Saturday, 30 March 2013

Brownies with a Secret!

There are lots of flavours that we know go really well together and compliment each other,  strawberries and cream, rhubarb and custard, egg and bacon, cheese and tomato, salt and pepper are just a few. There are others that may not sound so appealing at first but do actually work, such as carrot cake, iced tea, cold soup. Who would have thought a vegetable would work so well in a cake. So how about chocolate and mayonnaise?! This may sound unusual at first but it really does work. I found this recipe a few years ago for chocolate brownies. It still has the moist, chocolatey and chewy texture you associate with a brownie but contains less saturated fat and sugar. The recipe was created by Angela Nilsen for The Good Food Magazine. She experimented with many different combinations, prunes, bananas, and cocoa instead of chocolate but while they all lowered the fat content they didn't add the richness you expect from a chocolate brownie. In the end she found that the secret was to use mayonnaise. This meant she could cut out the butter and halve the fat. I think you'll agree that the end result does taste really good and not at all 'low fat'. When cooking with chocolate do choose a good quality dark chocolate that has 70-80% cocoa solids. It is full of antioxidants and has more of an intense flavour, so you do not need so much of it. I like Green and Blacks Organic Chocolate and there are lots of different flavours you can experiment with. 

Chocolate Brownies.

Makes 9


85g Dark Chocolate 70% cocoa solids chopped into small pieces
85g plain flour
25g cocoa powder
1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
100g castor sugar
50g light muscovado sugar
1/2 tsp coffee granules
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp buttermilk or natural yogurt
1 egg
100g mayonnaise (I use Hellmann's light)

Preheat oven to 180C/fan 160C/gas mark 4
Lightly oil and line the base of a square 15cm (6inch) cake tin
Fill a small pan one third full with boiling water. Bring back to the boil then remove from the heat. Put the chopped chocolate into a bowl that fits snugly over the pan. Stir occasionally until melted. (Alternatively you can melt chocolate in microwave but only do it for 20 second bursts at a time to avoid overheating and splitting the chocolate)
Combine the flour, cocoa and bicarbonate of soda
Stir both the sugars into the melted chocolate with the coffee, vanilla and buttermilk or natural yogurt
Stir in a tbsp of warm water
Break and beat in the egg
Stir in the mayonnaise until smooth and glossy
Sift over the flour and cocoa mix, then lightly fold in with a spatula
Pour into the pan and spread out evenly
Bake for 25-30 mins until a skewer comes out with just a few moist crumbs stuck to it. Do not overcook otherwise the mix will dry out
Leave in the pan until cool, then turn out on a wire rack to cool furthur. Cut into  9 squares

 Serve these to your family this weekend, just don't tell them the secret!

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Big Breakfast Makeover!

This week I am cooking breakfast for a group of men in our church. My husband meets to pray with them every Friday morning at 6 am for an hour before work. This week as it is Good Friday they are having breakfast together afterwards. Last year they went to a local Cafe for a traditional 'greasy spoon' fry up. This year my husband asked if I could cook them breakfast and a healthier alternative to the Greasy spoon. I really want to show them that a cooked breakfast can be a lot lower in calories and saturated fat but still include all the favourites and taste delicious. A traditional full English Breakfast usually consists of the following:

Fried eggs (107 calories, 8.3g of fat per egg) 
Fried back bacon (116 calories, 10.2g fat per rasher) 
Fried pork sausages (127 calories, 10g fat per sausage) 
Buttered toast (130 calories for a buttered slice) 
Cup of tea (27 calories per cup with a dash of semi skimmed milk) 

Then there are the extras
Baked beans (151 calories per half can) 
Tinned tomatoes (35 calories per half can) 
Fresh tomato (77 calories, fried) 
Black or white pudding (150 calories, fried) 

Mushrooms (69 calories, fried) 
Fried bread (231 calories, fried) 
Hash browns (140 calories each) 
Brown sauce (18 calories per tbsp) 
Tomato ketchup (15 calories per tbsp) 
Marmalade (49 calories per tbsp)

Its easy to see how the calories can add up and make the average full English 1400 calories and at least 40g of fat! It is a breakfast that dates back to the industrial revolution when workers needed a hearty breakfast to set them up for the day. It is still enjoyed by many today up and down the country. Whilst the traditional greasy soon is high in calories, fat and salt it is possible to achieve a healthier alternative at home that still tastes great. 

