Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Baked potatoes... with everything

Baked potatoes can make a speedy yet nutritious supper - as long as you have a microwave.
(If you don't have a microwave, boil the potatoes in their jackets. Once they are soft, grill all over to crisp the skins before splitting and topping.)

Prick the potatoes all over and microwave until they are soft.
Meanwhile, assemble toppings of your choice, which could include any of the following:
Baked beans and grated cheese
Broccoli (or any other veg.) in a low fat cheese sauce
Low fat or fat free cottage cheese with lots of black pepper
Leftover bolognaise sauce
Chickpeas and butternut with some added curry paste
Spinach and crumbled feta.

Once the potatoes are cooked, split them open and place on an ovenproof dish
Spoon over the prepared topping and grill briefly to brown.
Serve with a big green salad.

Real comfort food. What's your favourite topping?

Mushroom salad

Serves 4 : Easy : Quick
250gm tiny button mushrooms, sliced
200gm green beans, sliced and blanched
250gm cherry tomatoes
1 – 2 stalks celery, sliced
5cm cucumber, chopped
1 small red pepper, chopped
1 ±400gm can mixed beans, drained and rinsed
1 onion, finely chopped

A few basil and mint leaves
and sprigs of watercress, chopped

2 Tblsp low fat mayo
4 Tblsp fat free natural yoghurt
Juice and rind from a lemon

Combine the first eight ingredients with the chopped leaves.
Mix well.

Mix the mayo, yoghurt, rind and lemon juice together.

Serve the salad with a whole wheat roll or crusty bread on the side.

How quick and easy is that?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Iron deficiency

I've been meaning to go and give blood again, the blood bank even phoned me to remind me it was time. That was mmm... must be three weeks ago, and I still haven't got there.

Women sometimes get turned away when they go to donate blood because of depleted iron. Your body uses iron to make haemoglobin - that's the stuff that makes your blood red and is essential for carrying oxygen around the body. If you don't have enough iron, your body makes fewer, smaller red blood cells. Rather like buying an overnight bag when you really need a suitcase - it's not going to hold enough; in this instance, oxygen. You can be low on iron without necessarily being (iron deficient) anemic, and the symptoms may only be mild to begin with, developing slowly.

Symptoms include: feeling weak, fatigue, dizziness, being grumpy, headaches, trouble concentrating, looking pale and shortness of breath. (Most of us suffer with most of these most of the time!)

Who is most susceptible to iron deficiency? Small children, teenagers, pregnant women and women with heavy menstrual flow.

What aggravates iron deficiency? Poor diet, ulcers, pregnancy, stomach surgery or celiac disease.

Can you prevent it? In most cases, yes. Eat wisely and mindfully. Lean meat, eggs, oily fish, whole grains, beans and pulses, spinach, molasses, raisins, figs, seeds, prunes and oatmeal are all rich in iron. Caffeine, calcium and antacids act against iron absorption, Vitamin C improves absorption. The amount of iron your body requires varies with age and gender, but just make sure you get 2 - 3 servings of iron-rich foods every day.

mmm... I think I might have a poached egg on spinach for breakfast, with a glass of orange juice.

Chutney chicken

Serves 4 : Easy : Quick
4 skinless chicken breasts
4 tsp chutney
1 Tblsp curry paste
2 tsp cumin seeds

2 onions, finely chopped
2 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 star anise
240gm rice

2 Tblsp chopped coriander

Mix the chutney, curry paste and 2tsp cumin seeds together.
Brush this mix all over the chicken pieces.

Put the rice in a pot with the bay leaves, cinnamon stick, 2tsp cumin seeds and star anise.
Add boiling water and a little salt.
Simmer until rice is tender. Drain.
Stir through the coriander.
Keep warm.

Spray a frying pan with non-stick cooking spray.
Place over a medium heat.
Cook the chicken for about 10 minutes each side.

Serve the chicken with the rice and a salad on the side.

Monday, March 29, 2010


I seem to have gotten myself out of step with the daily recipes I post here. This week I'm setting it right. The only way you would notice is if you use the .pdf links I post on a Thursday and try to match them to the daily postings, otherwise it's just another day, another recipe.

I am going to the glorious Cape tomorrow to visit family and friends (I have to be at the airport at some ungodly early hour that I barely knew existed!), so I'm out of town until Wednesday next week. But I will still post the daily recipe. Other posts may be a bit brief - rather like this one.

Ginger Chicken

Serves 4 : Easy : Quick
4 skinless chicken breast fillets
2 Tblsp honey
2 tsp grated root ginger
Grated rind & juice of 2 lemons
800gm sweet potato
250gm sugar snap peas
6 – 8 large courgettes

Pickled ginger slices to garnish

Mix the honey, ginger and lemon juice.
Stir in ½ the grated lemon rind.
Brush this mixture all over the chicken.
Place the chicken in a dish and pour over any remaining mixture.
Allow to stand while you:

Put the sweet potato on to cook in lightly salted boiling water.
Drain when tender.
Mash with the remaining lemon rind and a good grind of black pepper.
Keep warm.

Boil, steam or microwave the snap peas and courgettes.

Meanwhile, spray a large frying pan with non-stick cooking spray.
Place over a high heat.
Once the pan is hot, add the chicken and reduce the heat to medium.
Dry fry the chicken for about 20 minutes until cooked through.

Serve the chicken beside the sweet potato mash, the peas and courgettes.
Garnish the potato with pickled ginger.

Friday, March 26, 2010

12 ways to reduce hypotension symptoms

Apart from following a healthy eating plan, and eating smaller meals more often (which I have been covering this week), there are a few other things you can do to reduce the symptoms of low blood pressure.

I've already suggested increasing salt intake and avoiding alcohol and caffeine, but I haven't said anything specifically about water (and this applies to everyone, hypotensive or not) - drink more non-alcoholic liquids, preferably water.

Water forms between 60 and 80% of the total body mass. It forms 95% of blood plasma.
Water is a wonderful solvent, it dissolves vitamins and minerals ready for circulation by the blood.
Water is necessary for digestion, absorption, circulation and excretion.
Water transports metabollic waste products to the kidneys.
Water maintains body temperature.
Our bodies lose water all the time through perspiration, exhalation, excretion and ageing, and that water needs to be replaced.
So drink more water.

Take things slowly, especially when getting up from a lying position. Sit on the side of the bed and take a few deep breaths before standing. Sleeping with the head of your bed raised on bricks may help.

Regular exercise helps increase blood flow, but don't lift heavy weights.

Avoid hot showers and baths - use cooler water.

Rest after eating, and only take hypotensive medications after meals.

Get your doctor or pharmacist to re-evaluate your prescription and over-the-counter medications in case any of them has blood pressure lowering potential.

Flex your knees, ankles and feet frequently to encourage blood flow.

Put your feet up. A small box under your desk to rest your feet on is a good idea, and a footstool or ottoman in front of your favourite armchair.

If your job involves a lot of standing, move around as much as you can. When you have to stand still, stand with your feet apart and your weight equally balanced. Don't 'lock' your knees, keep them flexed.

Have a great weekend.

Indoor BBQ chicken

Serves 4 : Easy : Quick
4 skinless chicken breast fillets

1 Tblsp honey
1 Tblsp BBQ sauce
1 Tblsp Dijon mustard

500gm new potatoes, scrubbed and halved
150gm large baby corn cobs quartered
1 large head of broccoli


In a small bowl, mix together the honey, mustard and BBQ sauce.

Make 3 – 4 slashes on the smooth side of each chicken breast.
Brush the chicken all over with the honey marinade.

Put the potatoes on to cook in lightly salted boiling water.
Microwave or steam the baby corn and broccoli.

Spray a large ridged pan with non-stick cooking spray.

