recipes for healthy living

Month: January, 2012

The Med on a plate

Vegetable Stew
I nearly missed the first episode of Sicily Unpacked on BBC2 but just turned on as they visited the food market of Palermo. Seeing the fresh produce and all the beautiful colours of the fruits and vegetables made me nostalgic for my time in Italy and I just had to recreate the dish they prepared just to feel a bit closer to that wonderful country. Then the olive oil scandal hit the press here and I wasn’t even sure if the olive oil I had dressed it with was actually Italian…. Rather than worry about it, the oil I used tasted really good, said it was extra virgin and from Italy so until I hear otherwise I will trust that the product I bought is in fact what is says on the tin.

This dish is the Mediterranean on a plate, is full of lovely flavours and is delicious with a piece of grilled fish or chicken. It can also be served cold and is lovely with some rocket or flat leaf parsley stirred through it also. While classic recipes don’t always have peppers in this, I had some so included them in the recipe as they seem to go very well with the other ingredients. Use good olive oil to dress this at the end but you can use ordinary for the cooking process. Cook this on a medium rather than hot heat and this delicious stew should be ready in about 20 minutes from the last chop.

Sicilian Caponata

Serves 4-6
1 large onion, finely sliced
4 celery stalks washed and sliced
1 red and yellow pepper deseeded and cut into 1” pieces
2 lbs aubergines, cut into 1 inch chunks
1 tbsp salted capers, soaked in water and drained
5 tablespoons green olives, stoned ( I did not have them at the time so left out)
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
2 oz tomato passata or puree
5 tbsp olive oil
2 oz pine nuts toasted
Salt and pepper

Blanche the onion and celery in lightly salted water for about 3 minutes, then drain.
Heat the oil in a large frying pan, add the aubergine chunks and gently fry until brown and tender. If your pan is small you may have to cook them in batches. Add the pepers, onion, celery and all the remaining ingredients except for the pine nuts. Season, Stir well, then cover and cook for about 15 minutes on a medium heat. Check from time to time and add water if it appears to dry out and moderate the heat a little. Remove the lid for the last 5 minutes of cooking.
A final season to taste with salt and pepper and just before serving stir in the toasted pine nuts and drizzle over some more lovely extra virgin olive oil. I love the flavous of this hot or cold – Enjoy and let me know what you think…..

Blueberry Oat Muffins with a Oat Shortie Topping …. Gluten Free

Blueberry Oat Muffins
I love to bake and I’m quite ok at it, turning out nice pastry or cakes as the occasion demands it. This gluten free business is a whole different ball game though. I’ve been experimenting a bit lately with all the different flour mixes available and with mixed results I have to say… I have thrown a few bullets in the bin in recent weeks and discovered it helps to have a sense of humour when your daughter asks ‘What is that?’.

Quite simply you can’t just substitute the wheat flour in your favourite recipe with a gluten free flour. The raising process for one is not the same and the amounts of baking powder and baking soda need to be increased. That in itself can be problematic as you don’t want a green bun from too much baking soda… I’ve been there!.

You also need to choose your recipes wisely. Recipes with lots of liquid, pureed fruit, yoghurt etc will translate well but Mary Berry’s ultimate Cake recipes are not yet a runner for me anyhow.

While for this recipe I have used a Dove white flour mix (perfectly good) my next intention is to develop a flour mix which I like. I have the brown rice flour, buckwheat flour, quinoa flour, tapioca flour, xanthan gum and am just waiting for Jowar flour to arrive so that I can experiment and see if I can come up with a few flour mixes suitable for different baking types from more refined through to a nice nutty brown bread.  Unless you are really interested in baking I would suggest taking an easier route and buying the prepackaged Dove’s formula.
Blueberry Muffin

I hope you enjoy this sweet muffin recipe – let me know what you think…
This makes 16 -18 buns or 12 bigger muffins

