Monthly Archives: March 2016

Roast Vegetable and Goat Cheese Tart

Roast Vegetable and Goat Cheese Tart From The Healthy Heart

I don’t think I have ever put a recipe with puff pastry on the blog before. This is because puff pastry is not good for cholesterol lowering purposes. So why now? Simply because I made it for dinner this week and it was so delicious that I just had to share it. Next time I will try it with phyllo pastry which has a lower fat content. I like to think that all the goodness from the vegetables counter balances the butter in the pastry – and after all, isn’t butter the new ‘good’ fat?

You may have some roast veg left over in which case put in the fridge and use the next day either reheated as a pasta sauce or as a side dish. It goes well with meat, fish or fowl. Often I eat cold roast veg mixed with lettuce leaves and a scoop of cottage cheese as a lunchtime salad.

Serve this tart with a large green salad for a tasty meal.

For 4 people:

1 roll of puff pastry – I use the kind that is already rolled rather than the block
3 – 4 beetroot, peeled and chopped into chunks
2 red onions, peeled and chopped into large wedges
3 courgettes, chopped into chunks
2 -3 peppers (a mix of red and yellow), seeded and chopped into chunks
1 large aubergine – chopped into chunks
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 log of goat cheese
A handful of basil leaves
Black pepper

Begin by roasting the vegetables. Heat the oven to 200 C.

Chop the vegetables into bite sized chunks and place in a roasting dish.

Crush the garlic and mix with the olive oil. Pour over the vegetables and place in oven to bake for about an hour. At this point the vegetables should all be soft to the point of a knife but not collapsed.

Roll out the puff pastry and place on a baking sheet. Cut thin strips off each end, score the pastry around the edges with a fork and then place the strips on top. You are making a border which will puff up and contain the vegetables as the tart bakes.

Heat the oven to 220 C .

Place the veg on the pastry. Then cut the log of goat cheese into rounds and place on top of the vegetables. Place in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes. Keep an eye so that it does not begin to burn.

As you are about to serve the tart, tear up a handful of basil leaves and scatter over the tart.  A grinding of black pepper will complete the dish.

Listen To Your Heart – 16 March 2016

Having recently celebrated International Women’s Day my thoughts have turned to women’s health. A story that caught my eye this week appeared in The Washington Post. It was alarming and a cautionary tale so I share it here.

Last January, a woman aged 46 woke in the early hours of the morning feeling unwell. Soon after she threw up. She got back into bed intending to try to get back to sleep. She felt very cold and threw up again. She assumed that she had one of those 24 hour stomach bugs. Fortunately her husband was awake. He was concerned about how clammy she felt and said he was taking her to the hospital. She thought he was over reacting. But he persisted as he thought she might be having a heart attack.

Hang on a minute – aren’t the symptoms of a heart attack pain in the chest? That was the symptom that her father-in-law had experienced when he suffered a fatal heart attack aged 64. But she was just 46 – fit, slim, a non-smoker, a healthy eater with normal cholesterol level and no family history of heart disease.

Probably most husbands would murmur a few reassuring comments like ‘you’ll feel better in the morning’ or ‘remember how much I vomited when I had that tummy bug?’ Her husband insisted they go to the hospital and got her to the front of the queue by saying that they thought she was having a heart attack.

The initial tests at the hospital were a bit abnormal but not suggestive of a heart attack. The tests were repeated shortly afterwards and suddenly the room filled with medical staff. It turned out that she was indeed in the early stages of a heart attack. Fortunately an interventional cardiologist was on duty and he operated immediately, literally stopping a major heart attack in its tracks by removing the blood clot and inserting two stents into her right coronary artery. What the surgeon had found was that her right artery was totally blocked while her central artery, called the LAD, was 70% blocked. Blockage of this artery causes sudden death and is known as the widow maker.

What would have happened had she gone back to sleep? She may never have woken up or, if she did survive, might have had serious damage to her heart.

Most women would probably say that they are more concerned about breast cancer than cardiovascular disease. Yet more women in the UK and the USA die of heart attacks than from breast cancer.

So let us all be warned. Heart attacks can and do happen to healthy women with normal cholesterol and healthy lifestyles. Women do not always have the classic symptoms of heart attack ie pain in the chest. Women are more likely to experience nausea or vomiting, pain in the back or the jaw, and shortness of breath. Because most of us don’t like to make a fuss and are used to plodding on even if we are not feeling so well, it can be difficult to make an assessment of when to call an ambulance or hasten to the hospital. Better safe than sorry seems to be the moral of this story.


Crab and Apple Salad

Crab and Apple Salad From The Healthy Heart

I love to eat out although it is usually not good for cholesterol lowering purposes. Sometimes I come across a dish that tastes good and inspires me to have a go at my own version at home. Recently I ate lunch at The Wallace – the restaurant in the Wallace Collection – and was delighted with a crab salad as a starter. I lost no time in making one for myself at home and, while no match for the chef at The Wallace, I enjoyed my version too.

One of the new tastes I discovered at the restaurant was cubed apples that had been soaked in cider vinegar. It was fabulous and paired so very well with the crab meat. As with all vinegar, use the best you can afford as cheap and nasty will taste just that and will ruin your dish.

