Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Hot and sour fish : Wk48/2

Serves 4 : Very easy : Very quick
4 skinless fillets hake, cut in sticks
4 Tblsp cornflour
2 Tblsp vegetable oil

2Tblsp dry sherry
2 Tblsp cider vinegar
2 Tblsp soy sauce
2 Tblsp sweet chilli sauce
250ml vegetable stock

240gm rice
250gm extra fine green beans

Cook the rice in lightly salted boiling water until tender.
Drain and keep warm.

Boil, steam or microwave the beans until they are cooked but still crunchy.
Drain and keep warm.

In a jug, combine the sherry, vinegar, soy, sweet chilli and stock.

Turn the fish pieces in the cornflour to coat, shaking off any excess.
Heat the oil in a large pan and fry the fish for about 5 minutes.
Remove from the pan and drain on kitchen paper.

Pour the sauce into the pan and bring to a boil.
Drop the fish pieces into the sauce and stir gently.
Simmer for another 3 minutes.

Serve the fish on the rice with the beans on the side.

The cornflour dusting on the fish keeps it succulent and helps to thicken the sauce. My husband gave this recipe a 5-star rating - mind you, he does enjoy his food! But it was really tasty.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Making cake... and eating it

I’m always surprised to hear people say that they don’t like fruitcake. I’ve even found sites on the web that tell you how to get rid of your unwanted (fruit) Christmas cake that ‘nobody wants or eats’! Really? I suppose my up-bringing was very English and fairly traditional – Christmas wasn’t Christmas without a proper (preferably marzipanned and iced) Christmas fruit cake.

Many years ago, a work colleague gave me his wife’s ‘boiled fruit cake’ recipe. It was a wonderfully moist rich cake, eminently suitable for Christmas. And very easy to make; no beating of butter and sugar, no sifting of flour etc. I used this recipe for many Christmases, and I used it for my children’s christening cakes. But a couple of weeks ago I looked everywhere and could not find it. I started asking friends if they had a recipe for me to try, and two of them did – both are boiled fruit cakes, so last weekend I tried the first one. This weekend we ate most of it (with a little help from visitors). It was pretty good, though I felt it needed more fruit; in fairness, the dried fruit I used had been in the cupboard for a while so maybe it wasn’t as ‘plump’ as it should have been. Next weekend I’ll have to try the other recipe. And hope the cake lasts, uncut, until Christmas.

I’ve been doing a bit of research on the web to try and find out how and why Christmas cake evolved. I do like to know the ‘why’ of things. I know that the spices are supposed to represent the Wise Men from the East, bringing gifts to the baby Jesus. In the early years, the fruit used must have been ‘sun-dried’ (a process used as early as 6000BC). The spices and fruit would have been imported and very expensive.

Christmas (fruit) cake is a particularly English tradition that has evolved over the years. It started out as plum porridge which was eaten on Christmas Eve, after a day of religious fasting, before attending midnight church services. Wealthier people started to add dried fruits, spices and honey to the mix, and this is the basis of today’s Christmas pudding.

By the 16th century, the oatmeal in the porridge recipe was replaced with wheat flour, eggs and butter and people who had ovens then baked the pudding, instead of boiling it – ta-da, Christmas cake. In the late 1700s Carollers were offered slices of this cake as ‘payment’ for their singing, and around the same time laws were put in place to say that ‘plum cake’(fruit cake) could only be eaten at Christmas, Easter, weddings, christenings and funerals!

People tend to make Christmas cakes in November, and ‘feed’ them with brandy each week up until Christmas. The high sugar content of the fruit preserves the cake, while the brandy keeps it moist.

So now I see the ‘how’, but I still don’t understand the ‘why’.

Chicken and mange tout salad : Wk48/1

Serves 4 : Very easy : Quick
3 chicken breasts, cut in strips
120gm pearl barley
1 green pepper, thinly sliced
250gm mange tout, sliced diagonally
40gm flakes almonds
12 cherry tomatoes, quartered
Grated rind of 1 lemon
2 Tblsp chopped fresh parsley
1 Tblsp red wine vinegar
1 Tblsp olive oil
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp paprika

Cook the barley in lightly salted boiling water until tender (about 20mins).
Toss in the mange tout for the last 5 minutes.
Drain well.
Cool under running water and drain again.
Set aside.

To make the dressing:
Combine the vinegar, mustard, oil and paprika in a small bowl.
Mix well and set aside.

Spray a pan with non-stick cooking spray.
Dry fry the chicken strips for about 5 – 10 minutes.

Put the barley, mange tout, chicken, green pepper, almonds, tomatoes, lemon rind and parsley in a large bowl and toss well to combine.

Pile the salad onto 4 plates and serve with the dressing on the side.

This dressing was a bit of an experiment, and when I tasted it I wasn’t quite sure, but on the food it was perfect.

Friday, November 26, 2010


We strive all week to make healthy food choices, control portion sizes and take reasonable exercise. Then along comes the weekend (or a special occasion) and all our good intentions dissolve – whether it’s drinks with colleagues after work, someone’s birthday or Sunday lunch at the in-laws’ place – and the road to healthy eating is forsaken. One weekend of eating and/or drinking too much, or failing to keep up with your exercise routine can undo a lot of the good work you did during the previous week, both physically and mentally.

After a weekend of over-indulgence we may well feel guilty and call ourselves weak-willed, resolving to do better next weekend. But we need to help ourselves keep that resolution. Here’s how:

  • Start with a healthy breakfast, as on any other day. A good breakfast ensures that we will be able to get through to lunchtime without gnawing hunger pains or a headache. High fibre cereal with yoghurt, whole grain toast with a smear of peanut butter or thin slice of cheese, or an egg – all healthy choices.
  • Keep on track by tracking, every day – yes, even weekends. We need to stay up-to-date and honest with our food journal/diary – even if we go overboard. At least we will be able to see how (and maybe why) we did.
  • Going shopping? Eat first. If we’re hungry while grocery shopping, we’re likely to pick up all sorts of food items that we don’t really want, and certainly don’t need.
  • Occasional treats are allowed. Any eating plan that leaves us feeling deprived is sure to fail. There is no harm in enjoying a small piece of dark chocolate or one scoop of ice cream. Occasionally; I said that already, didn’t I? Don't save all your treats to splurge at the weekend.
  • Plan ahead. Knowing what we are going to eat is really important for keeping on track. We need to plan weekend meals, too, and make a shopping list accordingly. And stick to the list. If we don’t put poor food choices in our trolleys, they won’t be in the house to tempt us later. Stock up on fresh fruit instead.
  • Spend some time reading and planning. Reading health magazines keeps us up-to-date with current research and tips on food and nutrition – there are usually some tasty, healthy recipe ideas, too.