Instead of fried egg opt to poach or scramble it. Choose to grill the bacon, sausages and tomatoes. Use the grill in the oven, a George Foreman or a griddle pan. This way you will be cutting down a lot on saturated fat. Add a can of baked beans instead of the fried bread to increase the fibre content. Bake some large portobello mushrooms instead of fried mushrooms. Choose sausages that  are high in meat content (a minimum of 86% pork for example). Many supermarkets now do lower fat sausages which don't compromise on taste. This week I am going to be trying Waitrose's Pork and Venison sausages which are 93 calories each with 4.0g fat. 

Here is how my Healthier Take on the Full English looks

1 egg scrambled (80 calories)

1 grilled rasher of lean back bacon (72 calories)
1 grilled sausage (pork and venison 93 calories)
1 grilled tomato (30 calories)
1 grilled portobello mushroom (30 calories)
1/4 can of baked beans 100g (100 calories)

1 glass of orange juice 200ml (90 calories) .

Total 495 calories 

Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. It kick starts your metabolism and provides you with the energy you need to be alert and ready for the day ahead. It should be filling, wholesome and energising. The breakfast above is just that. Full of protein and low in fat and salt it provides you with 3 of your five a day and is also a great source of fibre. Why not give it a go this Easter weekend. 

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Don't Ditch the Carbs!

This morning as it was the weekend we all had breakfast together and enjoyed a bowl of porridge each. I combined it with blueberries, cinnamon and maple syrup and it was delicious. 

Recently I read an article in the Guardian about Gwyneth Paltrow where she was talking about feeding her children. She said that she avoided giving them pasta, bread and rice because they are not good for them. She also admitted that this is the same sort of diet she follows when she has been overindulging and wants to lose weight. According to the UK Food Standard Agency carbohydrates should make up a third of our diet. It is a shame that many people are choosing to exclude this from their diet especially if they are trying to lose weight. Carbohydrates are important energy foods. They also provide fibre, calcium, iron and B Vitamins. They fuel the body and children especially need a lot of energy dense foods since they are active and growing. Restricting carbohydrates can lead to low energy levels, fatigue, poor concentration and in severe cases ketosis. Instead of excluding them from your diet here are a few suggestions to incorporate them into your daily diet to maintain a healthy weight or aid weight loss. 

1) Think whole grains. Brown rice or pasta, wholemeal bread or wholegrain cereals. These are unprocessed grains. This means that they take longer for your body to digest them and energy is released more slowly into your bloodstream. This leaves you feeling fuller for longer. We should all be eating less refined carbohydrates such as cakes, biscuits and white pasta, white rice or white bread. They release energy more quickly into our body and can cause a sharp rise in blood sugar and then a slump. This can leave us unsatisfied and craving more foods. Switch white bread for wholemeal, biscuits for oatcakes, cornflakes for porridge and white pasta and rice for brown. Not only will you find your self more satisfied but you will also be increasing your intake of fibre.

2) Watch portion sizes. I like to weigh my portions of pasta or rice when cooking. It is hard to estimate how much you are putting into a saucepan and how much they expand when cooked. I find a good portion size is generally 75g of rice and 50-75 grams of pasta and couscous when served with meat/fish and vegetables. It should make up a quarter of your plate. The protein part of your meal (meat, fish or vegetarian alternatives such as tofu, pulses or eggs) should also make up a quarter, The veg should make up the other half. If you are trying to lose weight then you may want to have slightly less rice or pasta and more veg. However do not exclude them altogether as you will find you have less energy and may end up reaching for the unhealthy snacks because you are hungry. This could lead to you gaining more weight in the long run.