Place the chicken pieces in the ridged pan and cook for 8 – 10 minutes per side,
brushing with the marinade again before and after you turn it over.

When the chicken is cooked to your liking serve with the potatoes and steamed veg.

This could be done on a braai or barbeque – the marinade is really delicious, and the chicken
comes out tender and succulent. Have low fat mayo on those potatoes instead of butter.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Link to .pdf files for Week 14

Go here for the recipes and shopping list for Week 14.

A portable lunch and home in time for dinner

Remember on Monday I said that hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and hypotension (low blood pressure) have very similar presenting symptoms? So it makes sense to treat those symptoms in the same way - at least as far as eating goes. The suggestions I made on Tuesday are applicable treatments for both conditions. But then, those suggestions are good for anyone interested in healthy eating (apart from increasing salt and protein, of course. Most of us eat way too much of those.)

Yesterday I looked at on-the-run breakfasts, and today I'm going to dream up some no-fuss take-to-the-office lunches. A healthy, balanced dinner at home shouldn't ever present a problem - there are new recipes on this blog every week day, and past and current recipes are collected and categorised on my other blogs, listed on the right of this page.

I am a great fan of the soup-salad-sandwich lunch, whether I am at home or at the office. I'll start with soup.

You can make a rich, creamy tasting soup out of butternut or carrots (or both), which is delicious hot or cold.
Start with: 1 onion, peeled and quartered.
Add to this 1 medium butternut, peeled, deseeded and cut in chunks (or 5-6 large carrots, scrubbed and sliced).
Put the prepared veg in a saucepan and pour in about 750ml of chicken or veg stock .
Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 30 mins.
Once the veg are soft, blitz the whole lot with a hand-blender, or in a liquidizer, until it is smooth.
Now you can add more water if you want a thinner soup.
Then add in whatever you like in the way of flavouring - 2 Tblsp curry paste, 2 Tblsp chopped coriander (cilantro) or 2 Tblsp of grated ginger root - and blitz again to disperse the herbs.
Pack into plastic containers (this freezes well, though you may want to blitz it again on thawing).
Serve with a dollop of fat free yoghurt, creme- or fromage fraiche.
I usually get 4-5 servings of about 350ml each out of one pot of soup.

Salads are a fabulous way of packing in all those vitamins and minerals. And 'salad' is very versatile - you can put in pretty much whatever you have. To most people a salad is rabbit food, but it doesn't have to be. I always start off with mixed lettuce leaves because I like lettuce, but you can add rocket; baby spinach; chopped fresh mint; chopped fresh basil; watercress; mustard cress; asparagus and alfalfa sprouts; and I'm still only on the green stuff. For colour and crunch there are: red, yellow and green bell peppers, red onion, radishes, olives, beetroot. For substance add: chickpeas, cannellini beans, broad beans. For extra protein add; hardboiled egg, feta cheese, nuts, pine nuts, seeds, smoked trout. For a sweet surprise add chopped apple, mango, pineapple, pear, grapes, cherry tomatoes, orange segments. No dressing required.
Or you could start with cooked rice or pasta and add any or all the above.
Lucky rabbits!

Sandwiches are versatile, too. You could pack the salad above between two slices of whole wheat bread, or in a bagel, or in a hollowed out whole wheat seed roll. Then there are the usual sandwich fillings; egg- chicken- or tuna mayonaise (use a low oil light mayo, and you don't need to butter the bread). Or choose a filling of cold meat, chicken or cheese.

Full yet? Don't get bogged down with eating the same lunch every day. Ring the changes with left-overs (which don't sound very appetizing after the soup-salad-sandwich combo above!) or look back at the breakfasts I suggested yesterday - many of those make a suitable lunch.

If you suffer with hypoglycemia or hypotension remember to split your meal between lunch and a snack.
And please, watch your portion sizes.

Tuna potato wedges

Serves 4 : Easy : Quick
750gm baby potatoes, scrubbed and cut in wedges

1 small onion, finely chopped
2 x 170gm cans tuna in brine
2 Tblsp chopped parsley
80gm fat reduced mozzarella, finely grated
6 Tblsp low fat mayo

Preheat the oven to 220ºc.

Cook the potato wedges in lightly salted boiling water for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the onion, parsley, cheese and mayonnaise in a bowl.
Drain the tuna and gently fold in to the mayo/cheese mix.

Spray four individual oven proof bowls with non-stick cooking spray.
Divide the potato wedges between the bowls.
Spoon over the tuna mix.

Bake, uncovered, at 220ºc for 15 minutes until golden and bubbling.

Serve with a large green salad on the side.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Breakfast and snack suggestions

 I have been talking specifically about alleviating hypoglycemic symptoms so far this week, but the meal and snack suggestions I'm making today are applicable to anyone wanting to improve their eating habits. If you suffer with hypoglycemia then save some of your breakfast for a snack later; but don't eat a piece of fruit on its own, the sugars are too quickly and easily digested so you need to have a couple of provitas or 1/2 slice of whole wheat bread and half a glass of skim mik as well.

A healthy breakfast
Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day, but we pay scant attention to it and just grab whatever comes to hand - a slice of toast, a bowl of cereal. Or nothing at all! You have been fasting all night, your blood sugar is low and you need a kick start before you can expect your body and brain to perform optimally. Many of us make the excuse that we 'don't have time' for breakfast. Make time. It's vital for your health. Ideally, breakfast should contain a little protein, a little fat and carbohydrates. Some ideas:

No time available?
A small carton of low-fat or fat-free yoghurt (fat and protein - even fat free has a trace of fat). Add to this one tablespoon of seeds - sunflower, pumpkin, linseed, sesame, flax, linseed, whatever (fat and protein) - and one tablespoon of bran (carbohydrate).

4 pro-vita biscuits (carbs) spread with one tablespoon low-fat or fat-free cottage cheese (fat and protein). Top with slices of cucumber or tomato (more carbs).

A smoothie: 1/2 cup of each of the following: frozen (or fresh) berries, yoghurt, milk, water. Whoosh together with a hand blender. Accompany with an English muffin or crumpet (whole wheat, of course).

A piece of fruit, a small piece of cheese and a slice of whole wheat bread or toast.

A little time available?
A piece of fruit, 1 egg (fat and protein), 1 slice wholewheat bread or toast.

40 - 50gm high bulk, high fibre cereal with 1/2 cup milk and 1/2 cup yoghurt. (I particularly like the Weigh Less Hi-Bulk Meusli. 50gms gives a respectable bowl-full).

2-3 Tablespoons baked beans on toast. Sprinkle with some grated cheese. Eat a piece of fruit or drink 1/2 glass pure unsweetened fruit juice.

No rush?
Cooked oats with 1/2 cup of chopped fruit (or 1 tablespoon raisins or cranberries) and 1 tablespoon cottage cheese, creme fraiche or yoghurt.

One egg omelette with a filling of 1 thin slice ham chopped or 1 tablespoon grated cheese, tomato, chopped mushrooms (quickly dry fry mushrooms and tomato before adding to the omelette). Serve with one slice of whole wheat toast.

A home-made pancake (use 1/2 nutty wheat flour, 1/2 cake flour, no sugar) filled with 1 cup chopped fruit of your choice, sprinkled with cinnamon, topped with a dollop of fromage frais.

Poached haddock or kipper with one slice whole wheat bread

See? It's not so difficult to come up with no-fuss, nutritious breakfasts, is it? Any of the No time breakfasts make easily portable, eat any time snacks, too.

Let's do lunch tomorrow.

Chickpea feast

Serves 4 : Easy : Quick
400gm potatoes
2 x 300gm cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 clove garlic, crushed
3 – 4 spring onions, sliced
½ cup chopped coriander
1 - 2 Tblsp dried breadcrumbs

For the salad
½ large cucumber, sliced
8 large cocktail tomatoes, halved
2 tsp sesame seeds
2 tsp pumpkin seeds
2 Tblsp lemon juice
½ cup fat free natural yoghurt

Preheat the oven to 220ºc.

