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Venison Ragu with Garlic Courgette Noodles

Venison Ragu with Garlic Courgette Noodles From The Healthy Heart

My favourite red meat is undoubtedly venison. To my mind it is the tastiest meat – being both gamey and full bodied – and is lower in fat too. Browsing the supermarket shelves this week in search of inspiration for a family supper, I came across packs of venison mince. A ragu I thought would tick the teenage hunger box while also providing me with a cholesterol lowering meal. Although I often make ragu with a base of onions, garlic, celery and carrot, I kept this one very simple – mainly because I was in a bit of a hurry and had no celery. The red wine gave it a lovely extra flavour but you can leave it out if you prefer and add some chicken stock instead.

Although this was good on a bed of wholemeal couscous or brown rice, I tried both these options, it was also delicious with courgette noodles. Having bought a spiralizer months ago I do try to remember to take it out on occasion and am always pleased with the results. I added garlic to the noodles as I sometimes find these a trifle bland.

For 4 people:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, finely sliced
500g venison mince
200g chestnut mushrooms, chopped
A couple of splashes of red wine, full bodied if possible
400g tin chopped tomatoes
100 – 200 ml water

For noodles:
3 – 4 large courgettes
1 clove garlic, crushed

Warm the olive oil in a large pan. Add the onions and sauté slowly for about 15 minutes until they have softened and taken on a bit of colour. Now add the garlic and continue to cook for 2 -3 minutes while it softens.

Turn up the heat and add the venison. You may need to break it up with a spoon or a spatula as mince tends to clump together. Brown the meat until there is no pink remaining. Add the chopped mushrooms and mix them into the meat and onion mixture. Cook until the mushrooms soften – about 10 minutes.

Add a couple of good splashes of full bodied red wine and allow to boil for a couple of minutes. If you prefer to omit the wine you can substitute some chicken stock.

Add the tinned tomatoes and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for a further 30 minutes adding a bit of water if it looks dry.

In the meantime, make your courgette noodles with your spiralizer. I like to use the thinnest blade for courgette noodles. To cook the noodles, bring a pot of water to the boil and then add a crushed clove of garlic to the water. This will give the noodles some added flavour as they can be on the bland side. Drop in the courgette noodles and simply heat them in the water until they take on a dark green colour – a couple of minutes should do the trick. Drain and serve.

The Spring Clean Revolution

I have never given spring cleaning much attention to be honest. In fact I don’t clean much at all. I leave most of that up to my husband. So imagine his scepticism when I returned home from an afternoon spent with the representatives from Bissell learning about what bugs are sharing my bed.

There is something visceral about seeing dust mites crawling about under a microscope to get even the laziest householder a little bit riled. Add to that my ongoing post nasal drip and I began to wonder if my health might be affected by my slovenly ways.

The minute my new Bissell ProHeat Revolution was delivered to my door, I set about putting it together (easy) and by the time my husband returned home I had steam cleaned the living room rug. Unfortunately I had already thrown out the hideously filthy water that was sucked up from said rug so that I could not prove how ineffective his simple hoovering of the rug had been over the years. It being a dark brown shade, the rug that is, it did not exactly show off its new clean status. So I got going on the cream sofa.

PH2X Revolution_POP_1858_915 0116

As I steam cleaned the sofa I tried to recall why we had concluded, years ago, that such a shade would be suitable with two young children. Now they are teenagers. We have washed the removable cushion covers many times but had never been able to clean the arm rests and all the other bits that could not be removed for washing. Once again, the colour of the water being sucked out of the cleaned sofa was rather concerning. At the end of it all the sofa looked so much happier and that nasty stain left by a tea cup had disappeared. Magic!

Not being one of those women who derives satisfaction from a sparkling house – to be honest I prefer getting on with my life than waste precious time deep cleaning – even I felt a spark of pride. My husband said ‘it won’t last.’

But it has. I steam cleaned the rugs in the children’s rooms. They commented on how much softer the rugs felt – in adult speak, the pile had been restored. Now I am gearing up to getting stuck into steam cleaning the fitted carpets. That is a big job so I am revving up for it. I now realise that having the equipment to make quick work of this is part of the solution.

I am the least techy person imaginable so any gadget has to be easy to understand and to use. The Bissell ProHeat Revolution is doing just what it says on the tin – revolutionising my attitude to deep cleaning.

Avocado, Smoked Salmon and Poached Egg on Sourdough

Avocado, Smoked Salmon and Poached Egg From The Healthy Heart

I woke up in the mood for brunch. It was the weekend after all. I had been sent a photo of a breakfast dish made by my niece and had it in mind for days. I happened to have the ingredients in the fridge. So it was a joy to plate it up in my kitchen and a fine meal it was too.

In addition to tasting really good, this dish is packed with good fats and the feelgood factor while lowering cholesterol.

Serve with a large pot of tea.

For 4 people:

2 ripe avocados, mashed
4 slices of smoked salmon
4 large eggs
4 thick slices of sourdough bread
Black Pepper

Begin by preparing the avocado. Mash lightly – add some freshly ground black pepper. I don’t think it calls for salt as the smoked salmon is salty but add some if you want to.

