Friday, January 29, 2010

Food-centric Saturdays

I cook at least one meal every single day of the year. I would do this anyway, because I have to feed myself, if no-one else. But these days, I'm doing it for you, too. I have to cook every day because what happens if I have a disaster, I burn something, or it just doesn't look good on the plate?

Every meal I cook gets photographed. And what you see on the plate is what you get; one serving.
Some of the pics are not that great, but hey, I cook, I'm not a photographer. And I want to eat while the food is still hot, so five or six shots is the max.

I started menu planning in December 2008, and though I still have copies of those menus and shopping lists I have to check and tweak them each week. My menu planning rules have evolved over the last thirteen months, so very often my original menu had more red meat on it than we now eat, or there are not enough vegetables in or with a recipe. Sometimes what I planned originally didn't turn out so well, or took too long to prepare, or I didn't enjoy eating it. I'm planning three meals a day, and I like to ring the changes to ensure we are still eating healthily.

On a Saturday, I update the menu for the coming week and the shopping list with any changes. Then I check the contents of the fridge, freezer and pantry (how I wish I had an old style pantry!) against the shopping list and cross off what I already have.
Chicken and fish I buy from a wholesaler, so they don't generally feature - only if I'm running very low.
Next I add on to the shopping list any toiletries, cleaning stuff and sundries I need.
Check there are shopping bags in the car, and if the weather is hot a cooler bag and a couple of ice bricks. Then it's off to the shops.

Shopping for the week, with a list and pencil in hand, takes a minimum of one hour - usually a little longer.
Sometimes I find something different, like fennel bulbs or okra, or I might find something on 'special'. I'm always wary of specials. I'm normally expected to buy far in excess of what I can actually use before it spoils - and I also have to allocate precious fridge or cupboard space. I will, however, always buy canned chopped or whole peeled tomatoes when they are cheap; I use them a lot, and they are more economical to use when fresh tomatoes are out of season.

Home again. Unpack, repackage where necessary, and pack away. Anything that came in a plastic bag needs repackaging, otherwise whatever it is sweats and spoils faster - bananas, onions, sweet potatoes.
And those little polystyrene plates wrapped in cling film? They drive me nuts! Repackage into everfresh bags or proper plastic boxes, or the bottom of your veg drawer will quickly become overpopulated with dehydrated sugarsnap peas, courgettes and radishes!
Did I buy anything different? If I did, then the menu will need tweaking. Again.

When do you do your planning, tweaking and shopping? Do you shop once a week, once a month, only when you absolutely have to? Do you shop on-line? I'm very interested to hear whether you are happy with the on-line service - freshness, supply etc. Leave a comment and let me know.

Recipe : Week 4 : Day 5

Yummy fish burgers
Serves 4 : Very easy
250gm hake fillets
250gm haddock fillets
300gm potato, cooked and mashed
1 onion, finely chopped
2 gherkins, finely chopped
1 Tblsp capers, finely chopped
2 Tblsp chopped parsley
2 Tblsp lemon juice
and for the Tartare sauce
¼ cup low fat mayo
½ gherkin, finely chopped
1 tsp capers, finely chopped
2 tsp red wine vinegar
1 Tblsp chopped parsley
4 brown Hamburger buns
Lettuce, tomato slices

First, cook and mash the potatoes, without any milk or butter.
Poach the fish in a little water for about 5 mins, or until cooked.
Drain the fish and pat dry with kitchen roll.
Flake the fish.
Add the fish, onion, gherkins, capers, chopped parsley and lemon juice to the potato.
Mix well to combine.
Divide the fish / potato mix into four portions.
Gently pat each portion into a burger shape, and dust with flour.
(The mixture is very soft at this stage).
Refrigerate on a board or plate for up to an hour, if you have time.
Make the tartare sauce by mixing all the ingredients together.
Season to taste.
Dry fry the fish burgers 5 mins each side, until they are browned and heated through.
Split the buns and toast lightly.
Place lettuce leaves and tomato slices on the base of each roll.
Top with a burger and ¼ of the tartare sauce.
Cover with the bun tops and serve.

You can use cold left-over mash for these, then they will be easier to handle.
Divide the mixture into 8 for kiddy-size – kids seem to love these (easy on the sauce, though).
They freeze well, too (the burgers, not the kids!).

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Week 5 : Recipes and shopping list

 Here  is the link to the .pdf file for Week 5.

10 easy substitutions to make

A really out-of-character short one today...

Here are a few healthy food substitutions for you to try. You'll hardly notice the difference - except on your waistline!

Instead of sweetened, full fat yoghurt rather have plain fat free yoghurt with fresh fruit.
Instead of pasta with cheese/white sauce rather have pasta with tomato based veg sauce.
Instead of canned fruit in syrup rather have fresh fruit or canned fruit packed in juice.
Instead of deep-fat fried french fries rather have oven-bake chips.
Instead of cream cheese rather have low-fat or fat-free smooth cottage cheese.
Instead of snacking on crisps rather have pretzels.
Instead of pancakes with sugar and cinnamon rather have berries.
Instead of sweetened cereals (most of them are) rather have rolled oats, weetbix or bran flakes (wholegrain, of course).
Instead of neat fruit juice rather have 1/2 fruit juice and 1/2 still or sparkling water.
Instead of tea or coffee rather have an herbal tea.

Recipe : Week 4 : Day 4

Ch… ch… chicken

Serves 4 : Very easy : Moderately quick
8 skinless, deboned chicken thighs
1 large onion
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 ±400gm chopped tomatoes
2 Tblsp tomato paste
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp chilli powder
2 tsp cocoa powder
1 ±350gm can cannellini beans
½ tsp salt
Good grind of black pepper
240gm rice

In a plastic bag, shake the chicken thighs with a bit of flour and chicken spice.
Spray a large lidded pan with cooking spray.
Place over a medium-to-high heat.
Add the floured chicken pieces.
Cook the chicken pieces until they are sealed and lightly brown all over.
Remove the chicken from the pan and put to one side.
Mix the cocoa powder to a smooth paste with water.
Tip the onion, garlic, cumin, chilli powder, salt and pepper to the pan.
Cook until the onion softens.
Now add in the tinned chopped tomatoes, the tomato paste and the cocoa liquid.
Stir well to combine.
Nestle the chicken pieces into the sauce.
Cover the pan, and simmer for about 30 mins.
Meanwhile, put the rice on to cook in lightly salted water.
Cook 20 mins (or more, depending on the kind of rice you use).
Drain and keep warm.
Uncover the chicken pan; add the rinsed and drained cannellini beans.
Cook for another 5 mins until the sauce has reduced and thickened.
Serve the chicken over the rice, with a salad on the side.

This is my take on a Mexican recipe. The combination of chilli and chocolate sounds bizarre,
but it tastes delicious, and it is a real mood lifter! Food for the spirit.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

10 weight-loss tips

1.  Always, always eat breakfast. Cortisol levelsare highest in the morning, and high levels of cortisol    encourage fat storage. Cortisol is an anti-diuretic and can weaken the activity of the immune system.
Stress and anxiety will also raise cortisol levels.

2.  Eat your evening meal before seven - if at all possible. I know this is difficult if you eat out a lot, or work long hours and still have to prepare a meal when you get home.

3.  Slow down, you eat too fast. Put knife and fork down between mouthfuls. Count how many times you chew each mouthful - I bet it's less than 20 times, and the recommendation is 30! Remember it takes about 20 minutes for your stomach to tell your brain its had enough, so eating more slowly is essential.

4.  Dish up, clear up. Whether you are snacking (hopefully fruit, nuts or seeds!) or dishing up dinner, serve a portion and put the rest away. Don't keep food hot while you eat - cold leftovers are not so appealing as a second helping.

5.  Eat vegetables first. Fill up on veg and salads (slowly), and you won't be tempted to overeat starches and protein.

6.  Ask for separate sauce/dressing. It is pretty well impossible to tell just how much dressing is on a restaurant salad - and I'm sure it's not a low-fat variety! If you are at home, measure your salad dressing. You don't need much. Gravy, cheese sauce, mushroom sauce, garlic butter sauce, whatever, measure.