Boil the potatoes until tender.
Drain and mash well.
Add the chickpeas and mash again.
Stir through the garlic, onion and coriander.

Shape the mixture into 8 patties.
Dust with the dried breadcrumbs.
Spray the patties and a baking sheet with non-stick cooking spray
Place the patties on the baking sheet.
Bake for 15 minutes until golden and heated through.
(You may need to use the grill to brown nicely.)

Combine the lemon juice and yoghurt in a large bowl.
Add the cucumber, tomatoes and seeds.
Turn to coat everything with the dressing.

Serve the salad with 2 patties per person .

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

8 ways to reduce hypoglycemic symptoms

Yesterday I gave very brief and simple definitions of low blood pressure (hypotension) and low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), and the likely presenting symptoms for each. Please scroll down to read that post if you missed it.

I want to reiterate - if you have prolonged and/or recurrent symptoms, you need to visit your doctor in order to find and treat the underlying cause. Changing to a healthier way of eating may well help ease the symptoms while you undergo tests, and will certainly do no harm. Keeping a food/symptoms journal for a week to ten days will help highlight any recurring pattern of symptoms. Be sure to track stress levels, too.

Hypoglycemia can be caused or exacerbated by; diseases of the pancreas, liver or kidneys; PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome); diabetes; pregnancy; a weakened immune system; chronic mental or physical stress; alcoholism; allergies or prolonged drug use (including antibiotics). Three types of drug having a known blood glucose lowering effect are monoamine oxidase inhibitors (used to treat depression), quinine sulphate (anti-malarials) and aspirin. However, do NOT stop taking drugs that have been prescribed for you without first checking with your doctor. See what I mean about looking for the root cause of the problem?

One thing about the symptoms of hypoglycemia is that they can very simply be eased by eating something. The symptoms will generally dissipate within ten to fifteen minutes once food is ingested (if they don't, then perhaps hypoglycemia is not the problem). So you will find symptoms easier to manage if you have more, smaller-than-usual, meals throughout the day.

If you have chronic, prolonged or recurrent symptoms of hypoglycemia, here are some suggestions:

DO plan on having something to eat every two-and-a-half to three hours, for example: breakfast at 7:00am, a snack at about 10:00am, lunch at 1:00pm, a snack at 3:30 or 4:00pm, dinner at 6:30pm and a last snack at about 9:00pm (I'm using these times as a rough guideline. Your own preferences and needs will dictate when you eat.)

DO include a little fat, a little protein and, of course, carbohydrates at each meal and snack. You cannot afford to skip or even delay a meal or snack. 

DO keep your portions small - you don't want to increase the number of calories/kilojoules you consume in a day.

DO aim at reducing, or (better still) eliminating, simple and refined carbohydrates like white flour, sugar, honey, all syrups - replace these with natural whole foods. Stick with low- and moderate GI foods.

DO increase your protein intake slightly, by using eggs, nuts, seeds, fish, beans and pulses.

DO avoid caffeine, alcohol and anything with high levels of potassium e.g. bananas (potassium lowers chromium and manganese). Avoid the sweetener 'stevia', too, because it has the potential to lower blood sugar and blood pressure.

DO (and I never thought I would say this!) increase your salt intake slightly. Salt slows insulin response so helps to diminish the rapid rise and fall of blood sugar levels. It also helps to raise blood pressure.

DO come back tomorrow for some meal and snack suggestions.

Lentil lamb

Serves 4 : Easy : Quick
400gm minced lamb
½ cup barley
½ cup lentils
2 carrots, chopped
4 courgettes, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, sliced
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp dried rosemary
500mls hot veg stock

600gm sweet potatoes,
peeled and cut in chunks


Put the sweet potatoes on to cook in lightly salted boiling water.
Once tender, drain and mash.
Keep warm.

Meanwhile, spray a large pan with non-stick cooking spray.
Dry-fry the onions, celery and garlic for about 5 minutes until the onions are soft.
Add the mince to the pan and brown.

Add the lentils and barley.
Add the carrots, courgettes and rosemary.
Add the stock and stir well to combine.

Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 20 mins,
or until the lentils and barley are cooked.

If necessary, thicken the sauce with a tablespoon of maizena.

Serve the sweet potato mash with the lamb sauce.
Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint.

I’m always thrilled when I can get the proper orange sweet potatoes. They have a naturally sweet flavour which goes well with lamb. Although sweet potatoes are higher in kilojoules than ordinary potatoes, they have more fibre and therefore a GI.

Monday, March 22, 2010

2 lows to bring you down

I am not a doctor. I have a background in anatomy, physiology and nutrition and an abiding interest in all things medical. Any information I give here is based on my own knowledge, experience and some research. I believe that many of today's ills can be ameliorated by healthy eating, but if you have chronic or unexplained symptoms, you need to find the cause and get that treated. Don't just treat the symptoms, your body is trying to tell you something. SEE YOUR DOCTOR.

Bron asks:
I battle terribly with low blood sugar and low blood pressure, despite healthy eating. I eat small meals regularly, but this doesn't seem to help. What can I do to keep my blood sugar and blood pressure up and consistent?

Before I answer this question, I feel I need to give a brief description and the common symptoms of each condition. A lot of people are frighteningly uninformed about the body.

The heart pumps blood around the body in order to supply oxygen and nutrients to every one of the hundreds of thousands of cells in the body. Blood pressure is the measure of the force of blood pushing against the arterial walls as the heart pumps.

Low blood pressure (hypotension) would seem to be something desirable, since high blood pressure (hypertension) is known to be a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. However, low blood pressure can be very distressing and debillitating. With the body at rest, 'normal' blood pressure is said to be 120/80, but it is variable between individuals and within each individual (your blood pressure will vary throughout the day depending on what you happen to be doing at any given moment). Low blood pressure is 90/60 or lower, and high blood pressure is 140/90 or higher. This is very simplistically stated.

One person in every three with hypertension doesn't even know that they have it (that's why it's sometimes called the 'silent killer'), but if you suffer with hypotension you know about it. Symptoms include:
dizzyness/lightheadedness; palpitations; lack of concentration; blurred vision; nausea; cold, clammy skin; rapid shallow breathing; fatigue; depression and thirst.

As I mentioned, the heart pumps blood around the body to supply nutrients to the cells. These nutrients largely consist of 'sugars' (glucose is the result of digestion, and it's what your body runs on). The amount of glucose in the blood is controlled by courtesy of a hormone called insulin. Insulin is released into the blood stream when you eat, and it whips the glucose out of the blood for storage and later gradual release as energy when required. So you will appreciate that blood glucose levels will fluctuate throughout the day according to when you last ate, what you last ate and your activity levels. Again, this is very simplistic, and I'm talking about an averagely healthy person, not someone who is diabetic.

The symptoms of low blood sugar include:
hunger; headache; dizzyness/fainting; palpitations; confusion; blurred vision; nausea; clammy skin; drowsiness; irritability and nervousness. Sound familiar? Check the symptoms for low blood pressure again, and you will see that the two conditions have very similar presentation.

Tomorrow I'll talk about healthy eating to help ease these conditions.

Fish with tomato and spinach sauce

Serves 4 : Easy : Quick
4 large or 8 small hake fillets

1 ±400gm tin chopped tomatoes
200gm frozen spinach
1 clove garlic, crushed
½ onion, finely chopped
±10 large basil leaves, chopped

400gm potatoes
1 large aubergine
1 sm butternut
4 large courgettes


Put the potatoes on to cook in lightly salted boiling water.
Once cooked, drain and keep warm.