Cut four thick slices of sourdough and toast. Spread with the avocado and lay the smoked salmon on top.

Poach the eggs – I poach for a minute or two – remove with a slotted spoon and then drain on kitchen paper.

Pop an egg on top of each toast, avo and smoked salmon combo. Add a grinding of black pepper and eat.

Prawn and Mango Salad

Prawn and Mango Salad From The Healthy Heart

This is a very quick dish to put together for a light lunch. Usually I like to cook my own prawns but this time I used a punnet of ready cooked. If you prefer you can throw some raw prawns in a pan and cook them just until they turn pink. Then they are done. If you overcook them they lose their juiciness. I love the combination of mango and chilli as one gets a simultaneous hit of sweet and spicy, cool and hot. Add in the sour note of lime and the slight saltiness of the prawns and you have a perfect mouthful.

For 2 people as a main or 4 as a starter or part of a salad selection:

200g cooked prawns – I like to use the larger ones as they are meatier
Zest of ½ lime
¼ large red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
½ ripe mango, thinly sliced
4 chives, finely chopped

1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
Juice of ½ lime
Black pepper

Rinse the prawns if using a punnet of cooked prawns. Pat dry with kitchen towel.
Mix together the lime zest, chilli and chives.

Place the prawns and mango slices in a bowl and tip over the chilli mixture. Mix carefully together.
Mix together the dressing ingredients – adding a good grinding of black pepper – and mix in to the prawn and mango melange.

Place on a serving platter and serve.
I like to eat this with a slice of dark rye bread to bulk out the meal and to add an extra layer of flavour.

Going Nuts – 12 November 2014

The strangest thing happened this week. I had my morning tea and it tasted really strange. I checked the milk and it smelled fine. A few hours later I ate a banana and it tasted bitter. That was weird but I got on with my day. A handful of almonds tasted bitter with my afternoon snack. Dinner tasted awful. The next day was the same.

Some years ago I would have known I was pregnant, this particularly metallic taste being a very early announcement made by my body when I conceived my children. Being a woman of a certain age now, I knew that was the least likely possibility.

I began to wonder if I had been grinding my teeth thus causing my fillings to start ‘leaking’ into my mouth. I remembered that I was behind with my twice yearly dental appointment and made a mental note to sort it out. I wasn’t convinced that the problem was with my teeth.

By the third day I was hovering on the edge of feeling concerned. I made a large pot of vegetable soup to ward off the sudden arrival of wintery weather and to have a nutritious snack when the hungry teenagers came home in the pitch dark and rain. My bowl tasted ghastly although my sons assured me that theirs were ‘fine’.

I try to avoid googling physical symptoms because I am hypochondriachal in nature and don’t need any further confirmation of my worst fears. However, I was aware that strange taste experiences can result from a brain tumour. Even though I am easily frightened by such prospects, I reckoned that this bitter taste had come on rather too soon for such a diagnosis. Nevertheless I turned on my computer and sat down to read my future.

Searching ‘bitter taste in mouth’, I was treated to a long list of articles on Pine Mouth, a condition with all my symptoms that develops a couple of days after eating pine nuts from China. I remembered serving pine nuts as a garnish on a soup a couple of days before my taste buds turned against me. Although eight people had eaten the soup, I seemed to be the only one affected. Perhaps because I continued to eat leftover pine nuts the following day. I still had a few left in the original packet and when I checked the country of origin it was China.

I discovered a woman doing her PhD on Pine Nut Syndrome and emailed her. She kindly sent me a link to her completed research. This was handy when I told my incredulous men about my travails. Many people reported their problems following ingesting Chinese pine nuts. Some suffered for months, including chefs who thought their careers were over. I was lucky, my symptoms lasted a week. I sent an email to the upmarket supermarket where I bought the pine nuts but have received no response as yet.

When this condition first came to light some years ago most supermarkets denied any link to problematic pine nuts. My reading reveals that some years ago there was a very poor crop of pine nuts and supermarkets began to source in China. There are many types of pine nuts, not all suitable for human consumption and many of these were previously limited by the Chinese to the local market. More recently it seems that these nuts have found their way into the export market and are thought to be causing the problem – the species in question is called Pinus armandii.

Sadly, many people have a prolonged response and can end up under medical investigation for brain tumours, heart conditions, acid reflux and so on. Because getting Pine Mouth is so random and probably reasonably rare, and because the effects seem self-limiting, it is possibly not something GPs are familiar with.

I for one will no longer be buying pine nuts from China. I am tempted to eat the remaining pine nuts in my fridge just to see if I respond again but that seems foolhardy. Instead I will have to seek out Mediterranean ones which are, I understand, a long variety rather than the ones I ate which are roundish. I hope you do not encounter this problem but if you suddenly find everything tastes bitter, be assured you are not going nuts.

