Monday, February 28, 2011

Glycemic load

When we eat a meal, we usually eat a combination of different foods. Some will be high GI, some intermediate, and some low GI. Some will be NO GI. Because animal proteins contain such a small percentage of carbohydrate, they are considered to have very little or no effect on blood-glucose levels, therefore they have NO GI value. But animal proteins (meat, cheese, etc) have high levels of saturated fats, which, in the interests of weight management and health, we want to limit. The GI value of a food is moderated by what else it contains, other than carbohydrates.

Adding a little animal protein or oil to a meal slows down digestion and so gives a feeling of satiety for longer. Always remembering, of course, to add even mono- or polyunsaturated oils in limited quantities, and avoid saturated fats when possible.

A salad with a vinegar or lemon dressing helps keep blood-glucose levels controlled. It has to do with acidity, so sour dough breads will do the same. A salad (low GI) added to a high GI meal will lower the overall GI load of the meal.

Soluble fibre, such as is found in rolled oats, lentils, beans and apples, is excellent for blood-glucose control. Insoluble fibre, however, is not digested at all, so has no impact.

The size of the particles in food products affects the GI. If the food item is made from a finely milled flour, then the GI will be high (white bread = 70), but if the flour used is whole grain, or stone-ground then the resulting product will, in most circumstances, be low(er) GI. The finer the particle, the easier (and faster) it is to digest.

By all means, buy products marked with a low GI rating - just be aware that there are other factors that come into play.

Salmon and ginger patties : Wk60/1

Serves 4 : Very easy : Quick
4 salmon steaks
6 spring onions, finely chopped
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
Grated rind of 1 lemon

3 Tblsp Helman’s low fat mayo
1 Tblsp horseradish sauce (optional)

Mixed salad, to serve

Remove the skin from the salmon.
Chop the salmon as fine as possible.
Stir through the spring onions, lemon rind and ginger.
Shape into 8 patties.

Make a dressing by combining the mayo and horseradish.

Spray a frying pan with non-stick cooking spray.
Dry fry the salmon patties for 4 – 5 mins each side.
Allow patties to rest for a few minutes before serving.

Serve 2 patties per person with the dressing and mixed salad on the side.

These patties are very solid and satisfying, don’t be alarmed if they look a little on the small side.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Explaining the glycemic index

There must be hundreds, more probably thousands, of books available on the market devoted to the glycemic index. And if you Google ‘glycemic index’, you get over a million returns. So I will keep it simple. I will give you the basics, and you can ask questions afterwards, if you like, by leaving a comment. Everyone knows how to leave a comment, right? You click on the word 'comment' at the end of this post, and a comment box will pop up for you to fill in. Easy? Thank you.

The glycemic index (GI) is a rating of the carbohydrate content of a food, according to what impact the food in question has on blood-glucose levels, in comparison to a preset standard. The preset standard used is usually glucose = 100.

Foods with a GI in the range 70 - 100 are High GI. Anything between 55 - 70 is Intermediate GI. And anything lower than 55 is, of course, considered Low GI. We need to eat at least 50% of our carbohydrates from the Low GI group.

Foods with a high GI are digested and absorbed very quickly, releasing sugars (glucose) into the blood stream. This promotes an immediate and sometimes excessive insulin response. The insulin reduces the glucose levels in the blood stream by diverting the glucose to body tissue (muscles, organs), either for use now or by storing it as fat.

Eating high GI foods, then, produces what's known as a 'spike' - a lot of glucose is rapidly released into the blood stream and the insulin response removes the glucose from the blood stream just as fast. And you're hungry again an hour later, yes? Lots of glucose demands lots of insulin.

On the other hand, foods with a low GI are digested and absorbed more slowly, so that the body's demand for and release of insulin is retarded. You stay satisfied for longer.