Peel and cut the aubergine and butternut into large pieces.
Cut the courgettes into chunks.
Microwave or steam these vegetables – the aubergine and courgettes cook very quickly,
so watch you don’t overcook them.
Once all are tender, keep warm.

Meanwhile, spray a large pan with non-stick cooking spray.
Spray the fish fillets, too.
Cook the fish for about 3 – 4 minutes each side.
Remove from the pan and set on one side

Fry the onion and garlic gently until the onion begins to soften.
Add the tomatoes.
Simmer for about 10 mins.
Stir thru the spinach and basil.
Rest the fish back on top of the tomato mix.
Cover with a lid, and allow to simmer very gently to reheat the fish, while you:

Share the potatoes, aubergine, butternut and courgettes between the dinner plates.
Carefully remove the fish from the pan and place on the plates.
Spoon the sauce next to the fish and serve.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Diet plans, pills and potions.

Continuing my thoughts from yesterday:

Will you keep the weight off afterwards?
The straight answer? With no behaviour modification? NO.

We all know at least one person who has gone on a diet, if we haven't gone on one ourselves. I personally have started many different diets through the years. And finished them. And put all the weight back on again afterwards. With interest! It's called 'yo-yo dieting'.

People who know me know that I avoid using the word 'diet' whenever possible. In colloquial English, the word has negative connotations. It implies feelings of deprivation. It implies forbidden foods. Going on a 'diet' implies a begining and an end. And this last sentence shows just where the problem lies. Not so much the 'begining', but the 'end'.

We start a diet, usually with good intentions and high motivation. We intend losing x pounds/kilograms. When we finish the y-week plan, or when we get to goal weight, we stop the plan. And gradually resume the eating habits that made us overweight in the first place!

The only way to lose weight, and keep it off, is to modify the way you eat now. That means making gradual healthy changes to our food choices. And then making those changes stick. 'Forbidden' food lists shouldn't feature - we still want to be able to indulge ourselves occassionally, don't we?

Sorry, it's not a rapid weight loss strategy - there's no such thing - but it is worth the time and effort.
For your health. Which is everything, right?

I'm not anti diet clubs - they can supply advice, encouragement and camaraderie. But in the end, you're on your own. Is your club teaching you anything about nutrition?

The sentiments and opinions expressed on this blog are my own. You are entitled to your own opinion, too. If you have had a healthy experience with a diet plan or pills, and you have lost weight and kept it off for at least a year after stopping the plan/pills, I would love to hear about it. Bet you didn't do it without changing your old eating habits.

Have a great weekend.

Thai veg curry

Serves 4 : Easy : Quick
350gm sweet potato, cubed
2 stalks celery, sliced
1 large onion, chopped
4 courgettes. chopped
100gm green beans, cut in 2cm lengths
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 – 2 Tblsp curry paste (I used Patak’s Rogan Josh)
1 cup dried red lentils
500mls veg stock
4 naan breads

Spray a large saucepan with non-stick cooking spray.
Lightly fry the onion, celery and garlic until they begin to soften.
Add the curry paste and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
Add the sweet potato, lentils and stock.
Give it all a good stir and bring to the boil.
Reduce to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes, or until the lentils and sweet potatoes are tender.
Add the courgettes and green beans.
Cook for another 5 minutes.
Warm the naan breads.
Serve the curry with the naan breads, and some plain fat free natural yoghurt on the side if you like.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Link for .pdf file: Week 13

Go here for the recipes and shopping list for Week 13.

Diet - a multibillion dollar industry - and still growing

There are hundreds of diet plans available, through clubs, books, clinics, pharmacies, the internet - even on your cereal box! There are hundreds of medications available - and these pills and potions usually come with a diet sheet, too. All of these companies advertise that their plan/pill/potion is the plan/pill/potion that really works! And most of them do, indeed, help you lose weight... Here comes the 'but'... BUT at what cost?

Will you really drop a dress size in a week?
As a rational, reasonable, intelligent being you can't believe this one!

Will you be satisfied with the food you're allowed to eat?
It doesn't matter how many delicious options there are on the permitted list, the mere fact that there are 'forbidden' foods leaves you with a sense of deprivation and dissatisfaction.

Will you keep your temper?
Restricted and reduced nutrition lead to irritability and an inability to cope with stress.

Will you keep your sense of humour?
Feelings of deprivation, dissatisfaction, irritability and stress contribute to depression - definitely not humourous.

Will you be able to keep up the regimen?
Well, as long as the weight is coming off, you will probably be motivated to continue. But once you hit a plateau - generally in the third or fourth week - the whole idea is probably going to go out the window. And you'll get despondent.

Can you afford the continuing financial cost?
Pills and potions are expensive - they have to be. No return customers for these products, because once you've tried them you probably won't buy them again.

Will you keep your health?
This is the most important question. Many pills, shakes and meal replacements are full of synthetic additives, e-numbers, caffeine and artificial sweeteners. Some of them even contain toxic drugs. The side effects can be numerous: insomnia, nausea, altered blood pressure, blurred vision, diarrhoea, to name but a few. Is that healthy?

Will you keep the weight off afterwards?
This one leads into tomorrow's post...

Chicken in a parcel

Serves 4 : Easy : Quick
4 skinless chicken breasts
1 small red cabbage, shredded
1 onion, sliced
4 good handfuls spinach, trimmed & roughly chopped
4 carrots, julienned
1 heaped tsp chopped ginger
2 Tblsp teriyaki sauce
2 Tblsp soy sauce
Pinch of chilli flakes
200gm rice

4 pieces baking paper, each about 30cm x 50cm

Put the rice on to cook in lightly salted boiling water.
Drain once cooked, and keep warm.
Combine the ginger, teriyaki sauce, soy sauce and chilli flakes in a small bowl.
Lay the baking paper out on the counter and spray with non-stick cooking spray.
Divide the prepared vegetables between the papers in layers:
cabbage, onion, spinach, carrots.
Top with one chicken breast per paper.
Spoon the ginger/sauce mixture over the chicken and vegetables.
Fold over the paper in a butcher’s fold, and fold the ends under.
Place the parcels on a baking tray.
Bake at 200ºc for 20-25 minutes.

Divide the rice between 4 plates.
Open the paper parcels and slide the contents on top of the rice.
Serve with extra soy sauce if you like.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

3 months in...

It's three months since I started this blog. I used to call it 'this blogger's cook book', but it has grown to be so much more (at least to me), so I've changed my header. Don't worry, the address is unchanged. And you'll still get a new recipe every day, and - for the moment at least - I will still post the link to the .pdf menu, shopping list and recipes every Thursday. Anyone using that link and printing out my recipes?

I see new readers arriving from all over the world, and I see people returning again and again. I hope some of you are trying out the recipes and taking on board some of my tips on improving your eating habits and lifestyle. Thanks for stopping by, and be sure to come back. If you don't like today's recipe, there will be a new one tomorrow.

You are welcome to ask questions or air your thoughts in a comment, and, provided the questions are relevant to the topics I usually talk about, I will answer you as promptly as I can.

Let's start some conversations.

Souvlaki and chopped salad

Serves 4 : Easy : Quick
±400gm lean lamb strips
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp dried oregano
A good handful or two lettuce, chopped
2 large tomatoes, chopped
½ small cucumber, chopped
6-8 spring onions, sliced
2 stalks celery, sliced
12 pitted black olives, sliced
Small handful seedless raisins
Handful of mint, chopped
500gm new potatoes, scrubbed

Put the potatoes on to cook in lightly salted boiling water.
Drain and keep warm once they are cooked.
Measure the cumin seeds and oregano into a plastic bag.
Add the lamb strips to the bag and shake well.
Combine all the salad veg in a large bowl.
Spray a large frying pan with non-stick cooking spray, and heat.
Once the pan is hot, add the coated lamb strips.
Stir-fry the lamb for 6 – 8 minutes.
Serve the lamb with the new potatoes and chopped salad.

