Monthly Archives: November 2015

Partridge Breast with Pan-fried Pear and Walnut Pesto

Partridge Breast with Pan-fried Pear and Walnut Pesto From The Healthy Heart

This time of year is wonderful for lovers of game. Luckily I am a great enthusiast of these low fat birds. Small they may be, yet they have a wonderful depth of flavour. I usually buy whole partridges for the pot, but this week I came across packs of partridge breasts in my supermarket. I think that autumnal fruits and flavours go well with this bird and so I have used pear and walnuts and a side order of roasted beetroot and butternut. All in all this makes a very satisfying meal. If you want to add some carbs you can roast a few baby potatoes in olive or cook up a pot of wholemeal pasta and mix the walnut pesto into it.

For 4 people:
4 partridge breasts
4 pears
1 small jar walnut pesto
1 tablespoon olive oil
Black pepper
Balsamic vinegar – use the best quality you have
A few sprigs of oregano

Begin with preparing the pears. Slice each pear into 6-8 thin slices. Place the pears in a heated non-stick pan. Keep an eye so that they don’t burn. When the one side is tinged with colour, turn over for a few minutes. You want each side to take on a caramel colour. Remove and set aside.

Wipe out the pan and add a tablespoon of olive oil. Heat and add the partridge breasts. Keeping the heat on high, sear the breasts for 1 minute on each side. Then turn down to heat and cook more gently for a further 5 minutes, turning to cook equally on both sides. Add a splash or two of good quality balsamic vinegar to the pan and swirl around so that the meat gets a slick of balsamic glaze. Finish with a grinding of black pepper.

Arrange the pear slices and partridge breast on plates and add a spoon of walnut pesto as well as a sprig of oregano or thyme if you prefer.

I like to eat this dish with a helping of roast root veg. You will need to make this in advance. Simply peel and chop a selection of beetroot, butternut, peppers, red onion and chestnut mushrooms. Place in a roasting dish, anoint with olive oil and cook at 200 C for an hour.

Can ham lower cholesterol?

Last week I was invited to an evening to celebrate the Iberian ham. Not quite the event for someone trying to lower cholesterol I thought as I approached the Good Housekeeping Institute where it was taking place. But I was in for a surprise, for Iberian ham turns out to have the sorts of fats that help to lower cholesterol rather than to push it in the wrong direction.

Of course, this superb-tasting product should be eaten in small quantities to prevent weight gain and salt overload – neither of which is good for the heart – but fortunately it packs such a flavour punch that a little goes a long way.

The evening had three wonderful components – top quality ham, the world’s most prestigious ham cutter, and a warm, engaging Spanish chef who demonstrated a couple of dishes for us which could easily be replicated at home.

Iberian ham is a controlled substance – so to speak – in that it is strictly monitored. Made from a special breed of pig with distinctive black trotters, the animals are raised on the pastures of Southern and Western regions of Spain. Known as the Dehesa, these pastures are filled with cork trees and the pigs roam freely, eating the acorns that fall from the trees. The meat is cured for several years, developing a deep red colour and beautiful marbling of fat. Due to the pigs’ diet of acorns, the meat has polyphenols (micronutrients) which contain antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties which help prevent cardio-vascular disease.

Doing a bit of research I discovered that the fat of these particular pigs contains over 55% oleic acid (a mono-unsaturated fatty acid). Only olive oil has a higher level. This fat is beneficial for those lowering cholesterol as it increases the HDL (the so-called good cholesterol) and reduces LDL (the bad stuff).

When these pigs are fattened on a diet of acorns the proportion of unsaturated fat is over 75% so that makes it healthier than many other animal fats. This results from a combination of the particular DNA structure of this breed of pig coupled with their diet of grasses and acorns.

It is said that aficionados of Iberian ham can taste the difference in the meat depending on who has carved it. I was sceptical of this claim along with the one that meat cut from different areas of the ham has unique flavours. How wrong I was.

At the ham event co-hosted by the Interprofessional Iberian Pig Association, guests gathered around to watch the wonderfully flamboyant and world renowned carver, Florencio Sanchidrián, apply his skill with an array of knives. His love for the large jamón he carved was palpable. While a guitarist played flamenco tunes, he spoke of jamón Ibérico as a lover that seduces him and insisted that it has aphrodisiac qualities. Perhaps for him it does. For the rest of us it had our mouths watering.

When he asked for volunteers to do a tasting my hand shot up. We tasted four different cuts and I was intrigued and delighted to discover that each did in fact have a distinct flavour. The first was intensely deep almost like a rich Rioja, the next was more mellow and caramel-like. Then there was one that tasted of walnuts. I would not have believed that they were all cut from the same ham had I not been standing right in front of the carver. So close in fact, that I ended up eating a slice of ham wrapped around the end of his long carving knife. Seductive indeed. Enough said!