3) Pair carbohydrates with protein. Including protein with every meal has been shown to aid weight loss because it increases satiety levels. So for breakfast instead of just toast choose porridge with semi skimmed milk and a few flaked almonds. As a snack have a banana and a few walnuts or oatcakes with reduced cream cheese. For lunch choose a baked potato with tinned fish such as sardines or tuna or baked beans. 

4) Slim down the sauces. Often people think starchy foods are fattening. However gram for gram they contain fewer than half the calories of fat. Added fats during cooking increase the calorie content. Cheese sauce with pasta, butter and cheese on baked potato are not so healthy. Instead switch to more healthy options. Choose to serve pasta with a home made tomato sauce. If you pack it with lots of veg such as mushrooms, peppers, courgettes and/or aubergines you will find it a filling and healthy meal. When having a baked potato leave out the butter and instead of cheese choose baked beans or prawns with low fat mayo.   

Just because Gwyneth Paltrow looks great skinny people can be unhealthy too.  Its over the long term that our food choices add up and make sense or can cause us problems.  I much prefer to put the Five Star Fuel in my body.

Porridge Recipe
Serves 2

1 cup or 100g porridge oats. I like to use 75g rolled and 25g of jumbo oats
1 cup or 200ml semi skimmed milk
1 cup or 200ml of boiling water
1tbsp blueberries
1 tsp of cinnamon
2 teaspoons of maple syrup plus extra to serve

Put all the ingredients in a medium saucepan
Bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes until thickened
Serve with an extra drizzle of maple syrup and maybe a few flaked almonds

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Lets Go Bananas!

This week I have been baking with bananas. We eat a lot of bananas in our house. My husband has one in his lunchbox at work. I have one either with my breakfast (on Weetabix or homemade Bircher muesli) or at lunch time with natural yogurt and a few flaked almonds. Bananas are packed full of natural sugars, potassium and Vitamin B6 which makes them a great energy food and a good fruit for helping lower blood pressure. Sometimes I find I have a bit of a glut of them left at the end of the week that are past their best. So then I will either get baking or put them in the freezer to use at a later date. They freeze really well. The skin will go black and they will be very soft and mushy when defrosted but are perfect for banana cake or muffins. I have lots of banana cake recipes but two of my favourites are banana and dark chocolate muffins and banana and Nutella muffins. The bananas give a natural sweetness which means you use less sugar. Rather than butter they contain either sunflower oil or olive spread, making them healthier than standard muffins. Calorie content is about 200-250 kcals per muffin. 
Banana and Dark Chocolate Muffins. 
Makes 6

125g flour 
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
50g sugar
11/2 large bananas or 2 small to medium (the riper the better)
65ml of vegetable or sunflower oil
65g dark chocolate cut into chunks

Preheat oven to 200C/gas mark 6
Line a 6 hole muffin tin with muffin cases
Mash the bananas and set aside
Put the flour, baking powder, bicarb of soda and sugar in a large mixing bowl
Beat the oil and egg together in a jug. Add to the dry ingredients and mix
Stir in  the mashed bananas and dark chocolate
Spoon into the muffin cases
Cook for 20 minutes until risen and golden

Banana and Nutella Muffins
Makes 6-8 (I generally make 8 if I use 2 medium bananas)

150g self raising flour (or use plain and add 2 teaspoons of baking powder)
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
50g light brown soft sugar
25g porridge oats
2 small-medium ripe bananas or 1 large
150ml of buttermilk or natural yogurt
35g olive spread, melted
1 large egg beaten
Nutella hazelnut spread