If you like a dressing on your salad you can make your own with equal quantities of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. There are quite a few low-fat readymade dressings available, too. Just remember that you only need one tablespoon per person at most.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Food is good

Another question from Natalie:

Mart and I are trying not to eat that many carbs at night so what we have been doing is making things like stuffed gem-squash (boiling them, adding a little creamed sweetcorn, then frying in a tiny bit of olive oil: some onions, mushrooms, and lean bacon, then adding a tiny bit of cheese and grilling). Can you let me know whether this is bad or not? we tried filling the gems with mince but that wasn’t so nice...

First of all, I want to say that all fresh food is good, so there is nothing 'bad' about your meal of stuffed gem squash. What you have described doesn't sound very sustaining, though. Try mixing some cooked rice - or better still, quinoa - into your filling, and I think you will find the meal more satisfying, and no less healthy. You can try stuffing butternut (more robust than gem squash), aubergine or bell peppers, or even large tomatoes as a variation.

When you talk about 'carbs', I think you mean 'starches'. Yes, starches are carbs too, but so are gem squash, onions and mushrooms! The majority of your food should consist of carbs, and if what you are eating is not meat and not fat, then it is carbohydrate.

The best nutritional value comes from foods that are as natural as possible, so as long as you are avoiding processed foods you are doing really well. The next best thing to fresh is frozen or canned. These products are usually free of colourants and preservatives, and they provide foods that are quick and easy to prepare plus giving you year-round availablity. If you buy canned vegetables, just check for added salt, and only buy fruits canned in fruit juice - the fruit canned in syrup is overloaded with added sugar.

I know you and Mart are both physically active, and you do need starch for optimum performance. What time of day do you go to gym? You should have between 6 and 9 servings from the grains (starches) food group every day. Remember that the grains group includes: potatoes, sweet potatoes, whole wheat pasta, brown and wild rice, bulghar wheat, couscous, cereals and breads, etc. You shouldn't cut out starches (do control portion sizes), rather reduce saturated fats and added sugars, for health and weight control.

I welcome questions, from all my readers, provided they are relevant to the past and present content of this blog. Please leave your question in a comment, and I will do my best to answer you promptly.

Quick fish and pasta

Serves 4 : Easy : Quick
400gm penne pasta
1 large tin pink salmon, in brine (or ‘keta’ salmon – it’s cheaper)
6-8 spring onions, sliced diagonally
1 cup frozen peas
2 cups broccoli florets
Juice and rind from 1 lemon

Put the pasta on to cook in lightly salted boiling water.
Add the peas and broccoli for the last 10 minutes.
Drain once the pasta is al dente, keeping about ½ cup of the cooking liquid.
Put the pasta, veg and reserved cooking liquid back in the pan.
Stir through the lemon juice and rind.
Add the spring onions.
Add the drained salmon, which you have broken up slightly with a fork.
Stir gently to combine everything.

Serve with a large mixed salad.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Question time

My niece recently asked me a few questions about healthy eating, and I thought since her questions are the kind that everyone ponders I'll answer them here. If you have questions about encouraging and/or introducing healthy eating into your home, leave a comment for me and I will answer.

So here is Natalie's first question:
We are trying to eat a lot of fish and those peppered mackerel which taste yummy! At lunch I try and have tuna on ryvita with sliced cucumber, but have to be naughty and have a little aromat. We eat those packet tuna 'John West light tuna' with the mixed in dressings - do you think they are bad?!

I don't know that the light tuna with mixed in dressing is 'bad' - I haven't read the label, but they probably contain some sort of synthetic preservatives. They are certainly very expensive. A plain old tin of shredded tuna in brine, drained and mixed with a little HELMAN'S LOW FAT mayo (with the green lid and very yummy!) and some finely chopped spring onion or red onion works out much cheaper. Add a little salt and a good grind of black pepper - and a little bit of tomato sauce and / or lemon juice if you like. Instead of mayo you could mix in some other low-oil salad dressing (Ina Paarman's range is delicious.) Aromat contains monosodium glutamate, and quite a few E-numbers - read your packaging. Try using a sprinkle of veg stock powder instead - Ina Paarman's has no MSG, and no E-numbers.

Don't get bogged down in having the same lunch every day - try and vary it a bit, or you will get very bored with it eventually. Try roasting a whole chicken occassionally, strip the meat off the bones and throw away the skin. Freeze in small portions for lunchtime use. When you thaw it, you can either use the slices, or chop up finely with some mayo.

Melrose low fat cheese slices and wedges are also a good breakfast or lunchtime food. And a hard boiled egg is hard to beat.

Ryvita's are crunchy and tasty. Have you tried all the different varieties? I particularly like the ones with sesame seed. Provita are also yummy, specially with marmite, cucumber and tomato. I have a problem with crackers and savoury biscuits - they just taste like 'more' (gotta have some 'more')! Have some bread occassionally, too - rye bread is one of my favourites.

Make the effort and make more of salad veg at lunchtime. Eating a plate of mixed salad is very satisfying, fills you up a bit more, and helps you meet your 5-a-day. And there is pretty well no limit to what you can put in a salad. Did you know that butternut and sweet potato are both good raw? Chickpeas (garbanzo beans), cannellini beans and butter beans are all salad friendly. Throw in some chopped mango or pineapple and add some nuts and you have a very healthy nutritious lunchtime feast.

Parsnip chicken hotpot

Serves 4 : Easy : Quickish
8 skinless chicken thighs
2 onions
300gm parsnips
300gm carrots
200gm courgettes
500ml veg or chicken stock
2 Tblsp honey
2 Tblsp whole grain mustard
2 Tblsp chopped parsley

Cut the parsnips, carrots and courgettes into thick juliennes.
Spray a large pot with non-stick cooking spray.
Brown the chicken pieces all over, and then remove from the pan.
Next, fry the onions lightly until they begin to soften.
Add the vegetable sticks and turn to combine.
Mix the honey and mustard with the stock and add to the vegetables.
Stir gently.
Nestle the chicken pieces down in amongst the vegetables and stock.
Simmer, covered for 30 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through.
(It doesn’t hurt to leave it longer, even up to an hour.)

We ate this without any starch and found it perfectly filling and satisfying.
Either plain boiled potatoes or crusty bread would make a good accompaniement.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Positivity against the odds

In our present economy - and now they are talking about a 'double-dip' recession - we all need to cut down our expenditure. Prices keep rising while, for the the majority of us, our incomes are static. So we all have less disposable income.

This doesn't need to be depressing. Let the economy be 'depressed' all on its own. Let's rather adopt a positive and generous outlook - positivity and happiness play an enormous role in our physical, as well as our mental, health.

So, let's look at being positive. Materially, we have some, if not all, of: a bed to sleep in, clothes to wear, a roof over our heads. These give physical comfort and respite.
Emotionally, we have: friends, family, children - all of these people need us and enrich our lives with love.
Spiritually, we have faith, hope and charity.

We have so much to be thankful for, we can afford to be generous.
Materially, we can clear out the cupboards - stuff we haven't used or worn for the last year can be donated to charity. Someone somewhere is desperately in need of the things we've had stashed away so long that we probably forgot we even had them. There is something about de-cluttering and simplifying our lives which is enormously satisfying.

Emotionally, we can clear out negative feelings. There is no point in holding on to anger and resentments. The only person negative emotions hurt is you! The person you resent or are angry with probably doesn't even know that you feel that way, and if they do they more than likely don't care! Forgive and move on. (Forgetting may take a while.) Close your eyes, take a deep breath and as you exhale, let go of anger and resentment. Letting go of negative emotion frees up energy for some more positive project.