Despite what I said about eating at least 50 % of our carbohydrates from the low GI group (and I still hold with that) we shouldn't eat low/no GI foods indiscriminately. Nor should we eat overly large portions of the healthy low/no GI foods - excess intake of any food can lead to weight gain (unless we're talking about broccoli or lettuce).

What we are aiming to achieve is good nutrition and weight management, without inopportune hunger pangs. We want (and need) all-day energy. We need to be able to cope with stress. We need to maintain our emotional equilibrium.

More on GI on Monday. See you then.

Milanese style pasta : WK59/5

Serves 4 : Very easy : Quick
240gm penne

4 rashers lean back bacon, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 stick celery, sliced
½ tsp crushed garlic
1 red pepper, chopped
1 x 400gm can chopped tomatoes
1 Tblsp tomato puree
1 tsp oregano
120gm button mushrooms
¼ cup white wine
Fresh parsley, chopped

Cook the penne according to the instructions on the packet.
Once al dente, drain and keep warm.

Spray a large sauce pan with non-stick cooking spray.
Dry-fry the bacon, onion, celery, garlic and red pepper over a medium heat, until the onion starts to soften.
Add the mushrooms and wine and simmer for 5 minutes.
Add the tomatoes, puree and oregano.
Simmer the sauce for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Serve the sauce over the pasta, garnished with parsley.

For a vegetarian version, leave out the bacon.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Link to .pdf file for Week 60

Go here for the recipes and shopping list for Week 60.

This link gives you a printer friendly version of the recipes posted here, plus a shopping list. All you have to do is shop and cook, very little effort required, and no coming home from work and not having a clue what to make for dinner!

Rump ‘n’ rocket : Wk59/4

Serves 4 : Very easy : Quick
400gm rump steak
16 asparagus spears

40gm wild rocket
1 avocado, sliced
Handful sugar snap peas, cut diagonally
6 – 8 spring onions, cut on a long diagonal
Handful alfalfa sprouts

1 Tblsp olive oil
1 Tblsp lemon juice
1 large tsp Dijon mustard

Spread the rocket over the base of a salad bowl.
Scatter over the avo, peas, onions and sprouts.

Mix together the oil, lemon juice and mustard.
Set aside.

Spray a heavy skillet with non-stick cooking spray.
Place over a high heat.
Cut away all visible fat from the rump.
Sear the steak about 4 minutes each side, turning only once.
Remove from the pan, and allow to rest for 5 minutes.
Fry the asparagus spears briefly.

Slice the steak in thin strips and scatter over the salad.
Top with the asparagus.
Pour any juices from the meat into the dressing and stir.

Serve the steak and salad, with the dressing on the side.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A spoonful of sugar

Table sugar - also known as sucrose - is a simple carbohydrate. Simple carbohydrates are quickly and easily broken down by digestion, ready for use as energy. South African table sugar is extracted from sugar cane. In other parts of the world, sugar beets are used.

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

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

Sugar is a major component of cakes, biscuits, chocolate, sweets, ice cream, cordials, colas and alcohol. It's even in tomato sauce and canned baked beans!

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

How much is too much? This is an interesting question. I have literally dozens of books on healthy eating and weight loss. None of them gives a suggested daily portion size for sugar. And most of them avoid even mentioning sugar! It seems it is usually included in the fats and oils food group, and the suggested daily serving of fats and oils (and now sugar, too) is a maximum of 6 teaspoons.

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

Korma Prawns : Wk59/3

Serves 4 : Very easy : Quick
300gm prawn meat
200gm natural fat free yoghurt
1 – 2 Tblsp Patak’s korma curry paste
20 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 red pepper, chopped

240gm brown rice
1 cup frozen peas
2 Tblsp coriander paste

Heat the oven to 200ºC.

Cook the rice in lightly salted water until almost done.
Add the frozen peas and coriander paste.
Continue cooking until the peas are cooked.
Drain and keep warm.