Enjoy your weekend. You deserve a break.

Vegetable and lentil curry : Wk49/5

Serves 4 : Very easy : Quick
1 onion, chopped
1 – 2 Tblsp Patak’s tikka masala curry paste
1 head cauliflower, broken into florets
1 green pepper, sliced
1 small butternut, cubed
2 large carrots, sliced
1 cup of dried lentils
500ml vegetable stock
1 x 400gm tin chopped tomatoes
4 Tblsp chopped coriander

240gm rice

Cook the rice in lightly salted boiling water .
Drain and keep warm.

Spray a pan with non-stick cooking spray.
Dry fry the onion until it starts to soften.
Add the tikka masala paste along with the cauli, green pepper, butternut and carrots.
Give everything a good stir to distribute the curry paste.

Next, add the lentils, stock and tinned tomatoes.
Cover and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the lentils are soft.

Stir ½ the coriander through the curry.

Serve the curry, garnished with the remaining coriander, alongside the rice.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Link to .pdf files for Week 49 and Review (9)

What’s on the menu for next week?

Here are the recipes and shopping list for Week 49.

And, in case you want to look back, here are the links fto recipes and shopping lists for weeks 33 - 36:
Week 33
Week 34
Week 35
Week 36

Salmon pepperonata : Wk49/4

Serves 4 : Very easy : Quick
4 salmon steaks, each ±120gm
Juice and grated rind of 1 lemon
1 red onion, sliced
1 red pepper, sliced
1 yellow/green pepper, sliced
2 Tblsp seedless raisins
1 Tblsp capers, rinsed and chopped
2 Tblsp red wine vinegar

480gms new potatoes, scrubbed and halved
500gm broccoli florets

Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.
Lay the salmon on the baking tray and sprinkle over the lemon juice and rind.
Heat the oven to ±200ºC.

Put the potatoes on to cook in lightly salted boiling water.
Cook the broccoli on a steaming rack above the potatoes.
Drain when cooked and keep warm.

Bake the salmon for about 15 minutes, or until it flakes easily.

Spray a small pan with non-stick cooking spray.
Dry fry the onion until it starts to soften.
Now add the peppers, cover and cook gently for about 5 minutes.
Tip in the capers, raisins and vinegar and stir well.
Simmer gently for 5 minutes to reduce the liquid.

Serve the salmon topped with the pepperonata with the vegetables on the side.

I think the pepperonata is sweet enough with the raisins, but you can add a teaspoon of dark brown sugar, if you like.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Routine eating for kids

Children – right into even late teen years – are growing and developing. We send our kids to school for academic training, but education about food has to come from home. They need a solid basis of sound nutrition in order to provide energy for all that is going on in their bodies, and the good eating habits they develop now will serve them well in the years ahead.

Children learn by example – they will eat fruit and vegetables and try new foods, as long as they see you do. You are their role model, and younger children especially really want to be just like you. If you can’t stand to eat anything green, you are going to have a problem ‘faking’ enjoyment of vegetables. The first one to train in this case is yourself! Carrots make a good starting veg since they are naturally sweet and crunchy. Most children seem to enjoy peas and sweetcorn, too; and it’s not a giant-leap to progress from peas to beans and pulses. Try cooked chickpeas as a nibble snack.

Sometimes it may seem easier to give them take-aways, like burgers or pizza, just to save fights and resistance, but you will not be doing them or yourself any favours. Nearly all processed foods (especially take-aways) are overloaded with saturated fats, sodium and sugar which are unhealthy, and though you may think that this can be overcome at a later stage why set up bad eating habits in the first place?

The closer foods are to their natural state the more nutritious they are. Home prepared meals will provide more in the way of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients than any restaurant meal or take-away.

Routine is important for healthy eating. Children thrive on routine because it gives them a sense of security, so set regular meal and snack times, and have a specific eating space that the whole family uses. Always start with breakfast; gradually replace sugary cereals with high fibre cereals served with fresh fruit (e.g. chopped banana, pureed apple, strawberries) and/or yoghurt for natural sweetness, or opt for toasted whole grain bread with peanut butter. Don’t let the gap between meals stretch too long. A hungry child will get scratchy and irritable very quickly so a snack may be in order – provided there is at least an hour to go before the next scheduled meal.

Don’t stress about the amount of food your child eats – forcing him to finish everything on his plate is bad for everyone’s digestion; some days he may devour everything you put on his plate - and then ask for more! When he doesn’t eat enough (by your standards) don’t bribe (sweeties or ice cream if he eats) or threaten (no TV), just accept that he has had as much as he wants. Don’t be tempted to offer an alternative food, either. He’ll eat when he’s hungry.

Quick pork casserole : Wk49/3

Serves 4 : Very easy : Quick
3 large pork chops, all visible fat and bone removed
1 red onion, sliced
200gm button mushrooms, wiped and sliced
2 red eating apples, cored and each cut in 12 pieces
500ml chicken stock
1 tsp Chinese 5 spice*
1 Tblsp corn flour

400gm boiling potatoes
500gm green beans
4 large carrots, cut julienne
6-8 courgettes, topped and tailed and left whole

Boil, steam or microwave the vegetables until cooked.
Drain and keep warm.