We can practice kindness (a form of charity) in our daily lives - it doesn't have to cost us financially. We can help someone by supplying a shoulder to cry on, a friendly ear or by giving sympathy, empathy and moral support. I've said before that a friendly smile or a hug improves the self esteem of the recipient, it also gives the giver a spiritual lift.

Have a great weekend. Enjoy being with your loved ones. And if you are alone - for whatever reason - use the weekend to relax and rest, you never know when someone might need you.

Pita pizza

Serves 4 : Easy : Quick
4 whole wheat pita pockets
300gm sweet potato, cubed
1 medium aubergine, cubed
1 ±400gm can chopped tomatoes
1 large onion, sliced
20 pitted black olives, sliced
80gm low fat feta, crumbled
60gm low fat mozzarella, grated
Dried oregano

Cook the sweet potato and aubergine chunks.
(The aubergine cooks much faster than the sweet potato, so start the potato
and add the aubergine for the last 10 mins.)
Lightly toast one side of the pita breads under the grill.
Spread the untoasted side with the chopped tomatoes.
Cover with onion slices.
Pile on the sweet potato and aubergine cubes.
Scatter over the cheeses and olives.
Sprinkle with oregano.
Grill until the cheeses melt and start to brown.
Serve with a salad.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Link to .pdf file : Recipes and shopping list for Week 12

Go here for the recipes and shopping list for Week 12.


Take-aways. Hmmm. How many take-away meals do you eat in a week? Generally, take-aways are heavy on the fats and starches and the portion sizes are out of balance - bad for general healthy and the waistline. And bad for the wallet.

I'll admit that it's very nice to occassionally be relieved of kitchen duty. You don't have to prepare, cook or clean up afterwards. Occassionally. But you can easily prepare and freeze home-made ready meals in bulk. Hamburgers, chicken burgers and bolognaise sauce are all simple to prepare in bulk. Then you can serve those burgers on whole grain rolls, with a healthy serving of salad. And boiling up a pot of pasta takes very little time or effort.

Many recipes can be doubled up, while you're preparing one meal for immediate consumption you're getting the health benefits of a second meal with minimal extra effort. Just make sure you label your extra meal, stuff can become unrecognisable once it's frozen. And put the date on, too.

Invest in some of those rectangular foil boxes, they stack well in the freezer. If you're careful, you can re-use them three or four times.

I have had great success with frozen home-made lazagne (mince, chicken and vegetarian), soups, pizzas, stews and casseroles. I try to keep my freezers organised - one shelf/basket for ready meals, one for breads and muffins, one for vegetables, etc. Even if you only have an 'ice box' at the top of your freezer, you'll be surprised at what you can fit in.

Now all you have to remember is to take something out to thaw in the morning.

Eastern Chilli Beef

Serves 4 : Easy : Quick
400gm lean beef strips
1 onion, sliced
1 – 2 garlic cloves, crushed
3 – 4 stalks celery, sliced
1 small cabbage, shredded
125gm snow peas, sliced diagonally
4 courgettes, sliced
Small bunch of spinach, trimmed and coarsely chopped
2 Tblsp chopped ginger
2 Tblsp soy sauce
3 Tblsp sweet chilli sauce
320gm rice

Put the rice on to cook in lightly salted boiling water.
Drain and keep warm when tender.
Combine the soy sauce, sweet chilli sauce and ginger in a small bowl.
Spray a wok or large frying pan with non-stick cooking spray.
Fry the onions, celery and garlic until the onion starts to soften.
Add the beef strips to the pan and cook for about 5 mins.
Stir through the courgettes, cabbage, spinach and snow peas.
Add the ginger and sauces.
Keep stirring over the heat for about 2 minutes.
Serve with the rice and extra soy sauce if desired.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Eight out of twenty four

Hardly a pass mark, is it? Only 33%. But if you score 33% for sleeping, you are top of the class and fortunate indeed.

Research has shown that people generally like to sleep between five and eleven hours in every twenty four, the average preferred period being just under eight hours. No-one really knows why we sleep, but it is absolutely essential to our health, as necessary as air, food and water. Adequate sleep is necessary for proper brain function - thinking, evaluating, memory, coherent speech, concentration. Lack of sleep effects every part of life - jobs, relationships, productivity and safety.

Staying awake for only seventeen hours at a stretch - which many of us do every day - leads to a decrease in performance similar to that experienced by drinking two glasses of wine!

Quality sleep needs to be continous and uninterrupted. And here-in lies a problem. Most of us live in densely populated areas. All our neighbours have at least one dog and one car. And probably an alarm system. We all live in close proximity to main roads. Not to mention small children who have bad dreams or wake for feeding.

We can habituate to certain noises or sounds - this means that the sound is so consistent that you stop noticing it - the clock ticking, the thrumming of electrical appliances, that sort of thing - but a sudden loud noise, or a change in the quality of a sound, or even a cessation of a noise can wake us. Then we have to start going through the various sleep stages again, from the beginning, until we get back to deep beneficial sleep.

There is little we can do to combat night noise polution. Some people go to bed wearing earplugs, but personally I've found that physically uncomfortable, and I feel very vulnerable when I can't hear. Others use an air-conditioner to give an overlay of 'white-noise'. I guess it's a case of whatever gets you through the night.

Chicken Roll-ups

Serves 4 : Easy : Quick
4 large chicken breast fillets
1 large bunch spinach, cleaned, trimmed and roughly chopped
80gm grated parmesan
1 ±340gm tin chopped tomatoes
Some chicken spice
500gm new potatoes, scrubbed and halved

Put the potatoes on to cook in lightly salted boiling water.
Drain and keep warm when tender.
Spray an oven proof dish with non-stick cooking spray.
Preheat the oven to 200ºc
Lay the chicken breasts on a board and cover with wrap or a plastic bag.
Gently hammer with a steak hammer or rolling pin.
(You are going to spread a stuffing on the ‘wrong’ side of the breasts and roll them up,
so they need to be thin – like a schnitzel)
Wilt the spinach in the microwave.
Stir through the parmesan and the chopped tomatoes.
Spread this mixture over the rough side of each breast.
Roll each breast up lengthways and secure with a toothpick.
Place in the casserole dish with the toothpicks to the base of the dish.
Spray with non-stick cooking spray.
Sprinkle with chicken spice.
Bake at 200ºc for about 20 minutes.
Remove from the oven and allow to stand for 5 mins before cutting in half diagonally.
Remove the toothpicks.
Serve the chicken with the new potatoes and a crisp salad on the side.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Habitual eating

Last week I talked about emotional eating - eating to compensate for something that's lacking in our lives or to comfort ourselves. But we often eat from habit, too. Actually, I'm not talking about eating as in eating a well balanced meal (as in breakfast or lunch - both of which I hope are established habits in your day), but eating as in snacks and treats.

If you think about it carefully, you will probably realise that there are rituals associated with your in-between meal snacks and treats. Perhaps you habitually have a couple of biscuits with your tea or coffee: always munch on chips while you read a book; usually eat sweets while driving; reward yourself with chocolate for a job completed.

Habits can be difficult to break. So maybe try modifying the habit instead - have only one plain biscuit, and only with your afternoon tea or coffee: munch on grapes while you read: sing along to the radio or CD while you drive (good for coping with traffic stress, too): move on to the next challenge when you've completed the job (or tick the job off your to-do list). These new strategies are wiser choices for your mental health and your waistline. It is really not a good idea to eat anything while you are doing something else anyway. Your attention is diverted, and you consume far more than you realise.

We should be aware of every morsel that passes out lips - do we really need it? Definitely not. Do we really want it? Probably not.