7.  Presentation, presentation, presentation. Serve food attractively - nice plate, nice cutlery, good glassware, well set table. That's what makes a restaurant meal appealing. So don't just dish up any old how; make it look good.

8.  Practice portion control. Always. When you eating at home, make a point of weighing and measuring your portions. Portion sizes 'grow' if you are not watchful. This is a necessary lifestyle adaptation if you truly want to lose weight and keep it off. It's an eating style, not a restriction.

9.  Don't feel deprived. If you want it, eat it - just remember 8 above. As the old adage goes 'a little bit of what you fancy does you good'.

10. Drink more water. We often confuse hunger with thirst. Have a glass of water before and after a meal - if you can't manage the post-prandial glass then you probably ate more than you needed to.

Recipe: Week 4 : Day 3

Veggie Frittata

Serves 4 : Very easy : Very quick
8 eggs, separated
200gm butternut
300gm sweet potato
150gm broccoli florets
125gm mushrooms
2 zucchini
1 small onion
2 Tblsp chopped parsley
Clean, peel and chop all the vegetables.
Steam, boil or microwave the vegetables until tender.
Beat the egg whites until stiff.
Fold in the egg yolks and parsley, and season to taste.
Spray a large frying pan with cooking spray, and place over medium heat.
Transfer the cooked vegetables to the pan.
Pour the egg and parsley mix over the vegetables.
Cook for about 5 mins, until the underside is browned.
Place under the grill (set fairly low) and brown.
Serve with a green salad.
Watch that the grill is not too hot – you can see from the photo that my frittata caught a little (okay, burnt!)
You don’t have to separate the eggs. Just cook the same way, and when the underside is browned and the upperside is set but still shiny, put under the grill to finish off.
If you do decide to go with the mock soufflĂ© method, be prepared for it to ‘fall’ when you cut it.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Sugar substitutes

Sugar substitutes have been in use for years, and more recently they have been introduced into commercially packaged foods and beverages. There has always been, and continues to be, controversy as to whether sugar substitutes pose risks to health. Doubtless the scientific research and experiments will continue - without necessarily coming up with a definitive answer.

Most sugar substitutes, unlike sugar, do not contain glucose, and therefore do not require insulin for digestion. They mimic the taste of sugar, but supply less or no energy. Some are natural and some are synthetic.

Here are some of the better known sweeteners in use commercially, and available as granules or pills or powder for home use:

Saccharine (E954) was the first sugar substitute produced way back in 1878. It became very popular during World War II, when there were shortages of real sugar. It is kcal/kj free, 300x sweeter than sugar, and suitable for cooking and baking. It does have a slightly bitter aftertaste, so these days it is usually blended. It is used commercially in toothpaste!

Aspartame (E951) was first synthesized in 1965. It is 200x sweeter than sugar, and has only 4kcal/16kj per teaspoon. It is not suitable for cooking or baking because heat tends to break it down and it loses its sweetness - though I have made custard and stewed fruit quite successfully using aspartame. One big warning here - aspartame cannot be used by people who have the (admittedly rare) genetic condition phenylketonuria. This is an inability to break down the amino acid phenylalanine. It's perfectly safe for anyone else to use.

Sucralose (E955) - discovered in 1976 - is a zero calorie/kilojoule sugar substitute. It is about 600x as sweet as sugar. It is stable when heated, so it's suitable for baking and cooking. Because of its intense sweetness, it is usually 'bulked' with dextrose and maltodextrin to give it a granular appearance and a similar sweetness to sugar by volume.

Sorbitol is referred to as a nutritive sweetner as it supplies about half the kcal/kj you would get from an equal quantity of carbohydrates. It occurs naturally in stone fruits and some berries. Even if you don't take sorbitol orally, the cells in the body produce sorbitol naturally. Sorbitol is used commercially in cough syrups and sugar free chewing gum. It is also used in mouthwash, toothpastes (especially gels) and cosmetics, and - wait for it - as a humectant in cigarettes!

Xylitol and Stevia  are naturally occurring sugar substitutes, which are growing in popularity. Both have negligible effect on blood glucose levels, so they are probably the safest choice if you have diabetes or hyperglycemia.

Sugar substitutes can safely be included as part of a well balanced eating plan - always remembering that sugar (sucrose) is not the enemy; it, and its substitutes, should just be used in moderation. Personally, I have found that using sugar substitutes increases my appetite and perpetuates a sweet tooth!

Recipe : Week 4 : Day 2

Fish Stir Fry

Serves 4 : Very easy : Quick
4 skinless hake fillets (±750 gms)
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1 large carrot, julienned
1 large celery stick, thinly sliced
1 tsp grated ginger
½ green pepper, sliced
1 cup broccoli florets
1 cup fish stock OR water + stock cube (fish, veg or chicken)
½ Tblsp maizena
200gm egg noodles
Put the egg noodles on to cook in lightly salted boiling water.
Simmer until tender.
Cut the fish into bite-sized chunks.
Mix the maizena to a thin paste with the fish stock or water.
Spray a frying pan or wok with cooking spray.
Put the onion, carrot sticks, celery and ginger into the pan and dry-fry
for a few minutes over a medium-to-high heat, stirring all the time.
Transfer the vegetables to a plate and set aside.
Place the fish chunks in the pan.
Cook over high heat until the fish is cooked.
Keep stirring - this doesn’t take long.
Add back the vegetables.
Pour in the maizena and stock liquid.
Stir until the sauce thickens.
Serve the fish and sauce over the rice.

Fish cooks very quickly, and one of the reasons a lot of people don’t care for it is because it is often served overcooked.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Sweets for my Sweet

Sugar - also known as sucrose - is a simple carbohydrate. This means that it is quickly and easily broken down by digestion, ready for use as energy.

One teaspoon of sugar contains 16kcal/67kj, give or take a grain. So if you take one spoon of sugar in each cup of tea or coffee, and you drink 4-5 cups of tea or coffee in a day, that's 80kcal/336kj - about equivalent to a slice of wholemeal bread. At least the bread supplies nutrients - you won't find any of those in sugar.

It is very difficult to avoid sugar. Although we can wean ourselves off it in tea and coffee, its distinctive qualities make it very useful - and palatable - in commercial food production and preparation. Sugar absorbs and retains moisture easily, that's what keeps your bread and muffins fresh: it helps prevent the growth of moulds and bacteria in jams and marmalades: it helps retain the natural colour in fruits when they are canned.

It's in cakes, biscuits, chocolate, sweets, ice cream, cordials, colas and alcohol. It's even in canned baked beans and tomato sauce!

And don't we just love it? Sugar is sweet, and saying the word 'sweet' makes us smile. Try saying it in front of the mirror; the corners of your mouth turn up, don't they? But too much sugar can cause overweight and tooth decay, just for starters, and neither of those makes anyone smile! It can also blunt the appetite for 'proper' food, and send susceptible kids bouncing off the walls.

How much is too much? This is an interesting question. I have literally dozens of books on healthy eating and weight loss. Not a single one of them gives a suggested daily portion size for sugar. And most of them avoid even mentioning sugar! It seems it is usually included in the fats and oils food group, and the suggested daily serving of fats and oils (and sugars) is a maximum of 6 teaspoons.

Rather satisfy your need for sweetness with a piece of fresh fruit.