Cut the pork into strips.
Spray a pan with non-stick cooking spray.
Dry fry the onion and pork strips until the onion softens and the pork is sealed.
Add the mushrooms and apples to the pan and stir fry for 5 minutes.
Pour in the stock and stir through the Chinese 5 spice.
Cover with a lid and allow to simmer for 15 minutes.

Mix the corn flour to a paste with a little water.
Add this to the pan to thicken the sauce.
Stir gently so the apple doesn’t break up.

Serve the casserole and vegetables on four warmed plates.

*Chinese 5 spice is a combination of cinnamon, cloves, fennel, star anise and black pepper.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Bistro salad : Wk49/2

Serves 4 : Very easy : Quick
200gm pillow pack spinach, rocket & watercress
50gm mange tout, sliced lengthways
1 yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced
12 red cherry tomatoes, halved
12 yellow cherry tomatoes, halved
8 baby corn cobs, quartered
4 eggs, hard boiled, shelled & halved
4 rashers lean bacon, chopped (optional)
30gm croutons
80gm Danish blue cheese, crumbled

1 Tblsp each of Dijon mustard, olive oil and lemon juice
2 Tblsp each of Helman’s low-fat mayo and fat free natural yoghurt

Spray a frying pan with non-stick cooking spray.
Dry fry the bacon bits until crispy.
Drain on kitchen paper.

Make a dressing by combining the mustard, oil, lemon, mayo and yoghurt.
This is a very sharp dressing, but it goes really well with the salad.

Tear the salad leaves into a bowl.
Arrange the other ingredients, in layers, finishing with the eggs, croutons, cheese and bacon.

Serve the salad with the dressing and plain boiled baby potatoes or crusty bread.

For a vegetarian option, leave out the bacon – one less pan to wash, too!

Monday, November 22, 2010

False economy

Yesterday, someone told me they found shopping for groceries very expensive, and that eating take-aways was far less costly. Am I missing something here?

My weekly grocery bill is between R600 and R800 for two people. That includes some toiletries and cleaning products – these products are expensive, so let’s say they constitute 15% of R700 (average) - that’s R105, which leaves R595 spent on food. R595 divided by 2 is R297.50 per person. R297.50 divided by 7 (days of the week) equals R42.50 per person per day: divided by 3 (meals a day) comes to just over R14 per meal. Show me where I can buy a healthy take-away meal for R14!

Here’s what I get at each of my R14 meals:
My typical daily menu consists of breakfast – cereal or toast, with fruit; lunch – a salad with cheese, canned fish or an egg, or maybe the same ingredients in a sandwich; dinner – fish, chicken, vegetarian or, very occasionally, red meat with loads of fresh vegetables and some starch (pasta, rice, couscous, beans, whatever), followed by a good size helping of fresh fruit salad and yoghurt.

At the end of each week, there is still plenty of food in my house – I could probably go six weeks without shopping, and we would still eat reasonably well. There is always something in my freezer – chicken, fish, frozen peas, home-made ready-meals etc. There is always plenty of pasta, rice, flour, canned goods, dried beans, nuts, tea, coffee and treats in my store cupboard. Of course, I would run out of fresh fruit, vegetables and yoghurt within 10 days, but we would survive the six weeks in reasonable health.

And that is the key issue in my book – reasonable health. Take-aways are notorious for their high fat and salt content, and are usually starch based. Loads of calories that will push you way over the recommended daily allowances of cholesterol (300mg), salt / sodium (2,400mg), fats (65gm, including 20gm saturated fats) and carbohydrates (300gm) – and all in one meal. Eating in excess of these allowances can lead to weight gain, water retention, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, diabetes… must I go on? Poor eating habits lead to disease, which can be horribly expensive.

Beyond the ubiquitous paracetamol I keep on hand, and sinus tabs (we live in a gold-mining area with a lot of environmental pollution), I don’t need to buy vitamin and mineral supplements, antacid powders, laxatives or any of the other thousands of over-the-counter medications most people take (in an attempt) to compensate for poor eating habits.

Eating a variety of foods from all the food groups provides all the vitamins, minerals, fibre and calories anyone needs – in a balanced and healthy form; vitamins and minerals are synergistic – they work together. Fresh foods provide a wonderful variety of textures, aromas, colours and flavours – far more interesting, satisfying and delicious than a burger and chips, don’t you think?

Cheaper, too.

Corn chip chicken : Wk49/1

Serves 4 : Very easy : Quick
4 skinless chicken breast fillets
100gm bag Doritos (Corn chips)
±1 tsp chilli powder
1 egg, beaten

480gm new potatoes
500gm green beans
8 parsnips, quartered lengthways
8 small courgettes

4 Tblsp Helman’s low-fat mayo
2 Tblsp fat free natural yoghurt
±1 Tblsp lemon juice

Steam, boil or microwave the vegetables until tender.
Drain and keep warm.

Mix the mayo, yoghurt and lemon juice together until smooth.
Set aside.

Crush the Doritos quite finely and mix through the chilli powder.
If the chicken breasts are very thick, halve them through the centre.
Dip the chicken breasts in the beaten egg and then in the Dorito crumbs.

Spray a large frying pan with non-stick cooking spray.
Dry fry the chicken over a moderate heat for 15 minutes, or until it is cooked through.

Serve the chicken with a dollop of the mayo dressing and the vegetables on the side.

Friday, November 19, 2010


If you are a regular visitor, you may have noticed that I have added a poll (to the right). Please let me know if you want me to continue posting recipes and commentary next year. The poll closes on December 18th 2010. Just mark your preference and click on ‘vote’. Thanks.

And / or you can leave a comment. Anytime. I'd love it, if you did.

Beef ‘n’ broccoli : Wk47/5

Serves 4 : Very easy : Very quick
1 Tblsp vegetable oil
400gm rump steak, cut in strips
1 red onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp grated ginger root
1 tsp chilli paste

400gm broccoli florets
6 spring onions, shredded
3 – 4 Tblsp soy sauce

Cashew nuts, to garnish

Heat the oil in a pan or wok.
Fry the beef for 2 – 3 minutes to seal.
Remove the meat from the pan and set aside.

