‘Eat clean’ – harmless food fad or unhealthy obsession?

Now I’m all for healthy eating, but something about the term ‘eat clean’ that’s being thrown about at the moment makes my hackles rise. The diet that spawned the term is pretty sensible; less refined sugar – more fruit, veg and whole foods. You know the drill.

But the term itself is puritanical, setting us up to analyse every morsel we put into our mouths. It says ‘I will purify myself, cleanse myself of wrong doing.’  Forgive me father for I have sinned, I had unclean thoughts of putting a great big spoonful of salted caramel ice cream in my guilt ridden, yet salivating mouth. Is this modern day religion? Mecca has been supplanted by Maca – a root touted by health enthusiasts, renowned for its health benefits and aphrodisiac qualities. New super foods are appearing one after the other, a conveyor belt of promises.  We juice just about anything we can lay our hands on, knocking back huge quantities of fruit and veg with the kind of frenzy reserved only for the pursuit of eternal youth.

Our society has two growing polarities. We’ve got the devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other. On the one hand we have an obesity crisis that’s crippling the NHS with its burgeoning weight and on the other we have our clean eaters, eyeing up the food before them with a deeply ingrained suspicion. We’ve got big food corporations whispering their sweet nothings about incredible deals and how there is now even less fat in some sterile, sugary yogurt. These corporations aim to make our shopping choices so unconscious that we won’t even realise why we reach for a certain brand on the supermarket shelf.

The food industry rides on waves of this good versus evil. Take the Innocent smoothie – a sugary hit, but with a haloed head. Why not have one of these to balance out the chocolate bar you ate earlier. Or think about pretty much every chocolate advert aimed at women –  each speaks of indulgence, gluttony – a naughty treat which you know you shouldn’t eat, but go on be bad just this once.

I don’t want my food to be fetishised, demonised, dressed up or cleverly marketed. I don’t want my food choices to be saturated with quasi religious messages and I don’t need the guilt. I don’t want to eat clean, I want to eat dirty. And I don’t mean greasy takeaway or the aforementioned ice cream, but instead real fruit and vegetables grown with love and care, which are often (gasp) incredibly dirty.

Advertisements

Go wild….

Spring finally feels like it’s here! To celebrate I’ve made some wild soup, as in stinging nettle (yes they are tasty) and wild garlic (amazing stuff – and this is the best time of year to eat it!)

I can’t claim that this is entirely wild, in fact the potatoes, cream, butter and spices are quite tame. The nettles however were not as simple, they nipped at me and leapt out of the colander as I washed them. Nettle stings are supposed to prevent arthritis though, so I won’t complain. But it might be advisable to wear rubber gloves!

They are really worth the trouble – they contain more protein than other vegetables and are really high in iron. Because of this they are a  great tonic if you are feeling a bit low. They are reputed to have beauty benefits too, such as shiny hair and clear skin, as well as being good for eczema. So by adding fresh wild garlic you have yourself a doubly powerful super-food soup.

It was such an intense zingy green – the photo doesn’t do it justice.

 

P1030173

Ingredients:

Serves 4.

  • 4 medium potatoes – you can peel them if you like but the skins add more fibre –  (if you want it to be lower GI you could use celeriac or swede)
  • 500g stinging nettle tips – this saves you from taking the leaves off the tough stalk
  • 2 big handfuls of wild garlic
  • one white onion
  • a dash of double cream – or to taste
  • 1.5 litres of boiling water – or enough to cover
  • butter
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1tsp coriander seeds
  • 1tsp of fenugreek seeds
  • 2tsp mustard seeds

You could replace the spices for any others you have lying around, or just use a little mustard instead of the seeds. If you don’t want to use cream you could replace 500ml of  water for skimmed milk.

Method:

  • Start by cooking the onion on a medium-low heat in the butter, oil and seasoning.
  • Add the spices and wait until the onion turns translucent.
  • Add the diced potato.
  • Add your nettles, half the wild garlic, cream and cover with water.
  • Allow to simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are cooked.
  • Blend and serve.

Easy peasy. Enjoy!