Spray an oven-proof dish with non-stick cooking spray.
Mix together the first five ingredients.
Pour into the oven-proof dish.
Cover with a lid, or seal tightly with foil.
Bake for 15 - 20 minutes, or until the prawns are cooked.

Serve beside the rice and peas, with a green salad on the side if desired.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Polenta bake : Wk59/2

Serves 4 : Very easy : Very quick
250gm polenta
5 cups vegetable stock

2 x 400gm cans chopped tomato & onion
2 tsp crushed garlic
300gm baby spinach, finely shredded
100gm fresh basil, finely shredded

100gm fat reduced feta cheese

Spray a baking tray with non-stick cooking spray.

In a large sauce pan, bring the veg stock to the boil.
Pour in the polenta, stirring all the time.
Keep stirring until the polenta is smooth and creamy.
Cook over a low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Spoon onto the baking tray and spread out evenly.
Allow to cool.
Cut the polenta into squares.

Heat the oven to 220ºC.

Spray an oven-proof dish with non-stick cooking spray.
Pour in the chopped tomatoes and stir through the garlic.
Pile the spinach over the tomato, top with the basil.
Arrange the polenta squares across the top, overlapping them slightly.

Bake for 15 minutes.
Crumble the feta cheese over the top.
Bake for another 5 - 10 minutes until the cheese starts to brown.

Serve with a mixed salad, if desired.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Alcohol, ethanol and acetaldehyde

Excessive drinking of alcohol, as we all know, is bad for our health. Alcohol supplies ‘empty’ calories that do not provide any nutritional benefit. The sugars available from an alcoholic drink are likely to decrease appetite.

Heavy drinkers tend to have poor nutrition because they eat inadequately. In addition, they are likely to suffer with impaired digestion and liver function. This has to do not so much with alcohol itself, but what the liver does to the alcohol in its efforts to digest it. Ethanol – the chemical name for alcohol – is used in the manufacture of perfumes, paints, explosives and antifreeze… are you sure you want that drink? Approximately 80% of the ethanol is broken down by the liver producing acetaldehyde, and it is this that does the damage. Acetaldehyde occurs naturally (though obviously in very small quantities) in coffee, bread and ripe fruit and it is a significant constituent of cigarette smoke and exhaust fumes! So much for drinking coffee to ease a hangover!

Despite having said all that, moderate drinking appears to be beneficial.

Moderate drinking, i.e. one glass of wine, 25ml of spirits or up to a pint of beer or cider a day, is believed to raise the 'good' cholesterol in the bloodstream, lower the risk of stroke and reduce stress.

However, drinking does tend to encourage nibbling on crisps, nuts etc – providing additional fats and calories that you would not normally have consumed.

I have no strong feelings either for or against alcohol, but people often behave foolishly enough when they are sober, why worsen the situation with alcohol? I seldom drink myself, because I enjoy my food so much and I would rather eat my calories. Alcohol contains calories – mostly in the form of sugar - and little else. It is certainly short on vitamins and minerals.

Of course, alcohol should be avoided by people who are pregnant, planning a pregnancy, driving, operating heavy machinery or on medication; and definitely by people who are underage.

If you are trying to lose weight, cutting your alcohol consumption down (or out altogether) can help save quite a few calories.

Baspin tagliatelle : Wk59/1

Serves 4 : Very easy : Very quick

 3 skinless chicken breasts, butterflied
1 large lemon, thinly sliced
250ml white wine
1 tsp crushed garlic

240gm tagliatelle
100gm baby spinach, finely shredded
50gm basil leaves, finely shredded

 Heat the oven to 200ºC.

Spray an oven-proof dish with non-stick cooking spray.
Stir the garlic into the wine.
Lay the lemon slices over the bottom of the dish.
Place the butterflied chicken on top, in a single layer.
Pour over the garlic-y wine.

Bake in the oven for 10 minutes.
Turn the chicken over and bake for another 5 minutes.
Rest the chicken for 5 minutes, then cut or shred into strips.
Strain the juices from the baking dish and set aside.