Fry the onion, garlic and ginger until the onion softens.
Stir through the chilli paste.
Add the broccoli and a splash of water to the pan.
Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

Turn up the heat and return the beef to the pan.
Add the spring onions and soy sauce.
Cook for another 3 – 4 minutes.

Serve garnished with cashew nuts.

I served this with noodles, but it also goes well with rice or naan breads.
Make this even faster – cook the broccoli first.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Link to .pdf files for Week 48 and Review (8)

Want to see recipes for next week?

Go here for the recipes and shopping list for Week 48.

And, in case you missed them, here are the links for recipes and shopping lists for weeks 29 - 32:
Week 29
Week 30
Week 31
Week 32

Crusted kingklip : Wk47/4

Serves 4 : Very easy : Quick
±500gm kingklip fillet
2 slices bread, crumbed
1 Tblsp wholegrain mustard
1 tsp dried thyme

1 medium cabbage
4 Tblsp fat free natural yoghurt

480gm new potatoes (skin on), quartered

Heat the oven to 200ºC.

Cook the potatoes in lightly salted water for 10-15 minutes.
Drain well and crush.
Keep warm.
Steam the cabbage for 10 minutes, or until tender.
Keep warm.

Combine the breadcrumbs, mustard and thyme.

Spray a grill pan with non-stick cooking spray.
Lay the kingklip in the grill pan.
Press the seasoned crumbs on the top.
Bake for 10 – 15 minutes until the flesh flakes easily.

Stir the yoghurt through the cabbage and season with lots of freshly ground black pepper.

Divide the kingklip between four warmed plates.
Serve the cabbage and potato crush alongside the fish.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Micro-minerals : Iodine

Micro-minerals, like minerals, are organic elements present in the soil. Plants absorb them from their growth medium. We need even smaller amounts of each micro-mineral in our diet, but they are just as essential to maintain all nerve and muscle function, teeth, bones and body cells. Micro-minerals are insoluble in water and need to be bonded with a soluble compound before they can be properly utilised. That is why foods are the very best sources.


Functions of Iodine:
  • Necessary for thyroid function
  • Controls the basal metabolic rate
  • Needed for growth and development
  • Aids in reproduction and lactation
  • Important for mental alertness and cognitive function
  • Helps metabolize excess fat
Sources of Iodine:
  • Seafood
  • Dairy products
  • Eggs
  • Watercress
  • Kelp
  • Iodized salt
Deficiency symptoms:
  • Dry hair and skin
  • Cold extremities
  • Easy weight gain
  • Impaired immune system
  • Goiter
  • Cretinism

Inorganic elements are not destroyed by heat. Some cooking methods may break down mineral-rich substances, and release the mineral into the product: such as in the canning of fish – bones (salmon, pilchards, sardines) are softened releasing calcium into the flesh.

Supplements are usually unnecessary provided the diet includes plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. Always check with your doctor before taking supplements of any kind. An excess of any vitamin, mineral or micro-mineral can have unpleasant side effects.


Mixed bean tagine : Wk47/3

Serves 4 : Very easy : Quick
2 red onions, sliced
1 heaped tsp each: coriander, cumin and cinnamon
1 medium butternut, cut in chunks
250gm courgettes, sliced thickly on the diagonal
1 x 400gm whole peeled tomatoes, sliced
100gm seedless raisins
400ml vegetable stock
1 x 400gm can mixed beans
200gm frozen peas
4 Tblsp chopped mint
240gm rice
1 tsp tumeric

Cook the rice with the tumeric in lightly salted boiling water.
Once cooked, drained and keep warm.

Spray a large pan with non-stick cooking spray.
Gently dry fry the onions until soft
Add the butternut, courgettes, stock, raisins and tinned tomatoes.
Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

Tip in the mixed beans and frozen peas.
Simmer for a final 5 minutes.

Serve the tagine with the rice, garnished with freshly chopped mint.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Lemon chicken with chickpeas : Wk47/2

Serves 4 : Very easy : Quick
1 large onion, sliced
4 skinless chicken breast fillets, cut into chunks
1 x 400gm can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
300ml chicken stock
250gm pack baby spinach
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 – 2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
Zest & juice of 1 lemon
1 Tblsp sweet chilli sauce

Combine all the ingredients for the marinade in a large glass dish.
Toss in the chicken pieces and turn to coat.
Allow to stand for 10 minutes.

Spray a large pan with non-stick cooking spray.
Gently dry fry the onion for 5 minutes until it starts to soften.
Add the chicken and marinade to the pan and stir fry for another 5 minutes.
Now add the stock and chickpeas.
Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes.

Fold in the spinach and allow to wilt for 2 – 3 minutes.

Serve with warmed naan breads and extra sweet chilli sauce.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Monday ‘blues’

Unless you really, really love your job (and even if you do), it seems we are almost programmed to hate Mondays. Which is a pity, because glumness on a Monday sets the tone for the whole week. To mis-quote Shakespeare entirely – ‘a Monday by any other name would be sweeter’. How can we overcome the grudge we hold against this one day of the week?

Let’s try some mood-lifters, such as:

Get a good night’s sleep on Sunday – I mention sleep often because it is so essential to our mental and physical health. The average person needs seven to eight hours sleep a night. A regular bed time and rising time every day including weekends sets our body clocks, so that after a while we don’t need to set alarm clocks. If we are consistent with our sleep behaviour, it helps us cope with those times when we are stressed and don’t sleep so well.

Stretch and breathe deeply – first thing, while you wait for the shower to heat up, and through the day. Stretching wakes the muscles up ready for action. Deep breathing calms the mind and gives us a much-needed boost of oxygen; we very seldom use our lungs properly.

Sing – in the shower, in the car. Singing is a real mood enhancer as well as being good exercise for the facial muscles and lungs. Sing with gusto and volume. Singing will help you to …

Smile – even if you don’t feel like it! Smiles are infectious – you’ll improve how other people feel and eventually your own mood, too. Smiling activates the release of endorphins (the happiness hormone). And endorphins can boost creativity, too.