20 ways to save money and avoid wasting food

I have had a rummage around on the internet to find the best tips to avoid throwing away food. There is some general advise and some which I specifically looked up because they combat things which often escape being eaten. So whether it is a problem with hiders at the back of  the fridge, or fluffy pesto I have the answers…… well some of them.

1. Walk or cycle to the supermarket – you are less likely to over shop if you know you are going to have to carry it all home.

2. Invest in a magnetic whiteboard for your fridge. Then you can write on the items which need using up first, or what to buy to go with what you already have.

3. Use over ripe bananas to make muffins or banana bread. If you don’t have time immediately peel and freeze them until you have a moment.

4. Don’t leave the fridge door open for unnecessary amounts of time or put food in the fridge which is not completely cold. Both these things compromise the efficiency of your fridge.

5. Best before, sell by and use by dates are not rules. Often food is perfectly fine after them, just use your eyes and nose.

6. Don’t shop when you are hungry. The amount of times I have gone shopping a little bit ravenous and come back with an overly plentiful and very strange assortment of food.

7. To use up any stale bread or just crusts: toast them, put them in a food processor or use a hand blender to make bread crumbs and then freeze until needed. Or chop them into cubes and freeze for croutons.

8. Make sure you are well stocked up on herbs and spices. This will mean that when you have left-overs to re-invent this will allow you to be more creative and come up with concoctions worth remembering.

9. Old lemons and limes can be used for de-greasing dirty dishes.

10. If you have zested a lemon/lime/orange – it won’t keep as long. So juice and freeze in an ice-cube tray until needed. Or just cut into slices, take out the pips and freeze – ready to ice and slice your G&T in one fine sweep!

11. Coconut milk is something that goes off quickly if you don’t use the whole tin – so freeze it in a Tupperware most suited to your portions.

12. Use chicken carcasses for making stock. Strip off most of the leftover meat and put aside for salads, sandwiches or adding to the stock later to make soup. Then cover the carcass in water, season, add herbs, onion, garlic and maybe celery. Boil and then turn to a low heat for three hours or more. The longer the more intense the flavour. Once cooled this can be frozen until needed.

13. Keep sliced bread in the freezer and only take out what you need.

14. Green leafy vegetables and whole lettuces keep a lot longer if treated like cut flowers. Cut a slice off the base of the stalk and place in a bowl of water / jug.

15. Pesto is always going off in my fridge, with fuzzy intruders lurking under the lid and round the edges of the jar. To avoid this, clean the excess pesto from around the lid and the neck of the jar. Then if the pesto looks a little dry, cover it in a bit of olive oil to preserve it. To just use it up a quicker, remember that it is always great in sauces, for a bit of extra basily-ness add to sauces, soups or even a tomato based stew or casserole.

16. Eat the stem of your broccoli as well as the florets! It is really tasty – just peel off any thick skin on the outside, slice. It works really well as a crunchy addition to a stir fry.

17. It might help to write down food which usually gets wasted in your house, and then buy less of it or replace it with something that is less likely to end up thrown away.

18. I always find that fresh herbs go off too quickly. A handy way of preserving them is to chop them up and put them in ice-cube trays or freezer bags with a tiny bit of water and then yes put them in the freezer.

19. Organise your fridge so there is a shelf dedicated to food that needs to be eaten asap.

20. Use all of the pineapple. Keep and boil up the peel and the core to create either a digestive tea or chilled juice, but remember to wash the pineapple before you peel it.

Thanks for reading!  If you have any tips of your own, comments would be greatly valued.

A very simple vegetarian feast

Last night I cooked for friends, two of which are vegetarians. I was pretty tired, as well as being quite low on time and money. None of these factors sound like the premise for a good meal. Anyway we got some wine out and I devised a plan. I decided to cook roasted butternut squash and sweet potato, which were joined by lemon and cumin flavoured spinach and chickpeas, olive ciabatta and feta cheese. I thought I was cooking enough to have left-overs the next day, but the six of us devoured the lot of it, using the bread to tidily scoop up the last of everything. So I decided to write-up what turned out to be a bit of a veggie feast. This is a very easy meal (you will be quite capable of glugging back your chosen poisen while cooking). It could be doubled or halved very easily depending on how many people you are feeding and how greedy they are. Chickpeas are great, they are cheap, low in fat, high in protein and fibre. This is such a lovely meal, it is filling without sitting too heavily on the stomach. It also felt so summery, I think it may have encouraged the glimpse of good weather today!