Meanwhile, cook the tagliatelle in lightly salted water until just al dente.
Stir through the spinach and basil and allow the spinach to wilt.
Drain the tagliatelle and put it back in the pan.
Pour over the reserved juices.
Stir through the chicken.

Serve with a mixed salad, if desired.

Friday, February 18, 2011

10... no... 12 healthy substitutions

Here are some healthy food substitutions for you. You'll hardly notice the difference - except maybe on your waistline!

  1. Instead of sweetened, full fat yoghurt rather have plain unsweetened fat free yoghurt with chopped fresh fruit or berries.
  2. Instead of pasta with creamy cheese/white sauce rather have wholewheat pasta with tomato based veg sauce - top with a scrape of parmesan.
  3. Instead of canned fruit in syrup rather have fresh fruit or drained canned fruit packed in juice.
  4. Instead of deep-fat fried french fries rather have oven-bake chips.
  5. Instead of cream cheese rather have low-fat or fat-free smooth cottage cheese (the low fat is really rich – you can even top your fruit salad with it!).
  6. Instead of snacking on crisps rather have pretzels, popcorn (no butter!) or raw, unsalted nuts. Chick peas make a great snack, too.
  7. Instead of pancakes with sugar and cinnamon rather have wholewheat pancakes with berries.
  8. Instead of sweetened cereals (most of them are) rather have rolled oats, weetbix or bran flakes. Cheerios are a good whole grain alternative.
  9. Instead of neat fruit juice rather have 1/2 fruit juice and 1/2 still or sparkling water.
  10. Instead of tea or coffee rather have an herbal tea or plain water.
  11. Relegate your cooking oil to the fridge for infrequent use and buy a non-stick, low-oil cooking spray, such as Spray'n'cook Olive oil.
  12. Put your dinner ware back in the sideboard and buy smaller dishes - a smaller plate makes your portion look larger and fools your brain into thunking you've had more.

Veggie wok : Wk58/5

Serves 4 : Very easy : Quick
300gms firm tofu, cut into sticks
1 onion, finely chopped
4 courgettes, sliced
100gm broccoli florets
150gm mushrooms, sliced
2 sticks celery, sliced
50gms radish, cut into matchsticks
1 baby cabbage, finely shredded
8 asparagus spears, chopped
1 red pepper
1 yellow pepper
200gm broad beans (tinned)

200gm brown rice

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

Spray a small frying pan with non-stick cooking spray.
Dry fry the tofu sticks over a medium heat until they are browned all over.
Keep warm.

Spray a wok with non-stick cooking spray and place over a low to medium heat.

Dry fry the onion, celery, mushrooms and broccoli for 2 – 3 minutes.
Add a ¼ cup of water, the courgettes, and asparagus.
Cover and allow to steam for another 5 minutes.
Now toss in the peppers, beans and cabbage and stir fry until the cabbage wilts.

Serve the tofu sticks stacked on top of the vegetables, with the rice underneath.

A stir-fry is a good way to use up the veg in your fridge at the end of the week. You can use almost any vegetables in a stir-fry. The ones I used are just what happened to be in my crisper drawer.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Link to .pdf file for Week 59

Go here for the recipes and shopping list for Week 59.

This link gives you a printer-friendly format - and the shopping list is colour-coded, and alternatively coded by recipe in case you want to print in black only.

Man go fish : Wk58/4

Serves 4 : Very easy : Quick
4 skinless hake fillets
3 – 4 Tblsp Patak’s mango chutney
2 slices stale bread, crumbed
2 tsp cumin seeds

480gm new potatoes

150gm Asian baby leaf salad
Sliced cucumber
Chopped fresh mint
Chopped spring onions

1 - 2 Tblsp balsamic vinegar
½ tsp ground cumin (or seeds)
½ tsp crushed garlic
1 tsp crushed ginger

Put the potatoes on to cook in lightly salted boiling water.