Recipe : Week 4 : Day 1

Australian shepherd’s bake

Serves 4 : very easy
450gm lean lamb, minced
1 onion, finely chopped
crushed garlic to taste
1 carrot, diced
1 celery stick, diced
2 Tblsp tomato paste
1 ±400gm tin chopped tomato
1 cup frozen peas
1 Tblsp maizena
4 large potatoes
80gm fat reduced cheddar

Scrub the potatoes, and cut into thick slices.
Boil the potatoes in lightly salted water for about 20 minutes, until just tender.
Meanwhile, spray a large pan with cooking spray.
Tip the onion, garlic, carrot and celery into the pan.
Dry-fry over a medium heat until the onion is tender.
(If you add a splash of water and cover the pan, it helps to stop the onion burning.)
Increase the heat slightly, and add the lamb.
Keep stirring so that the lamb browns all over.
Add in the tomato paste, the tinned tomatoes and the frozen peas.
Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 15 mins.
Mix the maizena to a paste with a little water.
Pour the maizena into the lamb, stirring all the time, until the sauce thickens.
Line a casserole dish with the cooked potato slices.
Gently pour in the lamb.
Top with grated cheese.
Grill at 220°c for 10 mins until nicely browned.
Serve with a simple salad.
This makes a nice change from the usual beef mince. You can add mixed herbs and a lamb
or beef stock cube with the tomatoes for a richer flavour.
Leaving the skin on the potatoes (and carrot, for that matter) adds fibre.
Lamb is very expensive in South Africa – use ½ the quantity of lamb, and stretch it with ½ a can, or more, of cannellini beans.

Friday, January 22, 2010


Excessive drinking, as we all know, is bad for our health.
Heavy drinkers tend to eat inadequately, so nutrition is poor. Plus they are likely to suffer with impaired digestion and liver function.
Moderate drinking, though, appears to be beneficial.

Moderate drinking, i.e. one glass of wine, or one metric measure of spirits or half to a pint of beer/cider a day, is believed to raise 'good' cholesterol in the bloodstream, reduce stress and lower the risk of stroke.

Drinking alcohol does tend to encourage snacking: crisps, nuts etc - additional fats and kilojoules that you would not normally have eaten.

I have no strong feelings for or against alcohol - I just think a lot of people behave foolishly enough sober, why worsen the situation with alcohol? I seldom drink myself, because I love food too much. I would far rather eat my kilojoules. Alcohol contains kilojoules, and little else - it's certainly short on vitamins and minerals.

Alcohol should, of course, be avoided by people who are: pregnant, planning a pregnancy, driving, operating heavy machinery or on medication. And definitely by people who are underage.

If you are trying to lose weight, cutting alcohol consumption down (or out altogether) will help save a few kilojoules.

Week 3 : Day 5

Fish with orange sauce
4 servings : Very easy : Very quick
4 fillets of hake (±500gm)
1 cup orange juice
1 cup water
Grated rind of ½ orange
2 tsp grated ginger
1 – 2 Tblsp teriyaki sauce
1 Tblsp maizena
2 Tblsp water
500 gm new potatoes, halved
4 large carrots
± 240 gm sugar snap peas
In a large shallow dish, mix together the marinade ingredients.
Lay the fish fillets on top of the marinade, and turn to coat.
Scrub and halve the potatoes.
Cook in lightly salted water for about 20 minutes.
Tip the marinade and the fish fillets into a wide pan.
Place over a medium heat, and bring to the boil.
Reduce heat, and then simmer, covered, for about 5 mins
until the fish flakes easily.
Remove the fish from the pan and keep warm
Mix the maizena and water to a paste.
Stir this into the pan juices, stirring until sauce thickens.
Place the fish back in the pan, cover and turn off the heat.
Meanwhile, steam or microwave the carrots until tender,
adding the peas for the last 4 mins.
Serve the fish alongside the vegetables.
Spoon sauce over the fish, and serve.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Week 4 : Recipes and shopping list

 Here  is the link to the .pdf file for Week 4.

Is anyone using these links?

Aqua Vita

Aqua vita. Water of life.

It falls from the sky (if we're lucky).We swim and play in it. We wash in it. We take it for granted.

Our bodies are between fifty and sixty percent water, depending on gender. Every single cell of the body needs water to function optimally. Water helps the body get rid of toxins. Without adequate water the body's metabolism (how it burns fat) slows down - the same as it would if you skipped a meal. We need water to absorb and circulate the water-soluble vitamins (eight 'Bs' and 'C'). Water in the body helps control body temperature and aids in weight loss. It's required for proper digestion. Water is refreshing and contains no kilojoules, and it's as good as free (from the tap, at least).

A lot (if not all) diets want you to drink upwards of eight glasses of water a day, and if you aren't going to drink anything else it's probably do-able. But most of us still enjoy our morning cuppa - I know I can't do without mine. We actually need about two and a half litres of fluid a day. Approximately one litre will come from the food we eat, but the rest has to be ingested in some form of liquid.

If you live in a hot climate, or you do strenuous exercise, or you are pregnant or breastfeeding, then you will need more liquid, and water is by far the best available. Don't let yourself be thirsty. By the time you consciously register that you are thirsty, you are already two percent dehydrated. Dehydration can lead to headaches, lethargy, difficulty concentrating and dizziness. You can go without food for two to three weeks, but going without water (liquids) will kill you in under one week.

Babies and toddlers have a less developed sense of thirst than adults, so they need to be encouraged to drink water in order to maintain a constant body temperature, especially after exercise. Set an example. It'll be good for the children and good for you.

Week 3 : Day 4

Harissa veg with lemon couscous                                                               4 servings : Very easy : Very quick
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp paprika
2 Tblsp tomato paste
1 Tblsp clear honey
1 Tblsp oil
8 large brown mushrooms
2 green peppers. deseeded and chunked
1 large brinjal, peeled and sliced
2 leeks, sliced thickly on the diagonal
1 small butternut, peeled, deseeded, chunked
Grated rind and juice of 1 large lemon
Large handful of chopped mint leaves
240gm couscous
4 Tblsp fat free natural yoghurt
Combine the first six ingredients in a small bowl – these are what make up ‘harissa’.
Prepare all the vegetables and place in a microwave safe casserole dish.
Cover with a lid or cling film.
Microwave on high for about 5 mins.
Measure the couscous into a bowl, and just cover with boiling water.
Cover and allow to stand 10 mins,
Add half the spice mix to the veg.
Turn to make sure the veg pieces get a bit of a coating.
Spray a large griddle pan, and put over a moderate to high heat.
Cook the vegetables in the pan for 15 mins until they are cooked through
and slightly charred.
Fluff up the couscous with a fork while adding the lemon rind, juice, chopped
mint and the remaining spice mix.
Heap on a serving dish (or separate plates) and top with the vegetables.
Pour over the yoghurt and serve.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Mindful eating

Yesterday I said we should be aware of the food we are eating.
A lot of time and effort has been spent in the preparation and presentation of that dinner plate.
Someone had to plant the vegetables/feed the livestock, someone else had to harvest and package the foods to get them to the supermarket. Yet another someone had to get the stuff onto the supermarket shelves. (My apologies to all the people I left out - I'm sure there are a minimum of eight progressive steps between planting and plate.)

What I'm getting at is that the food you eat (and the people involved in getting it to you) deserves a measure of respect.
Give you're full attention to the plate in front of you.
Let your eyes feast on the colours.
Let your nose savour the aromas.
Take small mouthfuls, and masticate well - we all eat too fast.
Actually taste the food.
It takes about twenty minutes for your stomach to tell your brain it is full.

Even if you are only having a ham sandwich, make an occassion of it.

So, move away from your desk.
No reading.
No TV.
No laptop.
No cell phones.
If someone does call while you are eating, excuse yourself and call them back later.

Most of us living in houses have a dining room. Even in a flat, there is usually a 'breakfast bar'.
When did you last use yours?