 

P1030153

 

For the roasted Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato:

  • 1 large butternut squash
  • 2 large sweet potatoes
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tsp ras el hanout
  • olive oil

You can obviously vary the vegetables you use according to what you have in the house. Try using sweet root vegetables or peppers instead – anything like this would also work really well with the salty feta and spiced chickpeas.

Roast for about 40 -45 mins at 190C / gas mark 5

P1030145

For the Chickpeas and Spinach:

  • 1 red onion
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1 leek
  • 2  x 400g can of chickpeas
  • 200g spinach
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 3 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp ras el hanout
  • 300g feta cheese
  • pinch of chilli flakes or powder
  • optional – sprinkling of seeds (I used black sesame seeds)

Gently fry the onions, garlic and leek in olive oil and a pinch of salt until softened and reduced. Then add the chickpeas, lemon juice and zest, spices and cook for a further 5-10 minutes. Add the spinach and cook for about 2 minutes on a medium heat. Then add half the feta (leaving some to add at the table) and garnish with seeds.

P1030149

 

Serve with some good bread, olive oil and balsamic. Keep the wine flowing!

 

P1030154

 

Some thoughts on celeriac and soup

I love celeriac and soup, so a combination of these two things makes me very happy. I am going to share my recipe for a chunky vegetable soup with a celeriac base. This is the first of a series of recipes I am going to write – intending to revive and inspire the use of this vegetable. It is such a great ingredient – it has a stronger flavour than celery without the stringy-ness some people hate. It gives a velvety texture which is quite similar to potato (but is much lower in starch) and is in short a perfect soup ingredient. It is a vegetable which is sadly overlooked. I have often found that people don’t know what to do with it, or even what it is. It does look quite strange – the white old man of root vegetables. Its appearance is also slightly reminiscent of the ‘root baby’ in Pan’s Labyrinth  – for those of you I have already lost along the wayside, I have included a picture comparison below.

Leeks, celeriac and carrots - all waiting impatiently to get into my soup.

Leeks, celeriac and carrots – all waiting impatiently to get into my soup.

Celeriac relative in the bowl?

Celeriac relative in the bowl?

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium celeriac
  • 2 carrots
  • 3 leeks
  • 2 onions
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1 sweet potato
  • 3 sticks of celery
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1800ml stock
  • 1 generous glug of olive oil

Use the celeriac as a base and then vary the other ingredients according to what you have in the house. A soup is the perfect way to use up tired vegetables and prevent them from going to waste.

Method:

Dice the onions and mince the garlic and gently cook on a low heat for about 10-15 minutes,  stirring regularly until they are translucent, but not coloured.  Meanwhile peel and cube the celeriac and chop the other vegetables. Add everything to the pot and allow to sweat on a low – medium heat for a further 5-10 minutes. (A low heat preserves the vitamin content and flavour) Then add the stock and cook for an hour minimum – long slow cook is better. I like to half-blend this soup. By this I mean when it is cooked I take out half the soup put it in a food processor (or a magi-mix and a big bowl works well) and then put the blended half back with the rest and cook for a further 5 minutes. The result of this is a chunky soup with a smooth base, avoiding the reminder of baby food which a completely processed soup sometimes gives.

Apple, maple and pecan muffins

This is by no means a recipe which speaks of any kind of austerity. They are great in the afternoon and play very well with a good cup of coffee. I made them because I needed to use up a bit of maple syrup. It was taking up space in the cupboard and threatening to crystallise. Though this was an experiment, I was rather pleased with the results and it really is an amazing combination even if I say so myself….. If you wanted a more wholesome breakfast muffin you could of course give the icing a miss and add maple extract to the muffin mix – though this would be a very sad omission.

