

If the green asparagus are slender you can put them straight onto a hot griddle pan. Keep turning until they are cooked and have taken on some colour. If they are thick, you can blanch them for a couple of minutes in the boiling water before putting them on the griddle pan.

Before serving, give the white asparagus a whirl on the hot griddle pan to take on a bit of colour.

Lay the asparagus out on plates, sprinkle over the chopped egg and a teaspoon of bottarga or capers.

Slowing Down – 1 July 2015

This week I want to talk about exercise. No, I won’t be explaining why I have not taken one step over the past two weeks – ok, it is because I have had a really awful cold, now receding thank goodness. I put it down to post-GCSE stress, mine of course, not the student who wrote the endless stream of exams. But I have also been completely pre-occupied by getting my son ready to spread his wings and take his first long-haul trip parent-free. This has resulted in many a sleepless night for me and very little energy for exercise. Of course, I plan to cope with the missing person in my life by exercising every day while he is away. By the time he returns, I should be ready to climb Snowdonia if I was so inclined.

However, none of this is relevant to my topic for the day which is about the dangers of overdoing exercise. Research conducted in Copenhagen and published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, has reported that jogging can be dangerous for the heart if it is overdone. Having not been for a jog for at least 30 years, I see no danger in this for myself. However, I thought others might like to know about this.

Apparently, running at a measured pace of 5 miles per hour (2 to 3 times a week) is considered optimal whereas running at the faster pace of 7 miles per hour can have negative effects of your life expectancy – you are 9 times more likely to die prematurely in the next 12 years to be exact. More alarming is that those who run so fast have as much chance of premature death as those who do no exercise at all. That hardly seems fair, does it?

These findings – 1 098 healthy joggers were followed up over 12 years and compared to 413 healthy but sedentary people – are concerning for the many people who seem somewhat addicted to exercise. Although it may seem healthy to do more and more, this does not mean that our bodies need or thrive on it.

Yes, this is a small study but it is worth bearing in mind that altered heart rhythm has been reported in mice that were subject to strenuous exercise. Running has other negative effects on the hips, feet and knees. Yet it is increasingly popular, with figures for marathon participation increasing year on year. I wonder why marathons have become so mainstream? If the scientific community think that excessive jogging is bad for our health, how has this craze for really pushing oneself caught on? I think perhaps it has become a vehicle for showing how one can overcome adversity or illness, a way of instilling discipline or even an excuse for getting away from family life while engaged in something ‘healthy.’ My husband ran one in his 20s, but if he decided to try one now I would think ‘mid-life crisis.’

Once again, the rather more sedate idea of brisk walking for 150 minutes a week seems to be the healthy way forward. Time to get the trainers back on. Hold on a minute – we are due for a heatwave this week. Any excuse will do.