Week 3 : Day 3

Fruity spiced chicken
4 servings : Very easy : Very quick
8 skinless chicken thighs
Spice coating
3 tsp paprika
3 tsp turmeric
½ tsp ground chillies (optional)
½ Tblsp sunflower oil
3 Tblsp lemon juice
75 gm pomegranate seeds
4 small oranges
1 Tblsp lemon juice
1 Tblsp clear honey
a few basil leaves
To serve
Crusty bread
Combine the spice coating ingredients in a small bowl.
Brush onto the chicken pieces.
Leave to stand for twenty mins, or more if you have time.
Dry-fry the chicken pieces in a covered shallow pan, until cooked to your liking,
turning after about 10 mins.
While the chicken is cooking, make the salad as follows:
Peel the oranges with a knife to remove the skin and pith.
Cut the segments into a bowl.
Add the pomegranate seeds.
Mix the honey and lemon juice.
Pour over the orange segments and seeds.
Turn the orange, seeds and honey mix gently.
Serve the chicken with the salad and crusty bread.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Keeping track

Remember when I started this blog, I talked about keeping a food diary. No, well a lot of you were not with me then. So I will reiterate:
If you don't write down what you eat, you will find it difficult to keep track of whether you have had the requisite servings of each food group each day. I still write down everything I eat.

Another way of tracking is to make 'paper money' in food group denominations. Then you can 'pay' for each meal as you go along. Or use pieces of different coloured card and keep them in a box in the kitchen. If you make paper money or cards, make them in half portion denominations - you can even include a brief half portion description.

After over a year, I still weigh and measure everything. I know it's difficult if you eat out a lot, but portion sizes can 'swell' surprisingly fast when you don't keep a close eye. That restaurant steak is way over a 3 serving size (so only eat half). Maybe weigh and measure for the first week of each month, and judge by eye the rest of the time.

Whatever you do, tracking-wise, be aware of the food you are eating. And enjoy it! Slow down and savour it.

Week 3 : Day 2

Smoked Trout Salad
4 servings : Very easy : Very quick
± 350gm smoked trout fillets
1 small yellow sweet pepper
2 medium zucchini
½ small cucumber
6 – 8 radishes
8 asparagus spears
2 spring onions
1 firm, ripe avocado
12 cocktail / cherry tomatoes
1 pillow pack baby leaf salad
3 Tblsp fat free natural yoghurt
1 – 2 Tblsp horseradish sauce
2 Tblsp Lemon juice
Snipped chives
To Serve
500gm new potatoes, scrubbed and halved
Start the new potatoes in lightly salted boiling water.
They will take 20 – 25 mins to cook.
Drain and keep warm.
Meanwhile, deseed and slice the pepper into thin strips.
Cut each zucchini into 1/8ths, lengthways.
Slice cucumber into rounds – at least 16 slices.
Scrub and top and tail the radishes, and slice into discs.
Microwave the asparagus, in a little water, on high for 2 mins.
Cover with cold water and allow to cool.
When cool, slice each into four lengthways.
Slice the spring onions on the diagonal – green part, too.
Peel and cut the avocado into 1/8ths.
To make the dressing, place all the ingredients in a small bowl or jug,
and whisk to combine.
Now spread the baby leaf salad on a large serving dish.
Top with all the prepared vegetables, except the cucumber.
Gently break up the trout fillets, and spread across the serving dish.
Top with the cucumber slices.
Pour a little of the dressing over the cucumber slices.
Serve with remaining dressing and the potatoes.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Serving sizes reviewed

The first food group we looked at, if you remember was grains. The grains group includes all foods made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley, rye, etc. such as bread, pasta, crackers, breakfast cereals and biscuits and cakes. At least half of the cereal products we eat should be wholegrain.
Potatoes are part of this group, too.
1 serving of grain = 1 slc of bread: OR half a cup of cooked pasta or rice: OR 1 small baby potato.
The recommended number of daily servings of grains = 6

Then we looked at vegetables, whether fresh, frozen, canned, dried or juiced.
1 serving of veg = 1 cup of cooked veg or juice: OR 2 cups of raw leafy greens such as lettuce.
Potatoes are not part of this group. (see grains above)
The recommended number of daily servings of veg = 3 to 5. Aim for at least 5 for optimum nutrition.

Next we considered fruits - fresh, frozen, canned, dried of juiced.
1 serving of fruit = 1 cup chopped fruit or juice: OR half a cup dried fruit.
The recommended number of daily servings of fruit = 2 to 3.

The milk and dairy group came next. Any product made from milk and that retains its calcium content fits in this group, so cottage cheese is included, but cream cheese is not. Choices from this group should be low-fat, or, better still, fat-free.
1 serving of dairy = 1 cup milk or yoghurt: OR 45gm hard cheese: OR 60gm processed cheese.
The recommended number of daily servings of dairy = 3.

Then I talked about proteins. I gave very minimal portion sizes for proteins, because I use the formula: Body weight in kg x 0.8 = gms of protien foods required in a day.
Most references give a portion size of between 80 and 100gm, regardless of the protein source. But I gave you:
1 serving of protein = 35gm red meat: OR 45gm poultry: OR 60gms fish
OR 2 Tblsp cooked beans: OR 1-2 Tblsp seeds: OR 1 Tblsp nuts: OR 1 medium egg
The recommended number of daily servings of protein = 2 - 3.
(It is very easy to eat protein in excess of the servings given here. In my recipes I generally allow 3 protein portions per person.)

Lastly - are you still with me? - I looked at fats and oils. These are not all enemies. Some of them are essential to health. Animal fats are solid at room temperature where vegetable fats are liquid. Animal fats are high in saturated fats, vegetable fats are high in unsaturated fats (the friendly ones).
Included in this group: butter, cream, cream cheese, mayonnaise, salad dressings, cooking and salad oils, margarines (hard and soft) and of course the fat on the side of your steak or chop.
The recommended number of daily servings of fats and oils = max. 6 tsp

If you want to lose weight, cut back on fats and oils - use only vegetable oils, trim excess fat from meat, remove chicken skin.
If you want to gain weight, add an extra portion each of fruit, veg, grains and proteins.

Week 3 : Day 1

Almost vegetarian linguine                 4 servings : Very easy : Very quick
4 rashers back bacon, fat removed
1 large onion, peeled and sliced
180gm brown mushrooms, wiped and sliced
1 cup broad beans (fava beans)
2 cups low fat/skim milk
2 Tblsp chopped parsley
1 Tblsp maizena (corn flour)
250gm (dry) linguine
grated parmesan
Cook the linguine (or pasta of your choice) in plenty of boiling, salted water.
Drain when al dente. Keep warm.
Spray a pan with cooking spray.
Add the onion, mushrooms and bacon.
Cook, on medium heat, until the onion and bacon are softened.
Add in the parsley and milk.
Mix the maizena to a loose paste with a little water.
Gradually add the maizena paste to the pan, stirring continually, until the sauce thickens.
Serve the linguine with the sauce, and grated parmesan.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Friendly fats and oils

We tend to think of oils and fats as being our enemies when we are trying to lose weight, but in fact, they are not. Without ingested fats we would be unable to absorb and utilise the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.

Some fatty acids (Omega-3 from oily fish and Omega-6 found in vegetable oils such as sunflower oil) are known as essential fatty acids. Our bodies cannot produce these fatty acids, and so they need to be sourced from the foods we eat. Without fats and oils in our systems, our hair and skin become dry; the protective myelin sheath around each nerve becomes thin; and the individual cells in all the body systems cannot absorb nutrients effectively.

Most food products carry a label showing nutritional information - energy, protein, fibre, fats, carbohydrates, etc - and some of these labels break down the types of fat so that you can see exactly what you are eating. If the label only gives one figure for fats, then as a rule-of-thumb you can halve that figure to find out the saturated fat content. This is not always accurate, but it gives you a starting point.

Saturated fats come from products derived from animals - meats, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy - as well as palm oil and coconut oil (these are the only vegetable oils that contain saturated fats). Excessive saturated fats, and trans-fatty acids, are believed to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. For this reason alone, we should restrict how much of them we consume.
Skinless turkey breast has the lowest level of saturated fat (2%), minced beef and lamb have far higher levels (27%), lean pork is somewhere in the middle at 10%. But there is nothing wrong with having the occassional piece of steak (lean beef has 13% saturated fat).

Mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated fatty acids are said to reduce the 'bad' cholesterol. Oils high in mono-unsaturated fats are good for cooking because they develop fewer free radicals when they are heated. Olive and rapeseed oils are highest in mono-unsaturated fats, so use them for cooking.