If I was on a summer holiday at the seaside I would buy fresh crabs and spend a lazy afternoon winkling out the meat. However, in the city I buy fresh crab meat from a good supermarket and simply wish that  I really was on that summer holiday at the seaside!

For 4 people:

4 generous tablespoons of white crab meat
A small bunch of chives
1 lemon
4 handfuls of soft salad leaves
1 fennel bulb – reserve the fronds for decoration
1 ripe but firm avocado
2 granny smith apples
A few teaspoons of good quality cider vinegar
Black pepper
Begin by chopping the chives very finely. Add  to the crab meat along with some lemon juice. Taste a little to see if you have the balance to your liking. You may want to add a few more chives or a little extra lemon juice.

Peel and cube the apples and put in a small bowl. Pour over a few teaspoons of cider vinegar and toss the apple cubes gently so that they absorb the vinegar on all four sides.

Using a cheese slicer, shave the fennel into very thin slices.

Neatly cut the avocado into cubes a similar size to the apple cubes

Place a handful of salad leaves in the centre of four plates.

Using two tablespoons, shape the crab meat into a quenelle and place in the centre of the leaves.

Scatter the fennel shavings around the crab meat.

Space the apple and avocado cubes around the perimeter of the plate.

Finish off the dish with a squeeze of lemon juice and a grinding of black pepper.

Enjoy with a slice of rustic wholemeal bread – a pat of butter would be a wonderful addition but I leave that to your discretion regarding your cholesterol level.

Fat Confusion – 3 March 2016

I was talking to a friend about the controversy around fats that continues to confuse me and, no doubt, many other people attempting to lower their cholesterol. As if healthy eating is not itself enough of a long term challenge, the conflicting advice makes my head spin. Should we be eating saturated fats or not? Is cholesterol directly linked to cardio vascular disease or are sugar and inflammation the real culprit? Am I avoiding eating too much saturated fat for good reason or just feeling smug while believing incorrect science? Could I be eating ice cream rather than no fat yoghurt? So many questions and no way to really get to the bottom of it – at least I find it difficult.

One of the clearest and most useful articles I have read recently on the subject was published in January in The Observer. The Science of Healthy Eating was written by a science writer, Dara Mohammadi and a cardiologist, Dr Ali Khavandi.

The article began by debunking the health benefits of low fat foods pointing out that something has to replace the reduced fat content – that something is often extra sugar. I have written several times in the blog about the sugar content of low or no fat yoghurts and encourage you to have a look at the small print next time you are in the dairy section of the supermarket. It is an eye opener.

Addressing the debate about fats, the authors returned to the 1950s when saturated fats began to get bad press. Studies revealed that people eating a Mediterranean diet – high in olive oil (an unsaturated fat) had a lower risk of heart disease. When the food industry responded to these findings (around the 1970s) they replaced saturated fats (butter, for example) with trans fats. Trans fats were made from unsaturated fats that were transformed through the process of hydrogenation. This was good news for the food industry as trans fats could increase the shelf life of biscuits and cakes and processed foods. It seemed like a win-win situation – a healthier fat that could fatten the profits of the food industry.

The belief that trans fats were healthier because they were made from unsaturated fats had a rather different outcome than expected. During the 1980s and 1990s there was an escalation of cardiovascular disease. Not only were trans fats implicated in this increase but it was also found to increase risk of type 2 diabetes. You may have noticed that in the last few years supermarkets have been trumpeting the fact that they have reduced or eliminated trans fats from their products.

Now that trans fats were bad news, saturated fats have come back into fashion. Time magazine had butter on its front cover. Talk about reinventing the wheel.  Weren’t we all eating saturated fats back in the 1950s before we were rerouted by food scientists and the food industry?

Well, the authors of this article don’t believe that eating as much unsaturated fat as you desire is a good idea. They suggest that unsaturated fats (not trans fats made from unsaturated fats) are the way to go. In other words – olive oil, seeds and nuts, oily fish and avocados. Well, what a relief since that is what I have been eating and writing about for the past three years.

After addressing the debate about processed meat and what they term the ‘gluten-free con’ (only 1 % of the population has coeliac disease and will benefit from a gluten free diet yet 20 % of the population now buy gluten free products) – the authors move on to consider cholesterol. They stress the importance of understanding one’s lipid profile is an oversimplification. Do be aware of this when sitting with the GP who is reaching for the prescription pad with Statins written on it. Ask for a printout of your blood test result so that you can have a good look at the ratio.  Many of us have been able to increase  the levels of ‘good’ cholesterol and reduce the ‘bad’ cholesterol through changing eating habits and increasing exercise levels.

The authors dismiss concern about the cholesterol content of eggs and prawns as ‘almost irrelevant’ and focus instead on what you should be adding in to your diet. I was gratified to read that this includes oats, nuts and seeds and oily fish. I would add pulses to this list. Things to avoid are excess sugar and refined carbohydrates – so keep on eating wholemeal pasta and couscous, wholemeal bread, brown rice and the like.

It is not enough to eat healthily if you want to reduce cholesterol. Exercise has a key role to play as I tell myself every time I reluctantly put on my walking shoes.