Eat breakfast – I’m always going on about breakfast being the most important meal of the day; isn’t that what our mothers taught us? It’s true. Skipping breakfast leads to low blood sugar levels – detrimental to both our physical health and cognitive function. Skipping any meal can lead to weight gain, too, so…

Eat regularly – eating controlled portions of healthy foods throughout the day helps provide stamina and prevents that awful 'slump' in energy and concentration. Some people can manage quite happily on three meals a day, and if that suits you that’s well and good. Other people cope better on smaller, more frequent meals; or three smaller main meals and a couple of snacks in between. Provided your portions are controlled and your food choices wise, you are less likely to over-eat this way.

Eat Omega 3 foods – these are believed to enhance mood, alleviate depression, help with concentration in A.D.D. and A.D.H.D. and help you cope better with stress.

Pay someone a compliment – there’s nothing like a compliment to boost morale and self-confidence and raise a smile (which is infectious, remember?) Maybe someone else will praise you.

These tips are useful every day, not just on Mondays! Try them.

Grilled fish with warm potato salad : Wk47/1

Serves 4 : Very easy : Quick
450gm firm white fish fillets
Fish seasoning

480gms new potatoes, cut in chunks
6 sweet and sour peppadews, sliced
1 orange bell pepper, chopped
12 black olives, sliced
2 Tblsp Helman’s low fat mayo
2 Tblsp natural fat free yoghurt

Heat the grill.

Cook the potatoes in lightly salted boiling water.
Drain well.
Add the peppadew, bell pepper and olives to the potatoes.
Mix the mayo and yoghurt together until smooth.
Pour over the potato chunks and stir to combine.

Spray the fish with non-stick cooking spray and sprinkle with fish seasoning.
Grill (or dry fry) the fish for about 10 minutes until it flakes easily. (Turn fish over after 5 mins)

Serve the fish with the warm potato salad and some mixed salad leaves on the side.

It is very easy to overcook fish and then it becomes dry and unpalatable. Be careful not to overcook, specially if your fillets are not very thick.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Microwave cooking

Microwaves are very short waves of electromagnetic energy travelling at 186,282mps (that is the speed of light). They are used to transmit telephone-, radio-, television- and computer signals around the world. The shorter the wavelength, the higher the energy. Radio waves have the longest wavelengths, X- rays and gamma rays have the shortest. But if we think about microwaves at all, we will think of them in terms of that great kitchen appliance, the microwave oven; fast, convenient and energy-efficient. The radiation from microwave ovens has a longer wavelength than infrared radiation and visible light, but shorter than that of the VHF and UHF broadcasting bands.

When I Googled ‘microwave safety’ I got over 9.5 million results in 0.15 seconds. Obviously, I haven’t read them all (and don’t intend to!). A lot of these links are re-iterations, mostly concerned with the radiation produced by microwave oven magnetrons, and the possible leakage of radiation from the ovens – which no-one seems terribly alarmed about. Some of them state safety considerations that one normally thinks of in connection with any kind of cooking anyway: which type of container to use, use of oven mitts, caution with high temperature foods and liquids, uneven heating etcetera.

But how do microwaves actually work?

Food molecules – or the water molecules in food – are polar; like a magnet has a north and south pole, water molecules have a negative end and a positive end. Microwave radiation interacts with food molecules. All radio wave energies change polarity from positive to negative with each wave cycle. In microwave ovens these changes occur millions of times per second. It is these changes which generate friction, and friction generates heat; that’s how your food gets cooked. But friction causes substantial damage to food molecules, tearing them apart or forcefully deforming them (only with microwave cooking? I'm not sure.); this is called ‘structural isomerism’. Doesn’t sound too healthy, does it?

I’m interested in the work of Dr. Hans Hertel (food scientist with a major Swiss food company) and Dr. Bernard H. Blanc (of the Swiss Federal Institute of Biochemistry). They collaborated and made (supposedly) in-depth studies of the effects on the human body of eating microwaved foods. Their findings were published in “Search for Health” in the spring of 1992 (and then withdrawn). Because of the very negative nature of their findings , a ‘gag’ order was placed on their report. They were told that they would face heavy fines and up to one year in prison if they tried to publish their report again. In response to this, Blanc recanted but Hertel stood his ground and went on a lecture tour, giving talks about his results. The gag order was rescinded in 1998. You can read an article here which covers Hertel’s results and some of the other research that has been conducted. Russia did extensive research along similar lines – and even banned microwave ovens in 1976, though the ban was lifted in 1985.

The problem with scientific research is that, at a minimum: the experiment must be repeatable; the variables must be controlled; the results must be verifiable; there must be a ‘control group’. In the write-ups I have read of  Hertel’s work, there are too many unknowns. And I can’t find the original research report to get clarification. The test group (which was also the control group) consisted of only eight male vegetarians, tested over a period of two months. Is that long enough? Large enough? This article is slightly less alarmist. And this one pretty much decries the other two. (I hope you follow these links and read at least some of the information, otherwise you won't really know what I'm talking about.)

So who do we believe? We’re often told not to believe everything we read – but that goes for negative AND positive reports. I don’t think I’m going to toss out my microwave just yet, but I will limit my usage (not that I use it that much now), and I certainly won’t use it for heating my grandson’s food any more. Maybe I’ll unplug it for a week, and see if I feel any healthier. I’m sure that eating only foods that have been microwaved doesn’t constitute healthy eating.
And it never hurts to err on the side of caution.

Chicken and couscous salad : Wk46/5

Serves 4 : Very easy : Quick
2 – 3 chicken breast fillets
6 – 8 courgettes, sliced diagonally
200gm couscous
200ml hot chicken stock
1 Tblsp Harrief (chilli) paste
2 Tblsp chopped coriander
30gm chopped pistachio nuts

4 Tblsp natural fat free yoghurt
Juice and grated rind of 2 oranges
4 handfuls mixed salad leaves

Spray a frying pan with non stick cooking spray.
Fry the chicken over a moderate heat for 10 – 15 minutes, turning once.
Remove from the pan and cover with tin foil.