Poly-unsaturated fats (the Omegas) are involved in regulating blood pressure, blood clotting and immune responses. Try to eat cold water fish at least twice a week (tuna, herring, sardines, salmon).
Poly-unsaturated fats - specifically Omega-6 - are essential for growth, cell structure and a healthy immune system. Omega-6 fatty acids are present in sunflower oil and corn oil.

Friendly oils and fats are found in fish, nuts and avocados. Soft margarines, as well as the obvious butter, cream, cream cheese, mayo, salad dressings, pastries, cakes and biscuits all contain a lot of fats - most of them the saturated variety to be limited or avoided altogether.

The recommended daily intake for fats and oils is a maximum of 6 teaspoons per day.

Sally Avridge is having 2 tsp of low fat mayo to make her egg mayonaise and 2 tsp of olive oil over her lunchtime mixed salad. She can use another 2 tsp of oil to start her pasta sauce.
Sally realises that there is fat in a lot of other foods - like the yoghurt and fromage frais already on her day's menu - so she is sticking with the maximum daily consumption.
You are getting the idea of healthy eating, Sally.

Healthy eating doesn't mean deprivation or eating only limp lettuce. Healthy eating is about making wise food choices - for your body and your mind.

Recipe : Week 2 : Day 5

Mediterranean Chicken (ww 6.5)

4 servings : Very easy : Quick
±600gm chicken breasts
2 large onions
1 tsp crushed garlic (optional)
1 cup frozen peas
± 12 pitless green olives, sliced
grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
3 Tblsp chopped parsley
½ - 1 cup chicken stock
2 tsp paprika
300gm rice
pinch turmeric
Peel and cut the onions into eighths.
Cut the chicken into bite size pieces (or you leave the breasts whole, if you prefer).
Grate or zest the lemon peel, and then squeeze the juice into a large bowl.
Add the peas, parsley and paprika to the lemon juice.
Mix well to combine.
Spray a pan with cooking spray.
Lightly fry the onion and garlic until the onion is soft.
Pour the contents of the lemon bowl into the onion pan.
Add about ½ the stock.
Bring to the boil, then simmer for about 30 mins, or until the chicken is done.
Add more stock as required
Boil the rice, adding the turmeric to the water.
Drain when tender.
Add the sliced olives to the chicken.
Check seasoning – add salt, pepper and/or more paprika to taste.
Serve chicken with rice, and a side salad if desired.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Week 3 : Link for .pdf files

I've just realised it's Thursday, and I need to give you the new link, so:
go here for the recipes and shopping list for Week 3.

Pulses, nuts and seeds

Pulses - peas, beans and lentils - are an inexpensive protein option. They are low in saturated fat and cholesterol free, plus they are a good source of fibre. Due to this, they are believed to help reduce blood cholesterol. They also have a very low GI, so they keep you feeling fuller for longer. Winners all round!

Some pulses are available precooked and tinned eg chickpeas, lentils, butter beans, cannellini beans. These need to be thoroughly rinsed and drained before being eaten. All pulses are available dried, but (apart from split peas and lentils) they all need to be soaked overnight before being cooked. And some of them can take an hour to cook. At the beginning of winter, I always buy in a large supply of dried pulses. I soak them, cook them and then flash-freeze them. I love the convenience of frozen, and they are so handy for adding to soups, stews and casseroles. If you want to do this, allow yourself plenty of time. And freezer space - you'll need to freeze the cooked beans on a baking tin or tea tray - whatever will fit in your freezer. Once frozen, pour into zip bags before returning to the freezer for storage. Do NOT add salt to the cooking water, as this makes them tough.

Of the pulses, soya beans have the highest percentage protein (14%), then aduki beans (9.3%) followed by pinto beans (8.9%), lentils (8.8%) and kidney beans ((8.4%). Chickpeas - my personal favourite - have 7.7% protein.

Nuts and seeds are great for snacking, sprinkled on cereal or added to a salad. They are nutritious, high in fibre, a good protein source and low in saturated fats. They are, however, high in kcals / kjoules and total fats.
Sunflower seeds are the best seed choice for protein, and almonds, cashews and Brazils are the best nut choices.

In the case of these protein sources:
1 portion of protein = 2 Tblsp of cooked, drained pulses; OR 1 Tblsp seeds; OR 1-2 Tblsp nuts.

Sally has chosen 2 Tblsp of chickpeas to add to her pasta sauce, and 2 Tblsp cashew nuts to snack on. With the egg at lunchtime, she now has her 3 portions of protein for the day.

Recipe : Week 2 : Day 4

Aubergine Lasagne
4 servings : Very easy : This takes a bit longer

± 650gms aubergines
½ small head broccoli
½ small head cauliflower
1 large onion
2 x 400gm cans chopped tomato
2 Tblsp tomato paste
¼ cup basil leaves, shredded
2 or more garlic cloves
1 Tblsp brown sugar
150gm low fat cheddar, grated
1 cup vegetable stock
± 8 Lasagne sheets
Peel and chop the aubergines and the onion.
Clean and trim the broccoli and cauli and break into florets.
To save baking time, steam, boil or microwave these veg.
Place the chopped tomatoes, tomato paste and garlic in a pan.
Bring to the boil, and then simmer for about 15 mins until the sauce thickens slightly.
Add the sugar, basil and chopped veg to the sauce.
Add vegetable stock, a little at a time, if you think the mix is too dry.
Spray a deep 20cm square baking dish with cooking spray.
Preheat oven to 180°C.
Place lasagne sheets, a few at a time, into a dish of boiling water to moisten a little.
This helps cut a little off the cooking time.
Fill baking dish in layers, starting with a third of the veg/sauce mix, followed by a third of
the cheese.
Cover with moistened lasagne sheets.
Continue with layers, ending with a cheese layer.
Bake, uncovered for 45 mins, until nicely browned.
Allow to stand for 10 mins before cutting.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Fish, fowl or egg

The fat content of poultry varies according to which type and part of the bird is eaten, whether the skin has been removed or not, and how the bird is prepared (roast, grilled, fried, smoked).
Ostrich has low levels of cholesterol and fat, duck has high levels. Chicken and turkey have more or less the same fat levels, but the dark meat (legs) has higher fat levels than the white meat (breast). Always remove the skin before cooking, unless you are roasting, in which case you need to leave the skin on to protect the meat. Roast poultry on a trivet so that the fat can run off, and remove the skin before eating.

Fish contains oil rather than fat (this means that the fat is liquid at room temperature). Fish oil contains Omega-3 fatty acids, which are considered beneficial. Omega-3 aids in regulating cholesterol, is anti-inflammatory, and it may help protect the brain from the cognitive problems associated with Alzheimer's. It is also probable that Omega-3 helps alleviate depression and A.D.D., and it can help people to cope better with stress.

Shellfish comes under the title of fish, but be aware that prawns have high levels of cholesterol at 130mg per 85gm serving. Keep in mind that you are unlikely to eat only 85gms of prawns, and that the healthy daily maximum ingestion of cholesterol is 300mg. And, if you are eating out, those prawns were cooked in butter. A lot of butter.

There has been ongoing debate over the years, regarding the pros and cons of eating eggs. One large egg contains a whopping 274mg cholesterol, all of it in the yolk. The debate seems to have been settled - for the moment, at least - in favour of the egg. But that being said, I would still advocate eating no more than three eggs a week - and not on the day you eat prawns!

Remembering that we should have 2 to 3 servings of protein per day, whatever our choice of source:

1 portion of protein = 45gms poultry; OR 60gm fish; OR 1 medium egg

Sally Avridge has decided to have egg mayonaise with cress on her lunchtime sandwich.
Sally, you need another two portions of protein for the day. Are you looking for a vegetarian option?
Come back tomorrow for the portion sizes for pulses, nuts and seeds.