Blueberry Muffins with an Oat Shortie Topping
8 oz gluten free rolled oats
8 Fl oz rice or almond milk or water or even yoghurt
2 oz butter
4 oz golden brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract (Use good quality and check for additives)
2 tbsp raw agave nectar (available in health stores) or honey
8 oz Doves gluten and wheat free white flour blend (Available at all health food stores)
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp gound cinnamon or mixed spice
1 pack of blueberries (about 6 oz)
2 eggs beaten
Oat topping
2 tbsp oats
1 tbsp sugar
1 oz butter
Pinch cinnamon or mixed spice

Soak the oats in the milk or water for 20 minutes.
Beat the butter sugar vanilla and nectar or honey together till light and fluffy
Sieve the dry ingredients together (flour, salt, soda, baking powder, cinnamon)
Stir the soaked oats into the butter sugar mix and combine well
Mix into the dry ingredients and combine well
Beat the 2 eggs and stir into the mix to form a thick batter
Add the blueberries
Place paper cases into muffin tins
Fill cases with mixture 2/3s up
For oat topping rub the butter sugar spice and oats together and sprinkle over the uncooked mixture
Bake at 180C for 15-20 minutes for bun size or 25 for larger
If you use frozen blueberries you will probable need 5 more minutes
Take out of the muffin tins and leave to cool in their paper cases so they don’t go soggy and enjoy while still warm or later if you can wait!

Lamb meatballs, chermoula, tzatziki & hummous

I love Moroccon flavours and spices and this was a meal really easy to put together with a few elements but something for everyone. Lamb can be quite fatty so I usually brown my lamb burgers on the pan and finish in the oven draining off occasionally. Couscous, tzatziki ( I know, not Moroccan but good with this anyhow), chermoula, hummus and some flatbreads finished them off beautifully and we even ate it sitting at a low table with some nice candles for atmosphere. Romantic? yes our 3 year old loved it too!.

I think of Chermoula as a type of North African pesto, often more classically associated with fish, I used it here as an accompaniment that gave a lovely background flavour to the meat, but it is really versatile as a marinade for meat or fish, even over roasted veggies.

This meal is packed full with loads of my favourite herbs and I tend to load them into most of my cooking as I love the health benefits of culinary herbs with their unique antioxidant and disease preventing properties. All these elements can be prepared in advance including the lamb up to browning and then just popped into the oven to finish..

Enjoy and let me know what you think.

1tsp ground cumin seeds
1 tsp ground fennel seeds
50g fresh coriander picked – you can used leaves and top stalks
100g flat leaf parsley leaves
50g mint leaves
2 cloves garlic
3 tsps paprika
rind of ½ lemon and orange
300mls olive oil

To make the chermoula, blend everything except the olive oil in a food processor,then add the oil to get a pesto-like consistency. Taste and adjust seasoning.

8 oz plain yogurt – I like greek.
½ cucumber, peeled, seeded, and grated
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste

Combine everything and leave in the fridge with cling, till needed.

Authentic couscous is steamed in a Couscoussier but I follow the easier method. I have made it the other way and filed it away under the ‘life is too short category’.
I reconstitute the amount of couscous I need with boiling water (or stock if I have it). Cover the container with a plate and when the couscous has absorbed the liquid, fluff it up with a fork. Your couscous is now ready to add flavour to in the form of lots of olive oil, salt and pepper, loads of chopped herbs (flat leaf parsley, coriander, mint) red onion, diced peppers if you have it and I used slow roasted tomatoes since I had them in the fridge.

1 12 oz can of chickpeas
2/3’s liquid from can of chickpeas
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons tahini
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 tsp paprika
2 tablespoons olive oil

Drain chickpeas and set aside liquid from can. Combine remaining ingredients in blender or food processor. Add the liquid from chickpeas. Blend for 3-5 minutes on low until thoroughly mixed and smooth.  Season according to taste. If you wish, add some more lemon juice depending on your preference.

Lamb Meatballs
I used a Kofta recipe as the basis for this and added some sesame seeds to coat them before browning in a pan and into the oven

Serves 4

1 lb of ground lamb (Good with beef too)
1 medium onion, chopped fine
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon ground sea salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4teaspoon chilli powder
2 tablspoons chopped flat leaf parsley and the same of Coriander
1 tablespoon chopped mint leaves (optional)
3 tbsp sesame seeds

Mix all ingredients except the sesame seeds together in a large mixing bowl, and leave for an hour or longer if you have it, to allow the flavours to develop.
Shape into meatball or burger shapes.
Roll in sesame seeds
Heat 2 tbsp oil in frying pan and brown the meat balls and transfer into an ovenproof casserole dish.
Cook in oven at 180 until cooked through – about 15 or 20 minutes.