Preheat oven to 180C/gas mark 4
Line a 12 hole muffin tray with 6-8 muffin cases
Mash the bananas and set aside
Place the flour, bicarbonate of soda, sugar and oats in a large bowl
Mix together the spread, eggs and buttermilk or natural yogurt
Add this to the dry ingredients and stir lightly
Add the bananas and give another light stir
Divide half the mixture between the muffin cases (about a dessert spoon of mixture in each case)
Then drop a teaspoon of Nutella into each one
Top with the remaining mixture
Bake for 20 minutes until risen and golden

Both these recipes are best eaten on the day of baking. They freeze well too.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Healthy Homemade Pizza

I did a bit of research into a Dominoes pizza and this is what I found. If you choose a large classic crust mighty meaty pizza, this has 10 slices and per portion it is 243 kcals with 9.7g of fat (4.4g sat fat) and 1.3g of salt. At first glance this doesn't seem too bad. However if you consumed half the pizza (5 slices) you would be consuming 1215 kcals, 48.5g fat, (22g sat fat) and 6.5g salt. For a woman this would mean that she is consuming more than the recommended daily amount of saturated fat (20g) and salt (5g), just in this pizza! What if you then include some of the extras? Dough balls for starter and maybe Ben and Jerrys ice cream for dessert. You could quite easily be consuming your total daily calorie allowance in just one meal. I worked it out to be 1576 kcals with 7.3g of salt and 30g saturated fat.  
I think a home made pizza can taste just as good and the calorie content is more like 300- 400 kcals for half the pizza (depending on your topping). It is lovely with sweet potato wedges and a salad or homemade coleslaw. To make a pizza from scratch I begin by making a flat bread dough mix. I always make a large quantity which is then divided up and the rest is frozen. This then makes it really easy the next few times you make pizza as all you have to is defrost the dough, leave to rise again for an hour or two and then use. This dough will make 8 flat breads or 4 pizzas. For the tomato sauce I like to use a small carton of passata. This is simmered for 5 minutes in a pan with a clove of crushed garlic and a pinch of sugar. You then season with black pepper and leave to cool. The secret to a crusty pizza is to get the oven as hot as possible 230C . I don't have a pizza stone but use a large granite tile. I picked this up from Topps Tiles for £5 and it works really well. Make sure you heat it up for 10-15 minutes in the oven before you assemble the pizza. Roll the dough out, then place on the hot tile spread with the sauce and then add the toppings. This is the fun part as you can be as creative as you like and your kids will love helping. Our favourite toppings are seafood and olives, olives and anchovies, beetroot and mozarella, or mushrooms and feta. The pizza will take about 7-10 minutes to cook.
So for Pizzas that taste great and are kind to the waistline, get your family to Rally round as this will knock the spots off Dominos !!

Pizza Dough

Makes 4 pizzas

250g plain white flour (or you can use half wholemeal)
250g strong white flour
1 1/2 level teaspoons of fine sea salt
1 teaspoon of easy blend (instant) dried yeast
1 tablespoon rapeseed or olive oil

Put the 2 flours in a bowl
Add the salt and yeast and mix well
Add the oil and 325ml warm water and mix to a rough dough
Tip out the dough onto a work surface and knead for 10-15 minutes
Do not be tempted to add more flour, it will become less sticky as you knead it.
Grease a clean bowl with a bit of oil. 
Place the dough in the bowl and cover with a damp tea towel or clingfilm.
Leave for at least an hour until doubled in size.
When ready to use, tip out and knock it back with your fingers, to deflate it.

While the dough is rising make the tomato sauce
Heat a teaspoon of olive oil in a pan and add 1 clove of crushed garlic
Fry for a minute
Add 150g passata and 1/2 teaspoon of sugar
Simmer for 5-7 minutes until thickened
Season to taste and then set aside to cool

Heat the oven to 230C
Place a pizza stone, granite tile or baking sheet in the oven and heat for 10-15 minutes
Roll out the dough as thinly as possible. Place onto lightly floured stone, tile or baking sheet
Spread with the tomato sauce
Decorate with the topping of your choice
Bake for 7-10 minutes

Tonight I made pizza for tea. I enjoy making it all from scratch, pizza dough, tomato sauce and then topping with whatever I have to hand. Tonight was olives and mozzarella. If you have never made pizza before it really is easier than you think and also much healthier than the shop bought ones or a takeaway.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

A Taste to Thai for !