Recipe : Week 2 : Day 3

Fish ‘n’ excellent salsa (ww 5.5)

4 servings : Very easy : Very quick
±800 gm hake fillets or other similar firm white fish
500gm new potatoes, washed and halved
4 Tblsp chopped parsley
2 Tblsp chopped mint
2 Tblsp capers, chopped
2 – 3 anchovy fillets, chopped
½ tsp chopped garlic
2 Tblsp lemon juice
2 Tblsp olive oil
Good grind of black pepper
Prepare all salsa ingredients, and combine in a small bowl.
Adjust for seasoning – more lemon juice, more garlic – but do not add salt.
Put the potatoes on to boil in lightly salted water.
Drain when done, and keep warm.
Spray a ridged pan with cooking spray.
Place pan on high heat.
Spray the fillets with cooking spray and then lightly season.
Place the fish in the hot pan, presentation side down.
Fry for about 4 mins before turning.
Continue cooking until fish flakes easily.
Serve fish with potatoes and a salad or veg of your choice.
Garnish with the salsa.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

An essential nutrient

Protein is an essential nutrient that is not stored in the body, and so we have to eat some protein foods every day. Protein deficiency is rare, in fact most of us eat too much protein, so these days the focus is rather on the fat content of the protein source eaten.
The protein group comprises, as its main components: red meat (beef, pork, lamb); poultry (chicken, turkey, ostrich); game (venison, rabbit); fish; eggs; beans and pulses; nuts and seeds. This is rather an extensive and complex list, so today I'm only going to look at animal protein, specifically red meat. However, if you don't eat red meat, please keep on reading - the next paragraph applies to other protein sources, too.
Protein contains nitrogen-bearing molecules. The liver has to break these down and dispose of them; the liver's job is to detoxify the body, so it is not doing anything unusual, but it has to work that bit harder to process protein. In addition, there is some concern regarding the safety of consuming animal protein. Modern farming methods include the regular use of antibiotics, growth hormones, sex hormones and pesticide dips. All these are passed on to the consumer in meat products.
Up to 75% of the kilocalories/kilojoules in red meat come from fat, much of which is saturated  (saturated fats are the ones we need to cut down on, I'll talk about them later this week.). Game meat - provided it is not 'reared' or 'farmed' may be a healthier choice since the animals have not been chemically treated and fattened for market. Or buy organic, if you can afford to.
Meat eaters generally have a low health rating. A meat eater is twice as likely to visit a doctor or be hospitalised compared to a vegetarian. And a meat eater may suffer from degenerative diseases up to ten years earlier than a vegetarian.
As I said at the start, most people - especially braai-loving South Africans - eat too much protein, which contributes to osteoporosis, acidity and heart disease. Obviously the healthy thing to do is to reduce red meat consumption to, perhaps, once every ten days (if you really must have it). Rather choose chicken, fish and/or vegetarian protein sources.
We only need two to three portions of protein per day (growing children, adolescents and pregnant women need slightly more) - whatever the source - and one portion of protein is equal to 35gm (raw) of boneless meat, such as lean beef, lamb, pork, venison or offal (liver, kidney, heart etc). This sounds like a miniscule amount, but protein requirements are based on a formula:
Body weight (in kilograms) X 0.8 = no. of gms of protein required per day.
So someone who weighs 62kg requires 49.6 gms of protein food per day. That is the absolute minimum needed for body function. Not much, is it?

Sally Avridge has decided to wait for tomorrow before she has some protein.

Recipe : Week 2 : Day 2

Executive SLT (ww 6)

4 servings : Very easy : Very quick
400gm fillet steak,trimmed
4 wholewheat rolls
12 asparagus spears
150gm mushrooms
low fat mayo
Microwave the asparagus spears in a little water for 3 – 4 mins.
Microwave the mushrooms in a little water for 2 mins.
Spray a ridged pan with cooking spray. Place on high heat.
Cut the fillet into 2cm slices.
When the pan is smoking, add the steaks and sear for 3 – 4 mins each side
(or until done to your liking).
Remove the steaks from the pan, and allow to rest for at least 5 mins.
Slice the steak into thin strips.
Place the asparagus and mushrooms into the steak pan.
Allow them to reheat and brown a little.
Slice the rolls open and spread generously with mayo and mustard.
Place lettuce and thick tomato slices on the bottom half of each roll.
Top with the steak strips, mushrooms and asparagus.
Drizzle over any remaining pan juices.
Serve with a simple salad garnish.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Write dairy in your diary...

Milk and milk products are good sources of protein, vitamins and minerals, especially calcium. That being said,they are not the only sources, or even necessarily the best. I can't emphasise enough that the best route to health is to eat a variety of foods from all the food groups.
These days there is a wide range of milk and milk products to choose from, and we are not restricted to cow's milk. Although sheep's milk and goat's milk are not readily available in South Africa, cheeses made from these milks are. Soy milk is available, and in some countries (I've never seen it here) rice milk.
Different milk treatments provide products with a longer shelf life; dried, long-life, tinned and ultra-heat-treated.
Although full-fat milk is only about 4% fat, products made from whole milk are comparatively high in saturated fats, so always choose the low-fat (about 2% fat) or fat-free (0.1%) varieties of all dairy products. Only children under the age of two need the full fat product - but NO dairy before six months of age, please. And no cheese before twelve months. Cow's milk is actually designed for calves, not humans, and it is very different in composition from human breast milk.. Early feeding with cow's milk can lead to allergy.
 If you find it difficult to switch from full-fat to skim, then take it in stages. It is only the fat content that changes; the protein, vitamin and mineral content are unaffected. Use low-fat milk for a month, and then switch to fat-free.
Admittedly, fat reduced cheddar is not terribly nice, although it is fine for cooking. For cheese sauce, I often stir through some fat-free cottage cheese for creaminess, and I add a bit of parmesan for extra flavour. The fat free feta, mozzarella and fromage frais are all good, as are low fat cheese spreads and cottage cheese. Be careful of ricotta and soft cheeses - they can be high in cholesterol. And try to buy white (un-dyed) cheeses - who needs artificial colourants, anyway? Cheeses often have high sodium (salt) levels, too. Substitute fat-free fromage frais or natural yoghurt for cream or sour cream in soups and sauces. Do this right at the end, and off the heat. If you reheat your soup or sauce, do so gently otherwise the yoghurt or fromage frais will separate out and spoil the appearance of your food.
The milk or dairy food group includes milk and all products that are made from milk and retain their calcium content. Cream, cream cheese and butter do not form part of this group; they are fats.
The recommended ingestion for dairy products is 3 servings per day. One serving equals: 200ml of milk; OR 150gm of yoghurt; OR 40gms hard cheese or feta; OR 60gm processed cheese; OR 125gm cottage cheese or fromage frais.
Sally Avridge is having a small pot of fat free yoghurt with her breakfast oats and berries. At lunchtime she can have 200ml of milk to drink, and she will probably use another 100ml milk in tea and coffee through the day. Then she can have  125gm fromage frais with the canteloupe melon after dinner. That's three dairy serves today. You're doing well, Sally.