Fry the courgette slices, in the pan you used for the chicken, for about 5 minutes until they start to soften and colour.

Measure the couscous into a plastic bowl.
Pour over the stock and mix in the harrief paste and coriander.
Cover the bowl with a plate or cling film and allow to stand for 5 – 10 minutes.
Fluff up the couscous with a fork and stir in the courgette slices and pistachios.

Shred the chicken into strips.

Make a bed of mixed salad leaves on each of four plates.
Divide the couscous between the plates and arrange the chicken strips on top.
Spoon the yoghurt over and finish with the orange juice and rind.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Link to .pdf files for Week 47 and Review (7)

Want to see what’s on the menu for next week?
Go here for the recipes and shopping list for Week 47.

And, in case you missed them, here are the links for recipes and shopping lists for weeks 25 - 28:
Week 25
Week 26
Week 27
Week 28

Sweet potato fish pie : Wk46/4

Serves 4 : Very easy : Quick
240gm mashing potatoes
240gm pink sweet potatoes
150gm butternut

4 haddock fillets
2 cups fat free milk
1 cup frozen peas
1 Tblsp cornflour
½ tsp mustard powder
1 tsp dried dill

2 eggs, hard boiled and chopped

Cook the potato, sweet potato and butternut in lightly salted boiling water.
Drain when cooked and mash well.

Mix the cornflour and mustard to a paste with a little water.

Poach the haddock in the milk until the fish flakes easily.
Remove the fish to a plate and break up into large flakes.
Thicken the milk with the cornflour paste.
Add the peas, chopped egg and dill.
Fold in the flaked fish.

Tip the fish mixture into an oven-proof dish.
Gently spread the potato and butternut mash over the top.
Grill for 10 - 15 minutes to brown and crisp the top.

Serve with a side salad of baby spinach and rocket.
Adding butternut in with the potatoes gives extra colour – and extra vegetables.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Micro-minerals : Manganese

Micro-minerals, like minerals, are organic elements present in the soil. Plants absorb them from their growth medium. We need even smaller amounts of each micro-mineral in our diet, but they are just as essential to maintain all nerve and muscle function, teeth, bones and body cells. Micro-minerals are insoluble in water and need to be bonded with a soluble compound before they can be properly utilised. That is why foods are the very best sources.

Functions of Manganese:
  • Keeps nervous system healthy
  • Aids in formation of connective tissue
  • Metabolizes carbohydrates and lipids
  • Improves wound healing
  • Indirectly maintains blood sugar levels
  • Supports thyroid function
  • Helps prevent anemia
Sources of Manganese:
  • Beetroot
  • Blueberries
  • Whole grains
  • Nuts
  • Legumes
Deficiency symptoms:
  • Weak hair and nails
  • Weak ligaments and tendons
  • Hearing loss
  • Stunted growth
  • Sterility
  • Skeletal abnormalities

Antacids and oral contraceptives may interfere with the absorption of manganese.

Supplements are usually unnecessary provided the diet includes plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. Always check with your doctor before taking supplements of any kind. An excess of any vitamin, mineral or micro-mineral can have unpleasant side effects.

Spicy butternut pasta : Wk46/3

Serves 4 : Very easy : Quick
1 Tblsp vegetable oil
1 red onion, chopped
1 large butternut, cut in chunks
1 Tblsp brown sugar
1 Tblsp Patak’s Rogan Josh curry paste

1 sm. can ‘lite’ evaporated milk
1 Tblsp Patak’s lime pickle
1 – 2 tsp grated ginger

2 Tblsp chopped coriander

240gm spaghetti

Fry the onion in the oil until it softens.
Add the brown sugar and curry paste and stir for 2 minutes.
Now add the butternut, the evaporated milk, lime pickle and ginger.
Give everything a good stir.
Simmer for 20 minutes until the butternut is soft but still firm.

Meanwhile cook the spaghetti in lightly salted boiling water until al dente.
Drain well.

Divide the spaghetti between 4 warmed pasta bowls.
Top with the spicy butternut and garnish with freshly chopped coriander.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Chicken and guacamole : Wk46/2

Serves 4 : Very easy : Quick
4 skinless chicken breast fillets
Juice from 1 lemon
Chicken spice (optional)

1 ripe avocado
1 – 2 tsp chilli paste
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 Tblsp chopped coriander

480gm new potatoes

4 Tblsp fat free natural yoghurt

Gently hammer the chicken fillets.
Lay in a glass dish in a single layer, sprinkle with chicken spice and ½ the lemon juice.
Allow to stand for 10 minutes (turn the pieces over after 5 mins if you think of it) while you:

Crush the avocado and mix in the garlic, chilli paste, coriander and remaining lemon juice.

Boil the new potatoes in lightly salted boiling water.

Spray a ridged pan with non-stick cooking spray.
Cook the chicken pieces, over a moderate heat, for about 10 – 15 minutes, turning once.

Serve the chicken topped with the guacamole, and the potatoes and some natural yoghurt.
Bulk up your daily quota of fresh veg by adding a crispy fresh side salad.

Monday, November 8, 2010

5 ways to beat the silly season

Used to be that the Christmas festivities were restricted to the last two weeks of the year, but now they seem to start as early as October – advertising, greetings cards and the inevitable office ‘do’.
So, as we start only the second week in November, the silly season is well and truly upon us – too much eating and drinking, too many parties and not enough sleep! Here are a few suggestions to help you stay healthy and in control.

Moderate alcohol – this is obvious, isn't it? Alcohol provides calories with no nutritional benefit. Try alternating alcoholic drinks with diluted fruit juice or water. Why not offer to be the ‘duty driver’? Don’t drink and drive. And don’t let anyone who has been drinking drive you!

Eat before you go – especially if you are going to be drinking, have a protein snack or shake first. There will probably be snacks available at the function, but usually these will be very high in fats and salt. Even if you are going to a dinner function, eating first will stop you feeling shaky when the meal is later than the time you usually eat as well as help you make wiser choices and moderate portion sizes.