Rocket Risotto

Serves 4 : Easy : Quick
300gm Arborio rice
±600ml hot chicken stock
1 Tblsp olive oil
2 onions, finely chopped
2 sticks celery, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
200gm button mushrooms, sliced
2 – 4 courgettes, sliced
60gm grated parmesan
2 cups coarsely chopped rocket

Spray a large frying pan with non-stick cooking spray.
Add the mushrooms and cook until tender.
Stir through the garlic.
Remove mushrooms and garlic from the frying pan.
Add oil to the pan.
Cook the onion and celery for 5 minutes until softened.
Tip in the rice.
Stir well to combine, and to coat the rice with oil.
Add ½ cup of stock and stir until the liquid is absorbed.
Add the courgettes.
Waiting until the previous stock has been absorbed, keep adding stock, ½ a cup at a time.
Stir frequently.
When all the stock is absorbed and the rice is cooked and creamy add back the mushrooms and garlic.
Stir through the parmesan and the chopped rocket.

Serve with freshly ground black pepper and extra parmesan, if desired.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Vary the veg

Having turned off the TV during dinner, and enjoyed some quality conversation with you spouse/partner and/or family instead, it's time to introduce more vegetables.

If you have been looking at (better still, using) my recipes, you will have noticed that all of them have at least three vegetables in them or with them; if there is a shortage of veg on the plate, then I always suggest a salad. You don't have to serve the vegetables I recommend - you can substitute your own favourites - but I do try to include a variety that is seasonal, relatively inexpensive and colourful. A colourful plate is a healthy plate. A variety of colours indicates a variety of vitamins and minerals. But leave out the veg you or the family really don't care for; just be sure to substitute something else. I personally don't care for pumpkin (except in pumpkin pie, when it is wonderful) - I find it watery, stringy and bordering on tasteless. But I really enjoy butternut squash which has real substance, form, colour and flavour. And butternuts come in usable, storable sizes, which is always a plus in my book, unlike pumpkins.

If I use something unfamiliar to you, do try it. You might enjoy it. I bought ochra a little while ago (I'm not sure if I've posted those recipes yet), something I've never tried before. They were alright. Interesting. A little bit different. I don't know that I would rush to buy them again - but at least I gave them a chance.

Buy a different vegetable this week - something you haven't served in a while, or ever. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Fruity fish and chunky chips

Serves 4 : Easy : Quick
4 large hake fillets
1 small ripe mango
1 tsp chopped root ginger
1 Tblsp mint sauce
1 Tblsp mango chutney
2-3 slices bread
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp cumin
1 Tblsp lemon juice
400gm potatoes, scrubbed and cut into large chips

Spray a baking tray with non-stick cooking spray.
Spread the chips out on the baking tray.
Spray the chips with non-stick cooking spray and grind over a little salt and some pepper.
Bake in the oven for 30 minutes until the chips are crisped on the outside and soft in the middle.

Peel the mango, cut the flesh off the stone and chop.
Grind the bread into crumbs.

Combine the mango, cumin, turmeric, ginger, chutney, mint sauce and lemon juice.

Spray a casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray.
Place the hake in the casserole dish in a single layer.
Spoon the mango mix over the fish and press down.

Cover the casserole dish and bake for 10 minutes at 200ºC.
Remove the cover and sprinkle the breadcrumbs over.
Place the dish back in the oven without the lid/foil.
Bake for another 10 – 15 minutes until the fish flakes easily and the breadcrumbs have crisped.

Serve the fish with the chunky chips and a salad on the side.

You could use ‘oven chips’ if you prefer, but I don’t think they are any quicker to cook.
What you can do to save time is parboil the chips for 10 minutes before spraying, seasoning and baking.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Striving to thrive

We all want to thrive and succeed. We all want to be valued for who we are and what we do, at home, at the office and in the community. Very often we feel we are not thriving, succeeding or valued in any area of our lives. A lot of this comes down to our own lack of regard for ourselves.

We are last on our list of priorities, whether our needs are spiritual, mental or physical, everyone and everything makes the top of the list while we leave ourselves trailing behind. And no matter how much time, effort and money we expend on the front-runners they never seem to move off the list entirely and make room for us at the number one position.

One thing we can do is take five minutes in the evening to assess our performance for the day. Even if we have had an 'unproductive' day, we nevertheless completed some important tasks. We prepared meals, made at least one bed, dropped and fetched children from school or creche, supervised homework, listened to a friend, spouse or colleague with attention and sympathy, made somebody smile.

All of the above - and plenty more - are worthy of recognition and appreciation. They are all everyday tasks that you complete without even thinking about them, they are second nature. Value yourself for them, even if nobody else seems to.

Bear in mind, we all feel this way. We also need to show others that we appreciate and value them - we don't do this often enough. It only takes a hug, a smile and a 'thank you'.

Wouldn't a hug, a smile and a 'thank you improve your self esteem?

Recipe : Week 10 : Day 5

Sweet potato and chick pea wrap
Serves 4 : Easy : Quick
8 low-fat wraps or rotis
±400gm can chick peas, rinsed and drained
200gm sweet potatoes, cubed
1 - 2 Tblsp curry paste
1 Tblsp chopped coriander
±400gm can tomato and onion mix
½ cup fat free natural yoghurt
1 Tblsp mint sauce
2 Tblsp mango chutney
Large bag of spinach

Cook the sweet potato cubes until just tender, then drain and put them back in the pan.
Add the chick peas, curry paste, coriander and tomato and onion mix.
Stir well to combine, and heat through gently.

Warm the rotis or wraps.
Wilt the spinach.

Combine the yoghurt, mint sauce and chutney.

Spread a bed of spinach on each wrap.
Top with the chick pea sweet potato mix.
Finish with the yoghurt dressing,

Fold over one end of the wrap, then roll up from the side.
Serve 2 wraps per person.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Link to .pdf file: Recipes and list for Week 11

Go here for the recipes and shopping list for Week 11.

Banning treats

It seems that banning treats altogether, or imposing miserly restrictions is more likely to create a greater desire for them... and not just in children.

We have all started diets thinking that the easiest way to lose weight is to exclude certain foods. This is a fallacy. No food groups - even sugars and fats - should be totally excluded. They each have their place in a healthy eating plan. If we ban all the sweet stuff entirely, we just feel deprived and depressed. We need to take control and limit quantities.

Our efforts to improve family health and lifestyle can succeed. We have to realise that no improvement comes without effort. So, for a start, we can buy fewer treats when we do the grocery shopping. Decide, before you leave home, which treats you are going to buy, and in what quantities. To decide what quantities to buy, you have to designate treat times, of course. And once back from shopping, we can keep those treats in their very own container, on a high shelf. Out of sight, out of mind. The treats that come in a strip or bag of individually wrapped portions are a great aid to self control.

How often should we serve treats? Certainly no more than once a day.  Give children their own choice of treat from the available selection, and let them decide when they want to eat it. Maybe after supper is a good time, or they might want to include it in tomorrow's lunchbox. But... once the day's treat is gone, it is gone. And that applies to adults, too. One rule for everyone in the family.

Recipe : Week 10 : Day 4

Salmon with garlic-y bean salad
Serves 4 : Easy : Quick
4 salmon steaks (±100gm each)
Ground cumin
1 cup green beans, cut and cooked
1 cup sugar snap peas, cut
2 large tomatoes, chopped
1 cup chopped cucumber
Juice and grated rind of a lemon
2 Tblsp white vinegar
6 spring onions, sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
2 Tblsp chopped parsley
Large bunch of rocket

Combine all the salad ingredients, except the rocket.

Spray a ridged pan or frying pan with non-stick cooking spray.
Place over a medium heat.
Spray the salmon with non-stick cooking spray.
Sprinkle the salmon steaks with cumin.
Dry-fry the fish, presentation side first, for 5 mins.
Turn and cook skin side for another 5 mins, or until done to your liking.