Recipe: Week 2 : Day 1

Gingered lentils and sprouts with peppered chicken (ww 5pts) 
4 servings : Very easy

4 (about 650gm) chicken breasts
1 can of lentils, drained and rinsed
150 gm lentil sprouts
½ large cucumber, chopped
2 celery stalks, thinly sliced
Kernels cut from 2 sweetcorn
4 spring onions, finely sliced (use the green tops too)
1 tsp turmeric
½ tsp ground ginger
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
½ cup of white wine
1 Tblsp lemon juice
Good grind of black pepper
½ - 1 tsp salt
Spray the chicken breasts with cooking spray.
Season with freshly ground black pepper and a little salt.
Dry-fry the chicken in a ridged pan over a medium heat.
Combine the lentils, sprouts, cucumber and celery in a salad bowl.
Whisk together the dressing ingredients.
Test for sharpness – add a teaspoon of sugar if the dressing is too tart.
Pour dressing over salad and toss to combine.
Divide the salad between 4 plates.
Add chicken to each plate and serve.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Fruitful Friday

Fruits are classed as carbohydrates. The fruit group includes all fresh, frozen, canned and dried fruits, as well as juices. Be careful with canned fruit - the sugar content can be high; the same applies to juices - many of them are sweetened.
 Like vegetables, fruit comes in the most wonderful assortment of shapes, sizes, colours and flavours - from delicate little bluberries, through to enormous watermelons. Also like vegetables, fruits are packed with vitamins, minerals and fibre, as well as flavonoids and polyphenols.
Fruits are naturally sweet, but, for the most part, low in calories and fat.
Choose fresh fruit over juice. The vitamins and minerals are still there in the juice, but the fibre content is reduced. Dried fruit has more kilocalories/kilojoules and nutrients than an equal weight of fresh fruit. Some of the lighter coloured fruits, like apples, pears, sultanas and apricots are treated with sulphur-based preservatives when they are dried, to prevent discolouration.Anyone with asthma or allergies should exercise caution when eating fruits dried in this way. Dried fruit makes a great snack and provides a quick enery boost.
The recommendation for fruit consumption is two to three servings per day; one serve is equivalent to 1 medium apple, orange or pear; OR 125ml juice; OR 80gm (about half a cup) blueberries, raspberries or strawberries; OR 3 prunes; OR 1 Tblsp raisins or sultanas.
Personally, I eat few bananas, maybe one a week, just because of the high sugar content. And the riper the fruit, the higher the sugar content - not just bananas. And limit dried fruit to 1 cup a week.
I make a lot of fruit salads - in South Africa, we are fortunate to have a pretty wide selection of fruit available throughout the year. I know in many places you're lucky to get more than apples and oranges during the winter months. Sometimes I set mixed, chopped fruit in a sugar-free jelly. If you want to do this, don't put pineapple in, it effects the set. Oh, and reduce the amount of water slightly.
Today, Sally Avridge is having half a cup of blueberries on her breakfast porridge, and a large slice of cantaloupe melon (try it sprinkled with ground ginger. Yum) after dinner. She can also have an apple or pear midafternoon if she feels peckish.
That's 2 - 3 fruit servings today. Well done, Sally.

Recipe for Week 1 : Day 5

Salmon with caper cream, spinach and new potatoes

4 salmon steaks (about 100gm each)
4 Tblsp fat-free smooth cottage cheese
1 Tblsp fresh lemon juice
1 Tblsp capers, drained and chopped
2-3 Tblsp chopped parsley
500gm bag baby spinach, well washed
500gm new potatoes, scrubbed and halved

Measure out the cottage cheese, lemon juice, capers and parsley into a small bowl. Mix well to combine.
 Place new potatoes in a pan with some water, and cook until tender.
Spray the salmon, both sides, with cooking spray (or brush with oil – your choice).
Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Heat a ridged pan (griddle pan) and dry-fry the fish for about 5 mins each side, until the steaks
are golden and the fish flakes easily.
Remove from the pan and allow the salmon to rest.
Place the spinach into the griddle pan, season well, add a splash of water.
Cover the pan, and allow the spinach to wilt.
Divide spinach and potatoes between four dinner plates.
Add 1 salmon steak to each plate.
Garnish with the caper cream and lemon wedges.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Week 2 : Link for .pdf files

Ready? Printer on? Want to see what's on the menu?
Go here to the .pdf recipes and shopping list for week 2.
Remember to add and/or change the shopping list to suit your needs.

The low down on veg

Mothers have been urging their reluctant children to eat up their vegetables for generations. More than likely, some of you have had this same battle with your own children.
Vegetables are complex carbohydrates. They are rich in vitamins, minerals and fibre - a great food for improving overall health and preventing disease. Plus, the vast selection and beautiful colours are a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach.
It's best to eat vegetables raw, because the vitamins and minerals are easily destroyed by cooking. But unless you live in a very hot climate, and you only want to eat salads, you are going to be cooking vegetables most/a lot of the time. The most conservative way to cook veg is steaming - the nutrients are not boiled away in the cooking water. Otherwise, stirfrying or microwaving is probably a good way to go. Whatever cooking method you use, just remember to cook for the shortest possible time, in the least amount of water.
For optimum nutrition, your daily veg intake should be varied - that means branching out from the stock standard peas and carrots every night. Try something different for a change. How about artichokes, okra or fennel bulb?
Did you know:
Artichokes and green celery leaves contain natural insulin?
Cucumber is rich in iron, potassium, magnesium, calcium and vitamin C?
Tomatoes are rich in vitamins A and C, and lycopene?
Carrots are very high in vitamin A, calcium, magnesium and iron?
My top five vegetables for boosting health are: broccoli and spinach; butternut and carrots; and tomatoes and beetroot. My favourite veg - for flavour and versatility: tomatoes and broccoli.
All vegetables are good, regardless of whether they come to you fresh, frozen, canned, dried or juiced.
All the experts are always on about '5-a-day' They are talking about five servings per day of vegetables and fruit. Personally, I would rather see that as '5 veg-a-day, and fruit over and above the 5. Anyway, a minimum of 3 servings a day is what's recommended, so: 1 serving of vegetables is equivalent to: 3Tblsp of cooked vegetables; OR 2 cups of raw leafy veg (lettuce, spinach); OR 1/2 cup vegetable juice.
So today, our friend, Sally Avridge, is having:
a mixed salad (1 cup lettuce, 1/2 cup tomato and cucumber, and 1/2 cup of cooked beetroot) with her lunchtime whole wheat sandwich, and
1 cup of tinned chopped tomatoes, 1/2 cup of mushrooms and 1/2 an onion as the sauce over her pasta.
That's 3 and 1/2 servings of vegetables - not so difficult, was it, Sally?
Would you like some fruit tomorrow? Yes? Okay, fruit it is.

Recipe for Week1 : Day 4

Butternut and chickpea curry WW5.5

2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
5 cardomom pods, crushed
½ tsp chilli powder (optional)
Veg and pulses
2 onions,finely chopped
2 crushed garlic cloves
1 sm. butternut – about 500gm
400gm can chopped tomatoes
300gm can chickpeas
70gm red lentils
2 cups veg stock
1 Tblsp tomato paste

240gm rice

Peel and chop the onions.
Peel and crush the garlic.
Deseed and peel the butternut, and chop roughly.
Drain and rinse the chickpeas.
Start the rice cooking. Drain when tender. Keep warm.
Meanwhile, spray a large pan with cooking spray. Place over heat.
Cook onions and garlic until the onions are soft, stirring all the time.
Add the spices to the onion/garlic mix, stirring to combine.
Add the butternut, chickpeas, tomatoes, paste, stock and lentils.
Cook over low heat until lentils and butternut are tender.
Serve with rice and sweet chilli sauce.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Groans about grains and meet Sally Avridge

At least half of all the grains you consume should be whole grain. Choose whole grain breads and breakfast cereals, whole wheat pasta, and wild or brown rice, rather than their refined counterparts.
Of course, young children may find whole grains difficult to cope with, so they need to be introduced gradually as teeth and tummies develop.

The grain group includes all foods made from wheat, rice, oats, maize, barley, rye, quinoa or millet. These grains originate as the fruit, or seeds, of grasses and grass-type plants. They are cultivated on a large scale as staple crops - crops which provide more food energy for world populations than any other food group. Potatoes are also included in this group.
When grains are refined, the outer husk, the bran and the germ are lost, leaving only the endosperm, which is pretty much all carbohydrate. Gone are the vitamins, minerals and fibre that used to be part of each little grain. Keep them whole, and they will keep you healthy!
It amazes / amuses (not sure which is the more appropriate) that manufacturers go to great lengths to refine grain - removing most of the nutrients in the process - and then go to even greater lengths to replace what they destroyed with (mostly synthetic) additives!  "Fortified breakfast cereal with added vitamins". What an ad!
Even though grains are an essential part of your daily food intake, too much of even a good thing can cause weight grain.
An average person, of average height, weight, age  and activity levels (???!!!) consuming an average of 2000 kcals/8400kjoules daily (meet Sally Avridge) requires 6 servings of grains per day. 1 serving of grains equates to 1slice of whole wheat bread, OR 1 cup of ready-to-eat-cereal, OR 1/2 cup of cooked pasta, rice or cooked cereal, OR a potato the size of a large egg.
Today, Sally Avridge will have 1/2 cup of cooked oats for breakfast, a sandwich made with 2 slices of whole wheat bread for lunch and a cup and a half of pasta for dinner (she really likes pasta). That is six portions of grains, and provided she has whole wheat pasta, it's ALL whole grain. Well done, Sally!
What will Sally eat tomorrow? Join me for the low down on vegetables.