Walk away from the table – avoid standing near the buffet or snacks table. There is bound to be food that you find irresistible, and it’s so easy to snack without thinking – or even realising – that you’re doing it.

Arrive (fashionably) late, leave early – this is a simple and effective way to limit your exposure to alcohol and food. You still have to get up in the morning. A good night’s sleep (at least your usual number of hours) is essential for a healthy lifestyle.

Drink water – through the evening and before going to bed. Alcohol is dehydrating – a factor contributing to a hangover.

If you follow these suggestions, you will probably end the festive season feeling better than ever.

Tomato basil fish : Wk46/1

Serves 4 : Very easy : Quick
4 x ±120gm hake fillets
1 onion, sliced
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 x 400gm tins chopped tomatoes
2 Tblsp tomato paste
1 – 2 Tblsp fresh chopped basil
500gm baby spinach

480gm new potatoes, halved

Basil sprigs, to garnish

Boil the new potatoes in lightly salted boiling water.
Once cooked, drain and keep warm.

Spray a wide pan with non-stick cooking spray.
Gently dry fry the onions and garlic for 5 minutes.
Add the chopped tomatoes, tomato paste and chopped basil
Simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes to let the sauce reduce and thicken slightly.

Nestle the fish in the sauce.
Cover the pan and poach the fish for 10 minutes.

Remove the fish from the pan and keep warm.
Fold the spinach into the sauce and cook for a few minutes until it wilts.

Spoon the sauce onto 4 warmed plates and top with the fish.
Garnish with basil sprigs.
Serve with the potatoes.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Keeping (on) track

I know I’ve written about keeping a food journal before, but there’s no harm in mentioning it again – it is helpful; it can help pinpoint poor choices or overconsumption of particular food groups. I stopped tracking for a while and picked up a couple of pounds, so I’m back to keeping track – and measuring my portions!

There’s nothing like tracking to keep you on track… there’s something conscience-pricking about holding yourself accountable for the food choices you make. Research has shown that people who write down everything they eat and drink each day lose more weight… and keep it off. Yes, it takes a bit of time and effort but, in the interests of losing or maintaining weight while eating healthily, isn’t it worth it?

Write down:
What you ate – even if it was a poor choice. At least you can review it and recognize whether it was the best choice you could have made, given the circumstances.
How much you ate – estimates are okay, but be honest! Always over- rather than under-estimate; we usually think we are eating less than we really are. This can provide a guide to the calories / kilojoules you’re consuming.
Why you ate – hungry, bored, unhappy, lonely, meal time, whatever. Hungry is the best reason – your body is giving you information. We tend to eat at ‘mealtimes’ for the convenience of others, rather than ourselves; if hunger coincides with a meal time, so much the better. Any other reason for eating is likely an indication that you are an emotional eater.
What time of day you ate – breakfast should be eaten before 8:00am, dinner no later than 7:00pm (especially if this is your main meal of the day). Fit lunch and snacks in when you feel the need (hunger).
Who you were with – work colleagues, family, friend, alone. When we eat alone, we tend to eat too fast – slow down and enjoy what you’re eating. Other people at the table can be a distraction so that we eat more than we intended to.
What else you were doing – reading, watching TV, working. Didn’t our mothers always tell us that ‘reading at the table is impolite’? Reading, watching TV or working while eating detracts from the pleasure of the meal – and you may eat larger portions, too.

Remember to jot down everything you drink – tea, coffee, cold drinks, alcohol – these provide ‘empty’ calories with no nutritional value; water is the best anytime beverage.

Keep a food journal for at least a week, and then review it… it will make interesting reading.

Pasta with haddock cream sauce : Wk45/5

Serves 4 : Very easy : Quick
4 smoked haddock fillets
500ml fat free milk
1-2 Tblsp cornflour

1 onion, sliced
2 leeks, sliced
300gm cauliflower florets
150gm green beans, chopped
½ cup water
2-3 Tblsp fresh chopped parsley

240gm pasta twirls

Boil the pasta in lightly salted boiling water until al dente.
Drain and keep warm.

Poach the haddock in the milk until the fish flakes easily.
Remove the fish from the milk and flake.
Set aside.
Slacken the cornflour with a little water.
Pour the cornflour into the milk and allow to thicken to a sauce.
Set aside.

Spray a pan with non-stick cooking spray.
Dry fry the onion and leeks for about 5 minutes until softened.
Add the cauliflower, beans and water.
Cover and simmer for another 10 minutes.

Pour the milk sauce into the vegetables.
Stir to coat everything.
Fold through the flaked fish and most of the parsley.

Serve the fish and vegetables over the pasta and garnish with the remaining parsley.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Link to .pdf files for Week 46 and Review (6)

Go here for the recipes and shopping list for Week 46.

And, in case you missed them, here are the links for recipes and shopping lists for weeks 21 - 24:
Week 21
Week 22
Week 23
Week 24

Jambo veg : Wk45/4

Serves 4 : Very easy : Quickish
2 red onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
6 spring onions, sliced
½ red pepper, chopped
½ yellow pepper, chopped
3 parsnips, sliced
6 courgettes, sliced
10 baby sweetcorn, sliced
240gm rice
50gm lentils
4 large tomatoes, chopped
1 Tblsp tomato paste
750ml vegetable stock
1 tsp each dried thyme and oregano
½ tsp cayenne pepper
12 black olives, pitted and sliced

Spray a large pan with non-stick cooking spray.
Stir fry the onions, spring onions and peppers for about 10 minutes.
Add the garlic, cayenne, oregano and thyme.

Add the rice, lentils, tomatoes and tomato paste and stir well.
Pour in the stock and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes, covered.

Add the baby corn, parsnips, courgettes and olives.
Simmer for another 5 minutes until the rice and lentils are cooked.

Serve on warmed plates.

You may need more stock, but don’t add too much or everything will go soggy.
Sweet chilli sauce goes well with this dish.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Micro-minerals : Sulphur

Micro-minerals, like minerals, are organic elements present in the soil. Plants absorb them from their growth medium. We need even smaller amounts of each micro-mineral in our diet, but they are just as essential to maintain all nerve and muscle function, teeth, bones and body cells. Micro-minerals are insoluble in water and need to be bonded with a soluble compound before they can be properly utilised. That is why foods are the very best sources.