Heat the oven to 200ºC.
Spray an oven-proof dish with non-stick cooking spray.

Lay the fish in the oven-proof dish in a single layer.
Spread the mango chutney over the fish.
Press the breadcrumbs over the top.
Sprinkle with the cumin seeds.

Bake for 20 minutes.

Combine the vinegar, cumin, garlic and ginger to make a dressing.
Make the salad by combining the salad leaves, cucumber, mint and spring onions.
Pour over the dressing and toss well.

Serve the fish with the potatoes and salad on the side.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

3 for a perfect lunch

On Monday I looked at on-the-run breakfasts, and today I'm going to share some of my favourite 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 categorized on my other blogs, with links 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.
Soup gives you a sense of fullness that lasts a long time. Any soup will do – as long as it’s home-made. ‘Home-made’ means that there is less fat, preservatives, artificial flavourants and colours, just plain goodness. Make up a big batch of your favourite soup and freeze it. You can add beans, barley and/or lentils to make it more substantial, if you like.
Or 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 pulse 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, canned tuna or salmon. 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.

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 mayonnaise (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 (omit the protein from the sandwich if you have already put it in the salad).

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 - many of those make a suitable lunch.

Whatever you decide on, remember to watch your portion sizes.

Mince with cucumber raita : Wk58/3

Serves 4 : Very easy : Quick
300gm extra lean minced beef
1 red onion, finely chopped
2 Tblsp Patak’s tikka masala curry paste
100gm dried red lentils
1 x 400gm tin chopped tomatoes
± 400ml hot beef stock
1 Tblsp chopped coriander

¼ cucumber, chopped
3 Tblsp natural fat free yoghurt

4 naan breads

Make the raita by mixing together the yoghurt and cucumber.
Season to taste.

Spray a large saucepan with non-stick cooking spray.
Stir-fry the onion and mince together, breaking up the mince.
Stir in the curry paste, lentils, tomatoes, stock and coriander.
Bring to a boil, and then simmer for 15 minutes until the lentils are cooked.

Serve the mince with warmed naan breads and raita.

The mince needs some salt, but only add at the end of the cooking time otherwise the lentils will be tough. Use a non-salt or herbal salt. You can vary the ‘heat’ of this dish by adding more or less curry paste or using a stronger curry.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Chilli chicken and tomatoes : Wk58/2

Serves 4 : Very easy : Very quick
4 skinless chicken breasts, butterflied
1 Tblsp chilli paste
1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp dried oregano
250gm cherry tomatoes, halved
12 green olives, sliced

French bread and salad to serve

Heat the oven to 200ºC.
Spray a small roasting pan with non-stick cooking spray.

Mix together the chilli paste, oil and oregano.
Brush this mixture all over the chicken.
Lay the chicken pieces in the roasting pan, in a single layer.
Cover with foil and bake for 5 minutes.

Remove the foil and scatter the tomatoes and olives over the chicken.
Return the pan to the oven.
Bake, uncovered, for another 10 minutes.

Serve with crusty French bread and a mixed salad.

You can make your own chilli paste by mixing together tomato paste, fresh finely chopped red chilli and chopped coriander.

Monday, February 14, 2011

10 breakfast ideas

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?
1.  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).

2.  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).

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

4.  A piece of fruit (carbs), a small piece of cheese (protein and fat) and a slice of whole wheat bread or toast.

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

6.  40 - 50gm high bulk, high fibre cereal (carbs) with 1/2 cup milk and 1/2 cup yoghurt (protein and fat). I particularly like the Weigh Less Hi-Bulk Meusli and 50gms gives a respectable bowl-full.

7.  2-3 Tablespoons baked beans (protein) on toast (carbs). Sprinkle with some grated cheese (protein and fat). Eat a piece of fruit or drink 1/2 glass pure unsweetened fruit juice diluted with an equal quantity of water.