Recipe for Week 1 : Day 3

Avocado and orange salad with chicken WW5

±600gm skinless chicken breasts cut into strips
1 Tblsp lemon juice
Grated rind of 1 orange
2 Tblsp orange juice
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
Good grind of black pepper

4 Tblsp orange juice
1 Tblsp wholegrain mustard
3 Tblsp cider vinegar
1 Tblsp olive oil
another tsp grated fresh ginger
More black pepper
1 (100gm) pack of mixed lettuce
2 large oranges, skin and pith removed, and segments cut free
1 firm, ripe avocado
generous handful of black olives
salad sprouts

Combine marinade ingredients in a shallow dish.
Add chicken pieces, turn to coat each piece. Cover the dish and refrigerate for 30 mins.
Put a little olive oil in a pan (or use a cooking spray) and heat the pan.
Take the chicken out of the marinade and then fry it until nicely browned and cooked through.
Mix the dressing ingredients together in a small bowl.
Pour dressing into the frying pan and boil while stirring until reduced to about ½.
Tip the mixed lettuce into a bowl. Top with the orange segments, avocado slices, olives, sprouts
and chicken.
Pour the dressing over the salad while still warm.
Serve with hot crusty bread.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

'What's that, Mummy?'

When your three-year-old asks this question about an item of food on his/her or your plate, you are likely to reply:
'That's chicken / cheese / watermelon / broccoli / brown bread, darling.' 
You wouldn't give a description such as:
'Oh, that's animal protein / a combination of animal protein and saturated fat / a high-GI simple carbohydrate with a relatively low-GI load / brassica oleracea / a partially refined grain product, sweetheart. It's yummy. Eat up.'
We tend to think of food items in terms of their 'common' names, rather than considering the botanical family, genus and species, or the chemical composition. From habit, experience and the 'collective unconscious', you will go to the butchery section of the supermarket for animal protein, the veg section for brassica and (a lot of) other carbohydrates, and the bakery section for bread.
What I'm getting at is the fact that foods fall into fairly distinct groups, but as with any form of categorisation, the borders of the groups are a bit fuzzy. Few food products belong exclusively to one food group - at least, not by the time they reach your plate. But as the old adage has it, it all goes down the same way, anyway.
Food used to be categorized into three broad groups:
Carbohydrates; protein; and fats.
The carbohydrate group was the biggest and most complex: it covered vegetables, fruits, sugars and grains.
Proteins appeared to be reasonably straightforward, covering meat, poultry, fish, dairy and eggs - but wait, there's more - beans, legumes, quinoa, nuts and seeds are protein as well, although you can quite correctly group them with the carbohydrates.
The fats category comprised vegetable oils, animal fats, and dairy - though dairy also comes under protein!
No wonder people were - and still are! - confused about what they are eating!
Maybe a better approach is the new style 'food pyramid' (, which has six categories: grains, vegetables, fruits, milk, oils and meat and beans.
Lessons start tomorrow - I will take you through each of the food groups, as designated by the food pyramid, and - I hope - help you to make healthier food choices.

Recipe for Week 1 : Day 2

Ginger pork with cabbage  WW8
500gm pork fillet, trimmed & sliced
2 Tblsp soy sauce
1 Tblsp honey
1/2 tsp Chinese 5 spice
2 tsp grated fresh ginger
2 tsp olive oil

250gm egg noodles
150gm cabbage, cored and shredded
150gm spinach, washed and shredded
1 sm red bell pepper, deseeded and diced
1 red or green chilli, finely sliced
A generous handful of beansprouts
Mix the marinade ingredients together in a shallow bowl.
Add the pork, turn to coat, and allow to stand while you prepare the vegetables.
Tip the pork and marinade into a heated pan. Keep the pork moving so that the honey doesn’t catch.
Cook the noodles in plenty of water, according to the packet instructions.
Just before the noodles are cooked, add the shredded cabbage and spinach, the diced
bell pepper and the chopped chili.
Return to the boil and allow to cook for a further 2 mins.
Stir well to combine. Drain.
Divide the vegetable-noodles and the pork between 4 serving plates.
Garnish with bean sprouts.
Serve with extra soy and sweet chili sauce if desired.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Goal setting

So here we are, at the beginning of the year. Did you make any resolutions? What are you goals for this year? These notes on goal setting don't only apply to weight loss. Baby steps will help you win minor victories in the march to a major goal.

When we set goals, most of us tend to get carried away - we are far too ambitious - and the more ambitious we are at the outset, the less likely we are to succeed.
When you think 'I need to lose weight', you will probably stipulate the total amount of weight you want to lose, and a specific (short) time period in which to lose it. This approach will more than likely fail because the goal you have set yourself is unrealistic and unattainable! Better by far to break it down into baby steps, and not to put a time limit on success. Success breeds success, so after completing the first baby step you are going to happily commit to the next (baby) step. And so on.
So what changes in lifestyle are you going to implement to acheive your mini-goal? Most people will say that to lose weight you have to eat less and exercise more - right AND wrong answer!
To lose weight, we need to implement adequate healthy eating habits and sensible exercise.
Let's get the sensible exercise  out of the way first. I am NOT a personal trainer in the field of exercise. I have said before that I am lazy, not just a lazy cook, but lazy generally. I like the old saying 'why walk if you can stand, why stand if you can sit, why sit if you can lie down?'. My sentiments exactly! I have never exercised. Not in the formal go-to-gym/aerobics way. Yes, I played netball, tennis and hockey (most reluctantly!) at school. But I have always maintained that I got enough exercise looking after my husband, children and house. If you are into gym, then good for you; the endorphins produced by exercise are positive and very uplifting. The only exercise I introduced at the midpoint of my weight loss program was walking. Actually, not even walking. More of a brisk stroll; pushing my grandson in his pushchair, up to the local supermarket and back (not even a kilometer round trip), weather and nap times permitting, three times a week. But only if I felt like it. If you are not into gym, don't feel you have to start now, especially if you have a preclusive medical condition.
That brings me to the adequate healthy eating habits. This is going to be the on-going topic of my posts. Tomorrow I will start to introduce you to the different food groups.

So until tomorrow...

Recipe for Week 1 : Day 1

Linguine with fish poppets    WW9

800gm skinless haddock fillets
2-3 slices bread, crumbed
1 large egg
2 cloves garlic, crushed
¼ cup chopped parsley
60gm strong cheese, grated

Sauce ingredients
400gm can chopped tomatoes
1 Tblsp tomato paste
½ cup wine
240gm (dry) linguine

Chop the haddock, and squeeze out any excess moisture.
Place the haddock, egg, garlic, parsley and cheese in a mixing bowl.
Mix well. Add half the breadcrumbs and mix again.
Keep mixing in breadcrumbs until the mixture is firm.
Take large teaspoonfuls of the fish mixture and compress into balls.
Roll the balls in a little flour.
Start the linguine cooking, according to the instructions on the pack.
Heat a large frying pan with a tablespoon of oil.
Fry the poppets in the oil until they are nicely browned all over.
Remove the poppets from the pan.
Drain off any excess oil from the pan.
Tip the chopped tomatoes and paste into the frying pan, and boil until
the sauce is reduced.
Stir the wine into the sauce.
Add the poppets back into the pan.
Heat through.
Serve with linguine and a fresh salad.