This weekend my husband and I had a great date. An afternoon shopping together with time to enjoy a coffee and chat. We then had a  delicious meal at a Thai restaurant. I love Thai food. The fresh, aromatic flavours of lemon grass, kaffir lime, coriander and coconut really compliment each other. I find I enjoy the lighter, delicate flavours of a Thai curry much more so than an Indian curry. Thai food is also quick and easy to make with very little preparation. I started cooking Thai food about 8 years ago. My first recipe was actually a Delia Smith version of Thai Green Curry from her How to Cook Book 3.  A few years ago I did a 5 week evening class on Thai cookery at our local Adult Education Centre. The Lady who ran it used to be Head Waitress at one of our local Thai restaurants and was excellent. It was really great fun, a good way of trying some different recipes and also picking up lots of tips on authentic Thai cookery and ingredients. If you haven't tried cooking Thai before I would really recommend you give it a go. You can create a very tasty supper in about 20 minutes including the preparation. You can pick up most of the ingredients you need in the supermarket but I would suggest you go to a local Asian store, if you have one nearby. They sell the authentic Thai green or red curry paste which is also much better value than the smaller brand ones you find in the supermarket. You will also be able to find large bottles of Thai fish sauce, oyster sauce and soy sauce which will again be good value. I tend to use the lighter coconut milk as it has half the fat of the regular coconut milk which is healthier. It is obviously a bit more watery but I find that once it is added to the rest of the ingredients you don't really notice. It tastes just as good. A Thai green curry is nice with steamed jasmine rice (or I will often use basmati rice). For an extra special meal you may want to serve it with egg fried. The recipe below was one we learnt on the course. It tastes very good and is probably much healthier than the takeaway version as it uses less oil. It could be a complete meal in itself if you added some cooked tiger prawns at the end or if you are vegetarian you could always add some chopped steamed veg or stir-fried peppers and mushrooms. 

Thai Green Curry.

Serves 4

3-4 chicken breasts sliced
1 tbsp cooking oil
400ml coconut milk
1 tbsp thai green curry paste
3 kaffir lime leaves
200g bamboo shoots sliced
1 small aubergine or 3-4 baby aubergines cut into chunks
2 tbsp frozen peas
2 tbsp thai fish sauce
1 tsp sugar
10-12 fresh basil leaves

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan 
Stir in the Thai green curry paste and add the sliced chicken fillets
Cook the chicken until browned
Add the coconut milk and bring to the boil
Add the fish sauce, sugar, bamboo shoots, aubergines, kaffir leaves and peas and simmer for 10-12 minutes
Add the basil and heat for another minute
Serve with rice

Egg fried rice

Serves 4

1 tbsp vegetable oil 
4 cloves garlic crushed
2 eggs beaten 
300g cooked long grain or basmati rice
1 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp oyster sauce
1 pinch of ground white pepper
2 tbsps frozen peas
2 tbsps finely chopped onions
2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander leaves

Heat a wok (or frying pan) on a medium heat and add the oil
Stir in the crushed garlic until fragrent, add the beaten eggs and scramble until cooked
Add the chopped onions, cook until lightly brown
Add the rice, soy sauce, oyster sauce and white pepper. Continue to stir fry for 3 minutes
If you wish to, add 150g cooked peeled tiger prawns or some chopped vegetables to make this into a meal in itself.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Convenient, but not Junk!