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

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

10.  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.

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 on Wednesday.

Fish capers : Wk58/2

Serves 4 : Very easy : Quick
4 skinless fish fillets (I used hake)

400gm cherry tomatoes, chopped
1 red onion, finely chopped
2 Tblsp capers, rinsed and finely chopped
2 Tblsp white wine vinegar
Fish seasoning
Dried tarragon

480gm new potatoes
Rocket salad

Heat the oven to 200ºC.

Spray four sheets of light weight foil with non-stick cooking spray.
(Each sheet about 30cm square, depending on the length of your fish)

In a bowl, mix together the tomatoes, onion, capers and vinegar.
Share this mixture between the sheets of foil.
Place a piece of fish on top of each tomato bed.
Sprinkle with fish seasoning and a little dried tarragon.
Fold the foil around each piece of fish to make four parcels.
Place the parcels on a baking tray and bake for 20 minutes.

Boil or steam the new potatoes until cooked.
Drain and keep warm.

Lift one fish fillet onto each dinner plate.
Spoon over the tomatoes and juices from the foil.

Serve with the potatoes and a handful of rocket or other salad leaves.

Friday, February 11, 2011


It falls from the sky (maybe a bit too often!).We swim and play in it. We wash in it. We take it for granted.

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

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

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

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

Salmon fish cakes with homemade tartar sauce : Wk57/5

Serves 4 : Very easy : Quick
400gm cold mashed potato
1 large can pink salmon, drained
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
Handful of fresh mint leaves

2 Tblsp Helman’s low fat mayo
1 Tblsp tomato sauce
1 pickled gherkin, finely chopped
2 spring onions, finely chopped
1 – 2 tsp horseradish sauce (optional)

Fresh mixed salad

To make tartar sauce, combine the mayo, gherkin, onion and horseradish.
Season to taste.

Flake the salmon removing any skin.
Mash the potatoes again.
Mix together the mash, peas and mint.
Stir the salmon through the mash mixture.

Divide and shape the mixture into twelve patties.
Lightly dust with flour.

Spray both sides of the patties with non-stick cooking spray.
Spray a large frying pan with non-stick cooking spray.
Dry fry the fish cakes until golden brown both sides and heated through.

Serve with the tartar sauce and a mixed salad.

It is easier to make these with cold mashed potato; the patties are very soft and difficult to handle if you use hot mash.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Link to .pdf file for Week 58

For a printer-friendly file, with bigger photos than displayed on my daily posts,
go here and get the menu, recipes and shopping list for Week 58.

Grilled chicken with sweet-sour slaw : Wk57/4

Serves 4 : Very easy : Quick
For the slaw:
6 spring onions
3 sticks celery
½ - 1 head cabbage
3 large carrots
1 large red pepper
± 8 – 10 large basil leaves
± 3 – 4 sprigs of mint, leaves only
Dressing and marinade:
8 Tblsp rice wine vinegar
3 tsp caster sugar

4 skinless chicken breasts, butterflied

4 Pita breads

Shred or grate all the vegetables for the slaw very finely.
Toss together until well combined.
Set aside.

In a small bowl or jug, measure out the vinegar and add the sugar.
Stir until the sugar dissolves.
Pour half of this over the slaw and toss well.
Use the rest to brush over both sides of the chicken.

Spray a ridged pan with non-stick cooking spray.
Heat the pan over a medium heat.
Dry fry the chicken for no more than 15 minutes, turning half way through.

Warm the pita breads.

Toss the slaw again to distribute the dressing.
Serve the chicken with the slaw and warmed pita pockets.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Mindful eating

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

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

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

So, move away from your desk.
No reading.
No TV.
No laptop.
No cell phones.

