Tag Archives: healthy

Spring salad days

As I’ve mentioned before, I work for myself and this means that most days the biggest distance I walk is down the stairs to my desk. I’ve basically become incredibly sedentary and at the same time I’m reading lots of articles about how being sedentary is basically a big step (not literally) forward to death. So I sit at my desk in a world of panic, and when I panic, I reach for biscuits.

In a nutshell, I’ve convinced myself I’m going to die before I hit 40 if I don’t make some lifestyle changes. I’m also a little dramatic.

Given that the work I do isn’t easy (or likely) to change into something more exercise based the first thing I’ve decided to do is stop eating. Well, stop eating as much crap as I usually put into my body and try and live a little healthier. It’s also that time of year when everyone starts talking about summer and all the clothes in the shops are a little skimpier and quite frankly, me in anything that’s even a little bit less than a kaftan right now would not be a good look.

This is probably the worst time to do this as after the Valentine’s Day disaster (in that Marcel forgot to buy me a card – not really a disaster. I mentioned the flair for the dramatic, right?) my darling husband bought me four Easter eggs. Add that to the four I bought him, plus the couple of others from other people, we have a cupboard filled with chocolate.

Over the last week, I’ve been eating salads. I actually like salads, it’s just they’re not as easy to just grab and go as say, oh, I don’t know, a bag of Cadbury’s mini-eggs. So I’ve started making salads accessories (is that even a thing? I think it must be) and keeping them in the fridge or pantry. Like roasted vegetables and savoury granola and different types of dressing and grains. And because these things do go off, it means I have to eat them so I don’t waste them. Also, there’s so many good looking vegetables in the markets and shops right now, it feels like a treat to eat them simply after months of stodge. And It has actually helped. I feel a little less like I’m running to the grave, now it’s just a slow saunter. Of all the salads I’ve made in the last week, the below is my favourite. Any other salad tips? I do need inspiring if salad and I are going to have a long term relationship.

IMAG1828

Smoked mackerel and lemon mushroom salad (serves 2) 

  • 300g mushrooms (I used a mix of mushrooms as there’s some lovely varieties in season right now)
  • 300g smoked mackerel, skinned and flaked
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 1 x red pepper chopped into small chunks
  • 1 x bag of mixed leaves (I used rocket and baby lettuce)
  • Half a cantaloupe melon cut into small chunks (this is a little weird, but trust me, it works)
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Juice of half a lemon

Chop the mushrooms into small pieces. Heat a knob of butter in a frying pan with a little olive oil over a low heat and when it’s melted, throw in the mushrooms. Keep stirring so they don’t catch and when they start to release some of the lovely flavour, add the lemon zest, a pinch of salt and a little black pepper. Keep cooking till the mushrooms are glossy and shiny and smelling delicious. Towards the end of the cooking time, squeeze a little lemon juice over the top. Like a teaspoon of lemon juice. Remove from the heat and leave to one side.

IMAG1810

Whilst they’re cooking, assemble the rest of your salad by simply putting everything into a big bowl apart from the lemon juice. Throw in the mushrooms, give it a squeeze of lemon and toss everything together. Season to taste – remember the smoked fish is quite salty so be sure to taste it before you season it. We served this with crusty bread and Marcel added olives to his but that was too much salt for me. The cantaloupe, which both of us thought was a little weird, was actually AMAZING. Cut through that smoky salty fish and worked a treat. So don’t be afraid of using fruit in your salads. You’ll see from the photo that I totally wimped out of putting it in at the beginning and served it on the side. But don’t be a wimp like me, throw it right in.

Tonight’s salad is going to be something with quinoa and roasted peppers. Probably just quinoa and roasted peppers. So there’s your recipe for that right there.

IMAG1831

Sides and snacks

I love a snack. Specifically, I love any snack that is a) calorific, b) chocolatey, c) nutty, d) bad for you or e) all of the above (apart from nuts and chocolate together because I really don’t like that combination. I’ve tried and it just doesn’t work for me. Sorry.)

Because I’ve been working from home recently, I’ve been trying to keep our cupboard of crap snacks as sparse as possible, which is the only way I’m getting through my life without becoming one of those people who loses remote controls in their rolls of flab. Although our remote control has recently gone missing… Do you think the two things are connected? If you see a forklift outside my house, taking me to KFC for a mid morning bucket shaped snack, please hold an intervention. And take lots of photos so people can judge me on social media, thanks so much.

I digress.

I have been trying to keep the cupboard sparse but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been cooking up relatively healthy alternatives to munch on whilst I work. Or to serve as sides at dinner parties. Mostly, this has been experimentation with savoury and spiced granolas, that may get a post all of its very own once I’ve got a recipe that I’m happy with. But this post is all about roasted chickpeas and is dedicated to one of my dearest friends who once served just a plain bowl of chickpeas, fresh from the tin, at a Christmas dinner because she loves them so much. Just a bowl of chickpeas. Nothing else. This was like 10 years ago and it still makes me laugh to this day.