I served these lamb balls in the flatbreads with the hummus and chermoula and the couscous on the side. Enjoy!!

A chunky chowder

I really enjoy a chowder and while this one contains just 2 fish ingredients – smoked haddock and smoked salmon, it is really delicious. It makes a great filling lunch dish or main course and would be great on the weekend. I used a basic chowder recipe but to make it a bit different I griddled some baby leeks and added some cannellini beans to add some extra oomph. The reason I used smoked salmon is that I had it in the fridge, any other fish you like can be used instead… even a few prawns or scallops if you were going all out!.

1/2 white onion peeled
1 bay leaf
2 blackpeppercorns
4 oz smoked haddock
3 oz smoked salmon
1 garlic clove peeled and flattened
5oz milk
3oz cream
1 tbsp roux made from a knob of butter and 2 tbsp gluten free flour, butter melted and flour stirred in and cooked out
3oz cooked cannellini beams drained and rinsed
2or 3 large handfuls chopped chives tarragon or chervil
3 baby leeks trimmed washed and halved – optional

Griddle the leeks if using and set aside.
Season your fish.
Put cream, milk, peppercorns, garlic and onion into pot with haddock, bring to the boil, reduce to simmer and poach the haddock for about 4 minutes. Ensure that the haddock is covered by the liquid. For the last minute, add the salmon.
Remove the salmon and haddock and take skin off the fish and discard. Keep both fish on warm plate while you continue with recipe.
Strain liquid into new pot and bring heat up again. Whisk in the roux to thicken the liquid. Add in the cannellini beans and your cooked fish.
Stir in the chopped herbs and pour into your serving bowls – 2 small portions or 1 larger man size portion.
Top with griddled leeks – serve and enjoy. This is a yummy meal full of protein, good fats paticularly Omega 3 fatty acids. The herbs provide antibacterial and antiviral volatile oils and if using chervil you get useful amounts of iron – so this is not only really delicious but all good for you too!..

Breakfast on the go?… Stuck for a health lunchbox snack for the kids…Try these Mediterranean Muffins

I got several cake and dessert cook books over Christmas and was looking at all the muffin recipes. I always shudder when I am passing a particular muffin outlet at a large shopping centre near me as you can see them pouring huge amounts of oil into their muffin mix just before putting them in the oven. I’m willing to bet that oil is a horrible low grade just above toxic product but sadly the queues at the counter are still long. I always make them with butter and while looking through a baking cookbook I started thinking about more nutritious savoury muffin options. I had just made a load of semi sundried tomatoes and since they are such a Mediterranean staple decided to match them with the Parma and feta I had in the fridge. I’m sure it has been done before but I’m very proud of these delicious little beauties… I just had one and dipped it in a puddle of extra virgin olive oil and I’m hooked. These are made with a gluten free flour (I used rice flour) but any gluten free white flour blend will work. The added fats and protein have reduced their GI and above all made these much more nutritious than anything for sale in that outlet I mentioned above…..

10 oz gluten free flour
½ tsp salt
½ tsp bicarb of soda
1 tsp baking powder

3 oz butter – melted
9fl oz milk
2 eggs – beaten with the milk

2 oz parma ham chopped into small pieces
2 oz feta crumbled
2 oz semi sundried tomatoes chopped
2 tbsp chopped chives

Sieve the first 4 ingredients into your mixing bowl
Beat the milk and eggs in to form a thick batter
Beat in the melted butter, scraping down the mixture

Take bowl out and manually fold in the ham, feta, tomatoes and chives to ensure an even distribution
Full your muffin cases about 2/3’s full and bake at 190C for 20 – 25 minutes until golden brown

They will be delicious either just out of the oven with a big salad or bowl of soup or in a lunchbox to take to work or school. They will freeze perfectly and you can heat them from frozen.

Enjoy !

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