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

Ratatouille pancakes : Wk57/3

Serves 4 : Very easy : Quick
100gm nutty wheat flour
1 egg
350 -400 ml milk
Small pinch of salt

1 garlic clove, crushed
1 aubergine, peeled and chopped
3 courgettes, sliced
1 red pepper, chopped
100gm mushrooms, chopped
1 x 400gm tin chopped tomatoes
2 tsp cornflour

Measure the flour into a bowl and add the salt.
Make a well in the centre and drop in the egg.
Add half the milk and mix to a batter.
Stir in the remaining milk.
Cover and leave to stand while you prepare the vegetables.

Spray a small (±18cm) heavy based frying pan with non-stick cooking spray and heat the pan.
Pour in enough batter to just cover the bottom of the pan.
Cook for about three minutes and then turn and cook for another two minutes.
Slide the pancake out onto a clean dish cloth and cover to keep warm.
Repeat until you have made 8 pancakes.

Put the garlic, aubergine, courgettes, red pepper and mushrooms into a sauce pan.
Add the tomatoes.
Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes.
Mix the cornflour to a paste with a little water and add to the vegetables.
Simmer for another couple of minutes to allow the sauce to thicken.

Serve two pancakes per person.
Garnish with grated cheese, if desired.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Dilly saucy fish : Wk57/2

Serves 4 : Very easy : Very quick
4 fillets hake, skinless
1 Tblsp olive oil
1 Tblsp snipped chives
1 tsp finely chopped basil
1 tsp dried dill

1 aubergine, peeled and sliced
2 – 3 bell peppers (red or orange)
6 spring onions, chopped
1 lemon, thinly sliced
½ - ¾ cup hot chicken (or fish) stock

½ cup fat free natural yoghurt
1 tsp dried dill

480gm new potatoes
250gm Brussels sprouts

Combine the yoghurt and dried dill and set aside.

Combine the oil, chives, basil and dill.
Brush this mixture over the fish.

Steam or boil the potatoes and sprouts.
Drain and keep warm once they are cooked.

Spray a large oven proof dish with non-stick cooking spray.
The dish should be large enough to take all the fish in a single layer.

Lay the aubergine slices in the dish.
Cover with cling wrap and microwave for 3 minutes.

Remove the cling wrap and scatter over the sliced peppers and spring onions.
Lay the fish on top of the vegetables, followed by the lemon slices.
Pour in the stock.
Grind over some black pepper.
Cover with cling wrap and microwave on medium power until the fish flakes easily.

Serve the fish and vegetables with the potatoes, sprouts and dill sauce.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Food group review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cashew and sultana chicken : Wk57/1

Serves 4 : Very easy : Quick (extra time for marinating)
2 tsp cumin seed, toasted and crushed
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 Tblsp finely chopped coriander
1 – 2 tsp chilli paste
2 Tblsp olive oil
3 skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size
2 Tblsp broken cashew nuts
2 Tblsp sultanas in ½ cup water
4 Tblsp low fat mayo
2 Tblsp soy sauce
4 handfuls Asian baby leaf salad
16 cherry tomatoes

480gm new potatoes

Combine the cumin seed, garlic, coriander, chilli paste and olive oil.
Toss in the chicken and mix well with your hands.
Cover with cling wrap and set in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Boil the potatoes in lightly salted boiling water until cooked.
Drain and keep warm.

Spray a large pan with non-stick cooking spray.
Tip in the chicken and marinade and stir fry over a medium heat for about 5 minutes.
Add the sultanas (and soaking water) and cook for a further 5 minutes.
Remove to a bowl and stir thru the cashews.

Mix the mayo and soy together and pour over the chicken.

Serve on a bed of salad leaves with the tomatoes and potatoes on the side.

Friday, February 4, 2011


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

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

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

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

Mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated fatty acids are said to reduce the 'bad' cholesterol. Oils high in mono-unsaturated fats are good for cooking because they develop fewer free radicals when they are heated. Olive and rapeseed oils are highest in mono-unsaturated fats, so use them for cooking – but not at very high temperatures.

