‘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.

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.

 

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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.

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!

Brighton’s surplus food superheroes

There are one billion malnourished people in the world – our inefficient food chain is to blame. A scandalous amount of food is thrown away by the farmers, supermarkets, businesses and individuals each and every day. The amount of food which heads for the bin before it even touches the shelves is enormous. FareShare Brighton and Hove stop food lining bins and ensure it fills the stomachs of 3800 people a week. They are an organisation who combat this waste, while reducing hunger and increasing the employability of their volunteers. FareShare make it possible for surplus food to be  delivered to many different organisations around the UK, as the Brighton depot is one of seventeen around the country.

I interviewed Project Manager Nathan Au to find out a little bit more about FareShare Brighton and Hove.

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The project manager of Brighton and Hove’s FareShare.

Q: Where is the food sourced?

A: We have fifty different sources varying from manufacturers, to businesses in Brighton. About five of these are really big suppliers. These range from  big wholesalers like Brakes to more familiar names including Higgidy Pies, Pret A Manger, Real Patisserie, Twinings, Asda and Brighton’s whole food co-operative Infinity Foods.

 Q:Who qualifies to receive food?

A: We supply over 53 different community food members in Brighton and the surrounding areas. These include food shelters, women’s refuges, hostels for people coming off the streets, asylum seekers and refugees. These organisations cater for about 3800 people a week, from varying social groups. All the organisations we supply are registered charities, statuary bodies or other credited associations. We only supply non-profit organisations.

Q: So FareShare acts as a kind of middleman?

A: Yes, we act as a bridge between surplus food and the charities. Without FareShare the fifty-three different organisations receiving our food deliveries would not be able to source this food from the suppliers; they do not have enough space to store such big stocks of surplus food and manufacturers would not co-operate with so many different small organisations.

 

Q:What kind of products do you supply?

A: We try to keep healthy food in above a quarter of the delivered products, vegetables make up a large proportion of the food we receive and deliver. However we do not turn down food on heath grounds,  for someone who is homeless a chocolate bar provides much-needed energy.

Q: Are there any food products you won’t supply

A: We don’t supply anything past its use by date, no shellfish or seafood. We have to be really careful about who we supply and we inspect the charities we supply for food safety standards. Because of health and safety reasons we cannot supply any food that is past it’s best before date. This is just a recommended date of usage and most dry food products are perfectly good for human consumption well past this date.

Q: Who are your volunteers?

A: We have a range of volunteers, some students but others who have had difficulties in their lives and been unable to hold down regular employment. Volunteering helps them gain skills, provides a structure in their lives and increases employability.