She and her family came round at the weekend for a vegetarian curry feast and in homage to that meal, I decided to serve my own bowl of chickpeas. But rather than just plain, I spice roasted them and sprinkled coriander on them and basically pimped my chickpeas. And whilst those were alright, I made them again on Sunday and put more spice and seasoning on them and they were DELICIOUS. So the lesson learned is don’t skimp on spice when you’re roasting your chickpeas. Also, I left them a little softer in the middle as the husband is having dental issues. Poor old man.  But just leave them in the oven a little longer if you want a crunchier finish.

I served these alongside chilli paneer, a couple of tonnes of dhal (or paripu in Tamil), a fried cabbage curry, carrot salad and a gigantic bowl full of poppadoms. We finished the meal with my all time favourite dessert, lemon meringue pie. Delicious.

IMAG1545

Roasted spiced chickpeas

  • 1 tin of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp dried chilli flakes
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1.5 tsp olive oil

Preheat the oven to a low heat – around 150C/Gas mark 4. Rinse your chickpeas and pat them dry. Up to you whether you leave the skins on or take them off – I took most of them off as they get lifted as you dry but it doesn’t make a huge amount of difference to the final flavour. Put them on a nonstick baking tray and leave them whilst you prepare the spices.

Release the flavours of the spices by dry frying in a small frying pan for a couple of minutes. You’ll know they’re done when you can smell them. Do this over a low-medium heat so they don’t burn. Once they’re aromatic, transfer to a mortar and pestle (or spice grinder) and grind to a fine dust – the sea salt helps give you traction here so add it in.

Drizzle the olive oil over the chickpeas, then sprinkle over the spice mix. Give the whole lot a good shake or mix with your hands so every pea is coated. Sprinkle on a little more sea salt and put in the oven for 45 minutes, giving them a shake once or twice during the cooking time.

Once they’re cooked to your liking, transfer to a bowl and serve. They can be eaten hot or cold and are perfect with a drink or sprinkled over a salad or in a bowl alongside a curry fest. Or just as a snack when the forklift doesn’t turn up and you’re forced to forage for your own snacks in the kitchen wilderness.

IMAG1538

Pudding

The granola of unemployment (or how I learned to turn off Netflix)

I’ve now officially finished working at my last job and have spent the last four weeks or so officially not working. Which has been awesome, but I am going slightly insane, what with talking to the cat, binge watching truly terrible series on Netflix (so far four seasons of The Vampire Diaries, which is like a rubbish combination of True Blood and Buffy), hanging out with my folks and being incredibly impressed by the quality of cars in the car park when I pick my niece up from her fancy school.

So, in my downtime from all that hard work, I’m spending a lot of time in my kitchen. My 1970s monstrosity of a kitchen, but a kitchen nonetheless. And as it’s (nearly) Christmas, there’s many an aroma of cinnamon and ginger and cloves emanating from within its orange and beige interior. But baking and eating aforementioned baked goods, doesn’t really promote good heart health when the most exercise you get all day is walking from the fridge to the sofa and back again.

From my earlier post, you’ll see that I’ve been on a bit of a juice binge recently but a girl cannot live on juice alone so I’ve been experimenting with granola and crackers.

First up, granola. On paper, I should hate granola – it’s dried fruit and nuts, neither of which makes me salivate. But turns out, coating them in a mix of honey and butter and baking them with oats, seeds and the merest hint of spices and a sprinkling of dark muscovado and then baking till they’re gooey and crunchy at the same time makes them utterly delicious. And it’s incredibly simple too, you just need to decide what you want to add to the oats and seeds.

I’m using US measurements (sorry) but I couldn’t find a good granola recipe to adapt on a UK site. And besides, it is a little trial and error because everyone likes different flavours or more or less crunch so don’t panic if you’re not happy with how this turns out, just try different variants on cooking time or oven heat.

Base ingredients: 

  • 1/2 stick of butter (this is about 57g in metric measurements)
  • 1/3 cup of honey
  • 2.5 cups of oats – not the quick cook kind but proper old school oats
  • A selection of seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, etc etc)
  • 1/3 cup of sugar – I used dark muscovado because I like the treacly taste, but use whatever you have apart from icing sugar
  • Pinch of salt (about half a teaspoon but depending on what fruits you use, it could take more)
  • A selection of ground spices – cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, all work well. Add to your taste, I do about two tsps of cinnamon to half a tsp of ginger and a pinch of cloves

Other ingredients 

  • 1/2 cup of nuts – pecans, almonds, brazils, cashews all work well – I find the taste of walnut a little overpowering but that’s just personal preference
  • 3/4 cup of dried fruit – raisins, cranberries, blueberries, apricots (chopped, obviously), pineapple (I’m stopping there before this becomes a long list of fruit that can be dried- that’d be tedious)
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips (do this instead of the fruit or half the amounts if you’re doing a combination of fruit and chocolate)