The apple and pecans are in the muffin mixture, while the maple addition is added in the cream cheese icing.  I am obsessed with cream cheese icing – there are so many things you can do with it, so many different flavours to be tried. I always thought of icing as something that I didn’t like and would leave behind the sickly, tooth achingly sweet goo. This is all-together a different kind of affair.

 

 

Without further waffling I’ll write you the very easy recipe.

 

Muffins:

75g unsalted butter

75g castor sugar

200g plain flour

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

2 tsp baking powder

pinch of salt

100ml yogurt

100ml of milk

175g pealed, cored and cubed apple

30g chopped pecans

1 large egg

Icing:

200g full fat cream cheese

2-3 tbs maple syrup or to taste

1 tbs icing sugar

Method

Muffins:

  • Preheat the oven to 200C / gas mark 6
  • Muffin cases in muffin tins or just grease the tins
  • Gently melt the butter and leave to cool
  • Combine the dry ingredients in large bowl
  • Use a measuring jug to beat together the egg, the melted and cooled butter, milk and yogurt
  • Mix the apple and pecans with the dry ingredients
  • Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and gently fold together. Lumps are fine, just don’t over mix it or you won’t get light muffins
  • Spoon into your muffin tins and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until golden and well risen.

Icing:

  • Combine all the ingredients in a bowl, making sure you sieve the icing sugar first
  • If the mixture gets too runny add more icing sugar / and or put it in the fridge.

Eat greedily with or without company.

 

Left-overs into Jambalaya!

Among my crowded shelf of cookbooks I discovered  an old brown copy bearing the somewhat ironic name ‘Modern Cookery’. It looked out of place among its brightly coloured neighbours, who boasted celebrity names and colour images. It turned out to be the guide of choice for all my grandmother’s meals and while some of the advice it gives is best forgotten (forty minutes for cooking leeks!) there is wisdom to be found.

A whole chapter is dedicated to ‘New Dishes from Left-overs’.  This is something like clever PR job in your own home. Take something old, give it new bedfellows and a different dish is born. This section indicates how much our attitudes to food have changed in just a couple of generations, highlighting the culture of excess we now live in. I’m not saying we should return to rationing, but perhaps just remember some of those values which are so alien to us.  You would be very hard pushed to find a section in a modern cookbook that includes ideas for re-inventing excess ingredients.
 I decided to make something with the remains of yesterdays roast beef, which was lurking in the fridge and threatening to be forgotten. I also had some chorizo, cherry tomatoes and a bell pepper coveting a position in what I decided was going to be a Jambalaya of sorts.
So anyway here is my very easy Jambalaya inspired dish.

Because the aim of this dish is to use up left-overs, proportions and specific ingredients are not that important. But I’ll write down the essentials and the variables.
Essential ingredients:

  • 250g of any rice (I like brown short grain)
  • 1 tin of peeled plum tomatoes/chopped tomatoes
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 6 cloves of garlic, (or to taste) minced
  • pinch chilli flakes or powder, (more if you want it really spicy)
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • glug of olive oil
  • 125ml red wine or alternatively stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • seasoning

Variable ingredients:

    • Vegetables: I used a few handfuls of cherry tomatoes, one red bell pepper, a few spring onions and a handful of spinach. Alternatively any kind of pepper, aubergine, courgettes or tomatoes would work well. Coriander optional.

    • Meat or beans: I used around 400g of roast beef (chopped into chunks is better than sliced here) and 100g of choritzo. You could use any left-over meat you have! For a vegetarian version use any kind of tinned beans 400g and add extra veg – but remember to add a few tsp of paprika if you are not using chorizo.

Method:

  1. For the rice, cover with boiling water and simmer until nearly cooked, then drain and set to the side.

  2. Saute the onions garlic and chorizo in olive oil on a medium heat with a pinch of salt, until the onions become transluscent.

  3. Then the meat/beans and vegetables of choice and cook on medium heat for about 5 minutes.

  4. Then add wine or stock, tin of tomatoes, oregano and chilli and simmer for 10 minutes

  5. Finally add the rice and cook until tender.

  6. Serve and enjoy!