Serve the bean salad, on a bed of rocket, beside the salmon.

This bean salad keeps well in the fridge (IF there is any left over), and it is good enough
to serve alone as a vegetarian meal.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A good night's sleep

Within certain boundaries, we can will ourselves to stay awake, but willing ouselves to go to sleep - in my experience - is largely ineffective. Nothing is more frustrating than not being able to get to sleep at night. We toss and turn. We watch the clock. We know we have to get up in a few hours and cope with the usual hectic schedule. In the end, we may even abandon all hope of nodding off, and go and make a cup of tea.

Here are a few ideas to help you drift off a little bit faster.

1. Simple deep breathing - in and out, through the nose. Inhale to a slow count of three, exhale to a slow count of three. Wait for a slow count of three before repeating. Keep this up for about ten minutes each night. Deep breathing is relaxing. Concentrate on keeping count, that helps clear your mind of all the niggles and irritations of the day.

2. Keep your bedroom clear of hi-fis, computers and TV. If you must have a TV in the room, make sure it is turned off properly, and not sitting with the beady little red standby light glaring at you.

3. Set a bedtime routine. The repeated actions of a routine are soothing. So take a warm bath if you normally bath at night, brush teeth etc, and then read for fifteen minutes - something light, not a text book or the newspaper!

4. Don't eat for the three hours before bed. A heavy or spicy meal can lead to heartburn, which will make falling asleep more difficult. If a meal was 'heavy' it was too large and too fatty for your general health, not just your sleep.

5. Avoid alcohol and caffeine. Alcohol is a natural diuretic - a full bladder will make sleep difficult. Alcohol also leads to snoring, which reduces airflow to the lungs, which reduces oxygenation of the blood, which is what causes a hangover - or even just a headache. (Snoring disturbs your sleep-partners's sleep, even if you think it doesn't spoil yours!)
Caffeine is a stimulant which stays in your system for several hours - in fact it only kicks in about twenty minutes after consumption. So avoid tea, coffee and chocolate.

6. Remember the old wives tale about cheese giving you nightmares? Well eating cheese can certainly keep you awake, because it contains a chemical which causes the release of a brain stimulant. But it's not just cheese. Bacon, ham, aubergines, red wine, avocado pears, nuts, raspberries and soy sauce all do the same thing!

Good night. Sleep tight. Don't let the bugs bite.

Recipe : Week 10 : Day 3

Baked Rosti
Serves 4 : Easy : Quickish
4 extra large eggs
200gm pizza ham, chopped (optional)
400gm potatoes
400gm sweet potatoes
1 large onion
1 garlic clove, crushed
60ml milk
1 head broccoli

Grate the potatoes, sweet potatoes and onion.
Spray an oven proof dish with non-stick cooking spray.

Spray a large pan with non-stick cooking spray and place over a medium to high heat.
Tip in the grated veg, the garlic and the pizza ham (if using).
Keep turning until the onion softens and the potatoes begin to brown.
Turn into the oven-proof dish.
Pour over the milk.
Bake at 200ºc for 25 mins, until the potatoes are completely cooked and the top is golden and crispy.

Boil, steam or microwave the broccoli.
Poach the eggs.

Cut the baked rosti into four.
Serve beside the broccoli with a poached egg on top.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The art of conversation

Eating has always been viewed as social and sociable. We always offer refreshment when anyone visits, even if it is only a cup of tea, it will be accompanied by cake or biscuits. And if we are offering alcohol, then there will more than likely be crisps or nuts. And, hopefully, conversation.

I often think that the art of conversation has been buried alive under television, radio and technology. When did you last have a conversation with someone? I mean beyond a greeting. When we ask someone how they are, do we really expect them to answer us fully? We, more often than not, hope that they won't because a full and truthful answer might embroil us in lengthy sympathy or insincere congratulation. Or, heaven forbid, they might ask for a favour!

We all talk, but do we all listen? And here is the usual excuse - we don't have time. At least, that is our perception.

Have a real conversation this week. Even if it is only one. And listen carefully to the other person, give him or her your full attention. Listening involves more than just the ears - there is additional information given in the tone and register of the words used, in facial expression and body language. Is the other person really listening to you, or does he/she have a glazed expression or one eye on the TV?

Conversation is food for the soul. It acknowledges our existance. It feeds our need for recognition.

Recipe : Week 10 : Day 2

Steak ‘n’ peas
Serves 4 : Easy : Quick
±480gm lean beef strips
1 Tblsp Dijon mustard
1 Tblsp balsamic vinegar

±240gm rice
2 cups frozen peas
1 Tblsp mint sauce

Mixed salad, to serve

Mix the mustard and vinegar together.
Put the beef strips in the mustard and vinegar marinade.
Stir and turn steak pieces around to cover.
Allow to stand while you:

Put the rice on to cook in lightly salted boiling water.
When almost done, add the frozen peas.
Continue cooking until the peas are done.
Drain and stir through the mint sauce.
Keep warm.

Spray a frying pan with non-stick cooking spray.
Place over a high heat and tip in the steak strips and marinade.
Dry fry for about 5 - 10 mins (the better the quality steak, the shorter the cooking time).

Serve the steak strips over the peas and rice, with a crisp mixed salad on the side.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Emotional attachment

Working from home can make weight loss and maintenance quite difficult. The kitchen is right there, and it is oh, so easy to make a cup of coffee and get out the biscuit box whenever I feel. Yes, that is the way I intended to write that last sentence.

I used to think that I wasn't an emotional eater, but, hey, it turns out I am! And we all seem to have a similar comfort attachment to food. As soon as we feel bored, lonely, unhappy, worried, stressed, tired, dissatisfied, disappointed or overworked - I bet you can add another dozen adjectives to this list, some even positive! - we tend to comfort or reward ourselves with food (and/or alcohol). And I'm not talking sensible portions of good, nutritious food. It's a case of "what can I eat to feel better?"

While eating for comfort may make us feel better - carbohydrates are naturally calming - the feeling is very temporary, and soon swamped out by other feelings... of guilt.

So we need to take control. We always have a choice. We can choose to eat a whole bar of chocolate / bag of pretzels / litre of ice cream. Or we can make a more responsible choice. Instead of indulging in empty calories and lots of fats - which we'll regret later - we can clean or tidy something. At home there is always some little job that needs doing, and even at the office we can tidy and reorganise desk drawers, or make a to-do list. Take a walk, even if it is only to the bathroom. Any distraction like these will improve our mood, and give a sense of achievement. (As long as we then don't then congratulate ourselves with food for a job well done!) If you must eat, have a piece of fresh fruit.

Objectivity helps, too. Mentally take a step back from the situation. Will it (the situation) really matter in a week's time? a year? Stretch. Really stretch. Breathe deeply and slowly. Now, back to work.

Recipe : Week 10 : Day 1

Pilchard Fish cakes
Serves 4 : Easy : Quick
300gm sweet potatoes
300gm potatoes
large tin pilchards in tomato sauce
1 onion, finely chopped
4 Tblsp chopped parsley
for the dressing
4 Tblsp low fat mayo
6 Tblsp fat free natural yoghurt
1 Tblsp chopped parsley
zest and juice of 1 lemon

Put the potatoes and sweet potatoes on to cook in lightly salted boiling water.
Drain once cooked and mash until smooth.

Mix all the ingredients for the dressing together and stir well to combine.

Drain the pilchards, and break up with a fork.
Mix in the parsley and onion.
Combine the fish mixture with the mashed potatoes.
Chill for 30 minutes, if you have time.

Divide into eight fish cakes; shape and dust lightly with the flour.
Spray a large frying pan with non-stick cooking spray.

Dry-fry the fish cakes until nicely browned both sides, and heated through.

Serve with the dressing and a crispy mixed salad.