Method

  • Preheat your oven to gas mark 6 or equivalent and line a large baking tray with greaseproof paper
  • Melt together the butter and honey over a low heat till its all combined and set aside to cool whilst you mix the dry ingredients
  • Put all the dry ingredients into a bowl including whatever nuts you choose – but don’t add the fruit at this stage
  • Mix all the dry ingredients together – using your hands seems to make it easier to get everything evenly distributed
  • Pour in the honey and butter mix and stir till every oat is coated in butter and honey
  • Spoon the mixture into the baking try and press flat
  • Bake for approximately 15-25 minutes, giving the mix a stir half way through

You’re looking for a glorious golden shade on your oats so keep an eye on them to make sure you’re not going from gloriously golden to ‘burnt toast’ – this can happen quite quickly

  • After you’ve removed the tray from the oven at the end of the cooking time, quickly stir in the dried fruit or chocolate chips of your choice and then press flat again
  • Leave to cool in the tray – after it’s cooled, you should have a crunchy toasty tray full of delicious granola – break into bite sized chunks and store in an airtight jar. I’m gifting this with some crackers for Christmas, so have put into small Kilner jars
  • It should keep fresh for a good couple of weeks like this. It’s perfect as a healthy snack, on yoghurt or as a smoothie topping. Or just with milk for breakfast – it’s terribly versatile

Today I’ve made two batches: the first featured almonds, walnuts, cranberries, raisins and the second was cherries, blueberries, pecans and dessicated coconut. I added the coconut at the first stir (halfway through the baking) so it didn’t get tooooo toasted. The second batch I screwed up a little (hell, we all make mistakes, right?) by using the wrong sized cup to measure oats so the mix is a little chewier than I’d like.

Here they are:

granola: ready for gifting Granola: raisins, cranberries, almonds Granola: blueberries, cherries, coconut

Getting juiced

I’ve never been that good at being healthy. I’ve never found an exercise routine that keeps me motivated and I’ve never been good at eating in moderation. And I’ve got a sweet tooth that would have been delighted if Marie-Antoinette had told me to just eat cake. Bring. It. On.

Over the last four weeks, I’ve been on gardening leave. That’s another story that can only be told five months from now. Prior to that though, I’d think nothing of having a croissant at 9am or a large packet of Minstrels to myself in the afternoon after a gigantic baguette and a packet of cheesy Wotsits for lunch.

However, being on gardening leave has made me realise that my life is far too sedentary to maintain this sort of diet and that I really need to focus on what I’m putting into my body unless I want to buy a forklift truck to move me from sofa to fridge in the future.

I’ve just entered the last year of my 30s which has been a particularly indulgent decade and I’m keenly aware that if I don’t start making some changes now, getting older is not going to be a fun process – and after the year I’ve had, I’m desperate to bring the fun back.

Inspired by a green smoothie a friend made for me when I visited a few weeks ago, I’ve been spending the last few weeks getting healthily juiced. I haven’t completely cut out all the sugars and any Instagram followers will know that I’ve eaten a heck of a lot of cake recently (birthdays innit) but a daily juice or smoothie has helped me feel much more energised and able to take on the world.

Below are a few of my favourite recipes which are easy enough to replicate. I find it peculiar writing ‘recipes’ there as there’s no specific amounts of each – ‘a handful’ or ‘a few’ is about as detailed as it gets. To be honest, don’t really think any of these are particularly mind-blowing, they’re just good to try if you, like me, feel you need to stop eating crap and care about what’s going in to your body.

Pear, kiwi, plum and ginger juice. Recipe exactly as the name. Really simple but utterly delicious and if you do them in the juicer in an order, you end up with a pretty rainbow as per below. Admittedly, slightly sludgy in colour after you stir and pour.

IMG_20141102_084925

Cantaloupe melon, celery and ginger. 

I love celery, I like its weird alkaline flavour and slight tang. It’s the perfect foil to a melon that may or may not have been much too ripe because it had been forgotten about in the fruit bowl. Coupled with the ginger, it took away the sweetness and made for a much nicer drink. I used three sticks of celery for a whole melon but use to your own taste.

IMG_20141029_082930

 

Strawberry, banana, raspberry smoothie. 

This was my first smoothie, made from fruit that was about to go off with a dollop of yoghurt added for bulk. And it was possibly my favourite so far. I usually only like bananas as actual bananas (for example, I hate banoffee pie) but they work so well in smoothies and means you don’t have to add honey for sweetness.

IMG_20141020_090813

Today’s smoothie, that I’ve yet to make, will include kale, ginger and I’m not sure what else yet. I’m hoping to find inspiration from the gorgeous Leon smoothie recipe book that I got as a birthday present, but would love to hear what you shove in the blender of a morning!