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

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

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

Scottish style hake : Wk56/5

Serves 4 : Very easy : Quick
8 hake ‘medallions’
1 egg white, beaten
½ cup rolled oats
½ cup fresh breadcrumbs
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
2 Tblsp chopped parsley

3 large carrots, julienne
2 – 3 stalks celery, julienne
8 baby corn, quartered lengthways
150gm green beans, halved

Heat the oven to 190ºC.
Spray a baking sheet with non-stick cooking spray.

Mix the oats, breadcrumbs, parsley and parmesan in a shallow dish.
Roll the medallions in the beaten egg white and then in the oat mix.
Place on the prepared baking sheet.
Bake for 15 minutes or until the fish flakes easily.

Combine the prepared vegetables and steam until tender.

Make a bed of vegetables on each of four dinner plates.
Top with 2 medallions per person.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Link to .pdf file for Week 57

Go here for the recipes and shopping list for Week 57.

Oh, and by the way, I've updated the recipe collections - link buttons to the right of the screen.

Piquant chicken : Wk56/4

Serves 4 : Very easy : Quick
8 skinless chicken thighs
1 onion, chopped
1 – 2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 sticks celery, sliced
2 large carrots, sliced
1 red pepper, sliced
2 large tomatoes, chopped
1 Tblsp tomato paste
2 Tblsp chopped fresh basil
125ml strong chicken stock

1 scant Tblsp cornflour mixed with 125ml water

Spray a large lidded pan with non-stick cooking spray.
Dry fry the chicken pieces until browned all over.
Remove chicken from the pan.
Dry fry the onion and garlic over a medium heat for about 5 minutes.
Put the chicken back in the pan.
Tip the remaining ingredients (except the cornflour) over the chicken.
Cover and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through.

Remove the lid and add the cornflour paste.
Stirring all the time, bring to a boil.
Reduce the heat to medium and allow the sauce to thicken.

Make a bed of vegetables and sauce on each of four dinner plates.
Set 2 chicken thighs on top and garnish with more basil or chopped parsley.

Serve with rice, mashed potatoes or crusty bread as desired.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Protein 3 – Pulses, nuts and seeds

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

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

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

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

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

Aubergine pasta : Wk56/3

Serves 4 : Very easy : Very quick
240gm pasta twirls

1 onion, sliced
1 – 2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 large aubergine, cubed
2 red peppers, sliced
1 x 400gm tin chopped tomatoes
½ tsp salt
Good grind of black pepper
1 Tblsp balsamic vinegar
4 Tblsp chopped basil
1 – 2 tsp sugar (optional)
60gm pecorino cheese, grated

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

Spray a large pan with non-stick cooking spray.
Dry fry the onion and garlic until the onion starts to soften.
Add the aubergine and cook until it starts to brown and soften, stirring often.
Stir in the peppers, tomatoes, salt, pepper and vinegar.
Simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes.
Stir through the sugar, if required.

Tip the pasta into the sauce along with the grated pecorino.
Stir well to combine.

Serve with extra grated pecorino if desired.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Crunchy salmon : Wk56/2

Serves 4 : Very easy : Quick
250gm cherry tomatoes
2 Tblsp balsamic vinegar
4 salmon steaks

1 Tblsp soy sauce
1 Tblsp honey
3 Tblsp sesame seeds

480gm new potatoes, halved
1 head broccoli
300gm spinach

Heat the oven to 180ºC.
Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.

Boil the potatoes in lightly salted water for about 20 minutes.
Drain and keep warm.
Steam the broccoli until tender.
Keep warm.
Wilt the spinach, drain well and keep warm.

Combine the soy sauce and honey.
Brush this over the fish and then roll each fillet in the sesame seeds.
Place the coated fish on the lined baking tray.
Place the tomatoes in an oven proof dish and sprinkle with the vinegar.
Bake the salmon and the tomatoes for 20 minutes, or until the fish flakes easily.

Serve as shown in the photograph.