After this extraordinary display we were treated to a cookery demonstration by Omar Allibhoy who has opened four Tapas Revolution restaurants in London. He is a delightful man, approachable, friendly and filled with enthusiasm for his craft. He whipped up a pea and jamón soup in minutes – ‘the sort of thing I cook at home,’ he quipped. ‘Can I come round?’ I wanted to ask. I will just have to make a reservation at the restaurant.

Thinking ahead to the Xmas season I will certainly be making the soup and a few canapes with Iberian ham. Knowing it is doing my heart good will fill me with festive cheer.

If you would like to see some photos of this event, take a look at my blog on Kitchen Journeys

Rice Noodle Chicken and Prawn Stirfry with Lemongrass, Stem Ginger and Chilli

Rice Noodle Chicken and Prawn Stirfry with Lemongrass, Stem Ginger and Chilli

Oh what a joyful mouthful this dish offers. It has a lovely contrast of textures from silky noodles to crunchy nuts, and so much flavour from lemongrass, chilli, spring onion, ginger, lime and coriander. Get out your wok! Lowering cholesterol never tasted this good.

You can make this into a vegetarian dish by omitting the chicken and prawns (and fish sauce) and using tofu instead.

For four people:

1 tablespoon Rapeseed oil
2 chicken breasts, sliced
1 red chilli, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 lemongrass stalks, peeled and thinly sliced
6 spring onions, sliced
½ ball stem ginger
4 sachets of straight to wok rice noodles
50g almonds, finely chopped
¼ savoy cabbage, shredded
1 courgette, julienned
A good glug of Fish sauce
A good glug of Tamari sauce – Clearspring do a gluten free version if you are avoiding wheat
150g peeled and cooked prawns
A small bunch of coriander, roughly chopped
1 lime, cut into quarters

It might seem that there are many ingredients and stages to this dish but if you do your prep in advance it all comes together. Stir frying is only stressful if you are still trying to chop your ingredients when you are trying to cook.

I like to start by chopping my nuts and giving them a brief toasting in a dry pan so that they take on some colour but do not burn. Set aside.

Heat the rapeseed oil in your wok. When it is hot add the chicken strips and keep moving them around until they take on some colour and are cooked through (no pink inside). At this point you can remove them from the wok.

Now add the chilli, garlic, lemongrass, spring onion and stem ginger. Stir briefly to release fabulous aromas – a minute or two.

Add the savoy cabbage and courgette and continue cooking for another couple of minutes.

Add the fish sauce and tamari (or soy sauce if your prefer) and stir to combine.

Add the prawns to heat through as well as the cooked chicken strips.
Add the rice noodles to warm through.

Garnish with the toasted almonds, chopped coriander and lime wedges.
Serve immediately with green tea.

Wheat Free – 11 November 2015

I had lunch with a friend last week – omelette and salad in case you were wondering – and I was bemoaning my recent weight gain and the boring, soul destroying job of starting all over again. Starting again, too, to lower my cholesterol which does not respond well to non-stop pastry eating. Oh the fun things women discuss when they get together! Actually we did have a great talk about a range of subjects but one of these was our physical state. I am pleased to say that we each went away with a new resolution. She challenged me to give up wheat for three weeks and I returned the challenge with the suggestion that she try 30 minutes of exercise 5 times a week.

I think I got the easier challenge – at least it feels that way thus far. I am not quite sure why I am doing it though as I have never before signed up for any of these exclusion eating plans. A week in and all is fine although I did slip up inadvertently eating tempura prawns – I only thought about it afterwards that tempura batter is made with flour. Lunchtimes are a breeze as I can eat rye bread which I really do enjoy. I like those thinly sliced, dense dark ryes that are sold in packs in the supermarkets. They mostly hail from Germany and have a lot of flavour packed into a small slice.

As I hardly ever eat pasta I did not mind getting out my spiralizer and getting to work on making a large pile of courgette noodles to go with the mushroom, courgette and sundried tomato sauté that accompanied the wholemeal pasta the rest of the family ate last night. I do have to discipline myself not to pick on the leftover bread that seems to be a constant presence on the chopping board. Along with spoons of peanut butter straight out of the jar – there are few more tempting snacks and I have been tempted far, far too often recently.

When I announced that I could not eat a cheese toastie made on my son’s new Panini machine (lovely birthday gifts my foodie boys request) my son was incredulous about my having given up wheat. ‘It’s not Lent, mum’ he quipped. ‘That’s chocolate,’ responded my husband. Well, in fact I do believe that you can choose what to give up for Lent! And anyway my deprivation is my business.

So why have I done it? Well, for one thing I do like a challenge. Secondly, I hope to kick start a bit of weight loss which my friend assures me will happen – although she did acknowledge that the absence of all those other pesky wheaty goods like biscuits, cakes and pastries may make weight loss more likely. As keeping weight under control is an important part of lowering cholesterol, any reasonable method is worth a try at the moment. Lastly, it is always helpful to have someone set a challenge that they will follow up on. Like going to a weight loss club, the thought of reporting no effort seems a bit lame. We have agreed to text our progress and meet up again in three weeks. Then we can discuss our favourite topics again, including ourselves!