I used to enjoy watching Ready Steady Cook on TV. Two chefs were presented with £5 worth of ingredients that were chosen by the contestant. They were then given 20 minutes to come up with some kind of gourmet meal. I was always amazed at what they created. Now lets be honest. How many of us ever made any of the dishes we saw them make?! Yet we would all love to have dinner on the table within 20 minutes of walking in the door from work wouldn't we. I am fortunate enough to be at home all day looking after our young son and doing the admin for our building business. I love cooking and make all our meals from scratch. I enjoy spending time looking through cookery books and planning our weeks menu. However, when choosing recipes I still consider how much time is involved in making a dish and whether the taste is worth the effort. Even though I love cooking I do like meals that taste fantastic but don't take 2 hours to make. Here are a few ideas that may help you in your meal planning.

1. Invest in a slow cooker. I have had one since we were married and wouldn't be without it now. It is great for casseroles, curries and stews. One of my favourites is beef and apricot stew. You can put the dish in the slow cooker in the morning and leave it cooking on low all day while you are out, You then come home to the delicious aroma of something yummy that just needs rice or potatoes and veg to serve with it.

2. Cook in bulk. If I am making a chilli, curry, soup or pasta sauce I will normally make double the portion so that there is either some for the next day or one that can be frozen. Then on a day when I am extra busy I can leave it to defrost and reheat. It is a bit like having a ready meal or takeaway but much more tasty and nutritious. I even make flat breads and pizza dough in a large quantity and divide into individual portions to be frozen.

3. Make use of tinned foods or convenience foods. I use tinned chickpeas quite a lot. They make great curry's. River Cottage Veg everyday has a great chickpea ketchup curry that takes 10 minutes to make and is great with flat bread. Recently I made a salmon pie, using tinned salmon and ready made puff pastry. It took 15 minutes to prepare and 20 minutes to cook.

4. Go oriental. Thai food is one of my favourite meals and recently I have also started getting into Japanese cookery. The good thing about most of the recipes is that they can be cooked in about 15 minutes. This is probably quicker than heating the oven up and putting a ready meal in. Thai green curry needs very little preparation as the ingredients are generally thai curry paste, chicken breast, coconut milk, thai fish sauce and sugar. Teriyaki tuna or beef is another favourite. It only takes 10 minutes to cook with very little preparation.  

Salmon and Spinach Pie.

Serves 4

100g mushrooms sliced
6 spring onions sliced
418g tin salmon, drained and cut into chunks (or you can use two 213g tins)
zest of a lemon
250g ricotta
100g baby spinach or 100g watercress
100g frozen peas
320g sheet of reduced-fat puff pastry, thawed if frozen

Preheat the oven to 210C/fan190/Gas7
Heat a tsp of sunflower oil in a non stick frying pan and fry the mushrooms for 3-4 mins until softened
Add the spring onions and fry for another minute
Add the tinned salmon, spinach or watercress and peas
Warm through
Take the pan off the heat and stir in the lemon zest and ricotta
Season with black pepper
Spoon into a large oven proof dish
Lay the pastry lid on top. You may need to cut it into a round for a circular dish or I found I could just scrunch it to fit 
Seal the edges and cut a slit in the centre (this stops the pastry going soggy)
Brush with a little milk or oil
Cook in the oven for 20-25 minutes until golden and puffed and filling is hot

Chickpea Ketchup Curry

Serves 2

1 small onion, thinly sliced
2cm of ginger, finely grated
Pinch of dried chilli flakes
1 garlic clove crushed
2 teaspoons of curry powder or paste
400g tin of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
5 tbsp tomato ketchup
Juice of 1/2 lemon
salt and freshly ground black pepper
A handful of coriander to finish

Heat a teaspoon of oil in a frying pan over a medium heat  
Add the onion and sweat over a low heat for 5-10 mins
Stir in the garlic, ginger, chilli flakes and curry powder or paste
Fry for a minute or two
Add the chickpeas, tomato ketchup and a few tablespoons of water to loosen to a thick sauce consistency. Simmer gently for 5 minutes
Check thickness and add a bit more water if required 
Season to taste with salt and black pepper 
Scatter with chopped coriander
I like to serve this with home made flatbreads and stir fried greens