Functions of Sulphur:
  • Assists with wound healing
  • Builds connective tissue
  • Keeps skin, hair and nails healthy
  • Maintains liver and pancreas
Sources of Sulphur:
  • All foods containing amino acids, for example:
  • Eggs, meat, cheese
  • Rice, quinoa
  • Legumes and pulses
  • Whole grain products
Deficiency symptoms:
  • Weak nails
  • Dull hair
  • Poor skin
Supplements are usually unnecessary provided the diet includes plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. Always check with your doctor before taking supplements of any kind. An excess of any vitamin, mineral or micro-mineral can have unpleasant side effects.


Morocco lamb : Wk45/3

Serves 4 : Very easy : ±90 mins
400gm lean lamb cut in strips or bite sized chunks
1 red onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
600ml lamb stock
Grated rind & juice of 1 orange
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp honey
140gm seedless raisins
2 Tblsp good mint sauce
2 Tblsp ground almond
2 Tblsp flaked almonds

450gm pink sweet potatoes
1 head broccoli

Spray a pan with non-stick cooking spray.
Dry fry the onions, garlic and lamb until the onion softens and the meat browns lightly.
Pour in the stock and add the orange juice and rind, cinnamon and honey.
Bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 60 minutes.

Boil the sweet potatoes in lightly salted boiling water.
Once sot, drain well and mash.
Keep warm.
Steam, boil or microwave the broccoli.
Cook until tender, but still having some crunch left.
Drain and keep warm.

Add the raisins and mint sauce to the lamb and continue simmering for another 25 minutes.
Stir through the ground almonds to thicken the gravy.

Serve the lamb garnished with flaked almonds alongside the vegetables.

This does take a bit of time, but it is well worth the wait.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Polenta cake with salsa : Wk45/2

Serves 4 : Very easy : Quick but needs extra time for cooling
4 cups vegetable stock
1 ½ cups polenta
4 Tblsp chopped basil

Salsa: combine these ingredients
500gm cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 small avocado, cubed
1 small tin sweetcorn kernels
1 small red onion, chopped
2 Tblsp chopped coriander
2 Tblsp thick mint sauce
60ml lemon juice

Bring the veg stock to a boil
Mix the polenta to a thin paste with extra water.
Pour the polenta paste into the stock while stirring continuously.
Add the basil and stir well.
Cook for 5 minutes.
Spray a shallow, wide pyrex dish with non-stick cooking spray.
Put the cooked polenta into the pyrex dish and spread it evenly.
Leave to cool.

Once cool, turn the polenta out onto a board.
Cut into squares, or use a cookie cutter, and spray with cooking spray.

Spray a ridged pan with non-stick cooking spray.
Dry fry the polenta cakes for about 5 minutes per side.
They should be lightly browned and crispy on the outside.

Serve the polenta cakes with the salsa and a fresh green salad.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Recipe collections updated

Yesterday, I finally got around to updating all the recipe collections - up to and including recipes for Week 46. The link buttons are to the right of the screen.

Easy access to recipes of your choice. Enjoy.

Bisphenol A

I’ve only recently come across the official name for this organic compound which is used in the manufacture of polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins. What does this have to do with food? Well, the foods we buy come packaged in plastic; we store food in plastic in the fridge; we may even use plastic containers in the microwave to cook or re-heat foods. Our babies’ feeding bottles, cups, dishes and spoons are made of plastic. And the lining inside aluminium food and drink cans is made from plastic.

Bisphenol A (often abbreviated to BPA) has been known to be estrogenic since the 1930s, and the safety of use of this kind of xeno-estrogen has been in question since 2008. This year, as recently as September, Canada (the only country so far, I think) declared the substance toxic. If you want to be scared witless you can go here to read all about the health implications (and there are plenty of other negative reports – just Google ‘bpa’). At our present level of exposure, it’s amazing that we are all still alive and producing offspring! Then again, you can go here for comfort. Who should we believe? I think we just need to be sensible, be aware and exercise caution.

There are seven classes of plastics used in packaging. Look at the base of your plastic containers – there should be a little embossed triangle made up of arrows. This is the ‘recycle’ symbol, and the number in the middle gives some indication of the formulation of the product. The number will range between 1 and 7. Types 1 and 2 probably contain no BPA. Type 3 – particularly if it’s a flexible or soft plastic - may contain some BPA. Types 4 and 5 appear to be ‘clean’, and Type 6 (polystyrene) contains no BPA nor will it break down into BPA. Type 7 – especially polycarbonates, which may display PC near the recycling symbol - seems to be the ‘bad apple’. Type 7 is applied to all plastics which don't belong to any of the other types.
I’ve just checked my cupboards and most of the boxes are type 2, 4 or 5; most of the bottles are type 1 or 2. My plastic bags say they are type 4. But not everything is marked… sometimes the marking appears on the wrapper (which you probably threw away ages ago). I was surprised to find that my Tupperware boxes were unmarked, yet the Addis boxes are.

One would hope that large, reputable companies – such as Tupperware and Avent – are producing plastic containers which are safe for continued consumer use... Mmmm... better check them out.

Lemony chicken with olives : Wk45/1

Serves 4 : Very easy : Quickish
4 skinless chicken breast fillets, cut in chunks
2 red onions, sliced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 small lemon, sliced, all peel and pith removed
1 cup dry white wine
12 pitted green olives, sliced
Freshly chopped parsley

Spray a large lidded pan with non-stick cooking spray.
Dry fry the onions until softened.
Add the garlic and chicken pieces and cook until sealed.

Pour in the wine.
Add the lemon slices.
Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.

Cook the rice in some chicken stock.
Drain well when cooked and keep warm.

Add the olives to the chicken and cook for another 5 minutes.

Serve the chicken and rice (garnished with lots of chopped parsley) and a mixed salad on the side.