Multigrain Salad with Spinach, Chickpeas and Pomegranate

Multigrain Salad with Spinach, Chickpeas and Pomegranate

I made this salad for a weekend lunch along with baked salmon. I prepared a large quantity thinking that it would keep well for the following day. It proved to be so moreish that my three hungry men managed to polish off the entire platter. I suppose that is the sign of a successful dish even if one has to get back into the kitchen sooner than expected.

I adore grains of all types and this dish uses three kinds. It is fun to experiment so use what grains you have – more or less depending on your favourites.

For 4 – 6 people

The quantities of grain depend on the appetites of your diners. You should try to use equal quantities of each grain so that no one kind dominates.

Giant couscous
Puy lentils

200g baby spinach leaves, washed and dried
1 – 2 tins chickpeas, drained and rinsed
75g sunflower seeds, toasted in a dry pan
A couple of handfuls of sultanas
½ pomegranate, seeds removed
2 handfuls mint leaves
2 handfuls basil leaves

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoons lemon juice
1 clove garlic
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 dessertspoon sumac – I love sumac so I use loads, you may like a less lemony taste so add less first
Black pepper

Cook the couscous, quinoa and lentils separately as their cooking times differ. Be careful not to overcook as quinoa loses its lovely texture when overcooked (unless of course you are making quinoa porridge, which is another matter altogether).

When all are cooked place them all in a large mixing bowl and mix together gently.

Toast the sunflower seeds in a dry pan until they have taken on a bit of colour. Take care that they do not burn. Add to the mixing bowl.

Add the rinsed chickpeas, sultanas and pomegranate seeds.

Choose a serving platter and lay out a bed of spinach leaves. Now place the contents of the mixing bowl on top of the leaves and scatter the mint and basil leaves.

Finally mix the ingredients for the salad dressing and add. Toss gently.

Fig, Mozzarella and Parma Ham

Fig, Mozzarella and parma Ham

The figs in Sardinia were quite beautiful. Ripe, jammy, small enough to pop whole into your mouth and moreish beyond belief. The classic combination of sweet fig, milky mozzarella  and salty Parma ham is most successful when the ingredients are top notch. My boys voted this one of the best dishes they ate all holiday. Considering that it takes a minute to assemble, that is quite a result. This dish is not worth putting together unless your figs are really ripe. You can make it into a vegetarian dish by leaving out the ham and adding a few handfuls of rocket or salad leaves. Parma ham is not an ingredient for daily use, but one slice is ok as a treat. Remove the fat on the side of your slice.

For 4 people:

8 ripe figs, torn in half
2 balls low fat mozzarella
4 slices Parma ham
A handful of fresh basil leaves
Black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil – preferably a spray

Place the figs on a plate, drape the Parma ham over the figs. Tear the mozzarella into rough chunks and scatter about the figs and ham. Scatter over the basil leaves, roughly torn if large. Now give the whole dish a grinding of black pepper. Finish off with a few spritzes of olive oil.

Eat in the sun.

Roasted Pepper and Tomato Salad

Roasted Pepper and Tomato Salad From The Healthy Heart

Roasted peppers are reason alone for why I will never be a convert to the raw food movement. If the meltingly tender, sweet roast pepper is not an argument for cooking food, I don’t know what is. Yes, I am in love with roasted veg of almost any variety and peppers are my favourite. Usually I just bung them in a hot oven until the skins are charred, but this time I really pushed the boat out and cut them into chunks first! You can use almost any sort of tomato for this dish but I would recommend you try a plum cherry tom as it looks so cute and is intensely sweet when roasted.

This combination makes a lovely salad with some basil leaves and a spoon of very good quality olive oil, a slick of equally good balsamic vinegar and a grinding of black pepper. You could also serve it on some freshly cooked pasta for a fresh tasting and utterly delicious sauce.

For four people:

4 – 6 peppers, a mixture of red and orange looks really colourful
2 punnets of plum cherry tomatoes, halved
Fresh basil
Good quality extra virgin olive oil
Good quality balsamic vinegar (optional)
Black pepper

Heat your oven to 180 C/350 F.

The easiest way to remove the seeds from a pepper is to slice off the top (where the stalk is), reach in gently and pull out the whole seed pod. Then turn the open side of the pepper into the palm of your hand and tap the back of the pepper firmly. This will loosen and remove any remnant seeds.

Cut the peppers in quarters and lay out, skin side up, on an oven tray that has been lined with baking paper.

On a separate tray, also lined with baking paper, lay out the halved tomatoes, cut side up.

Put the trays in the hot oven and cook for about half an hour. That should be enough time for the pepper skins to be wrinkled and blackened in parts. Take the peppers out and lay a clean tea towel over the tray. You can turn the heat down and leave the tomatoes in for another half hour. You want them to dry out a bit.

Once the peppers are cool enough to handle, gently peel away the skins. The skin will come off easily if left to steam under the tea towel for a few minutes. If you leave them to go completely cold, however, the skins seem to cling to the flesh.

When all is done, lay out the peppers and tomatoes on a platter, scatter over some torn basil leaves, the olive oil and balsamic (if using) and finish off with a grinding of black pepper.

Close your eyes and you will find yourself in the Mediterranean!

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