Better than a takeaway

My husband has berated me for my blogging content this week, as my recipes are neither seasonal nor local.  However, in my defence, it is Friday night, and as a nation we Brits all love a takeaway on a Friday night.  The food and drink I am writing about are perfect Friday night fodder, and far, far better than a bought-in take-away.

Despite loving cooking and eating home-cooked food, we usually have a takeaway on a Friday or Saturday night if we are in.  It will usually be either Indian (mild for the children’s sake), or Chinese in front of Britain’s Got Talent.  For Brent and my palate, take-aways need to be fragrant, spicy and savoury, and this Friday the children are visiting their grandparents, so we can go as spicy as we like.  We used to make this dish a lot when the children were very little, and not sharing our meals.  It is probably too spicy for them (however you can amend the amount of chillies you add), and it is certainly fragrant and savoury.  And best of all, because it is home-made, there are no nasty hidden ingredients.

Nasi Goreng (literally meaning fried rice) is sort of like an Indonesian paella.  Made with long-grain rice (medium glycaemic load or GL) its ingredients have many health benefits.  It is served with a garnish of raw salad high in enzymes to help aid digestion (cucumber, tomatoes, peppers), and we like to add lots of fresh coriander to it too, so that the raw ingredients almost overwhelm the cooked ones, adding to its health benefits.

IMG_0222One key ingredient is turmeric, a fantastic anti-inflammatory spice that adds the distinctive yellow colour to the dish.  Turmeric is a wonder spice, and as well as being anti-inflammatory is cardioprotective, beneficial for skin conditions such as psoriasis, a potent antioxidant and anti-carcinogenic.

The chilli content (both fresh and dried) is rich in vitamins and minerals and has similar properties to the turmeric, helps to reduce cholesterol and increases endorphin production for the feel-good factor.  The other ingredients, lean protein, are key building blocks for the body.

Nasi Goreng can be prepared in many different ways.  We base ours on a recipe in one of my favourite cookery books, given to me by my brother, Culinaria: South-East Asian Specialties, which I highly recommend if you like cooking Asian food.

Before you get started with preparing the nasi goreng, though, you will need a cocktail.  Brent and I spent an evening sampling these, and they are delicious, although more than 1 saketini is brave, and more than 2 foolhardy.  Asian-themed, they go well with the nasi goreng despite being from a different parts of Asia.

Cucumber and Basil Saketinis

  • 1 cucumber, peeled and seeded
  • 12 basil leaves
  • 2 parts Sake (we used Sawanotsuru)
  • 1 part Vodka (we used Grey Goose)
  • Splash of Sugar Cane Syrup (we used Saint-James)
  1. Juice the cucumber (I used my Matstone Juicer) with a handful of basil leaves to infuse the cucumber juice
  2. Chill the martini glasses
  3. Combine the sake, vodka and sugar cane in cocktail shaker
  4. Add cucumber and basil juice
  5. Shake over ice
  6. Strain and serve, with a squeeze of lime, and garnish with a basil leaf

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Nasi Goreng (serves 2 greedy adults with leftovers)
  • 200g/7oz long grain rice (we used Basmati)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1-3 fresh red chillies, deseeded
  • 1 tsp shrimp paste
  • 4 tbsp coconut oil
  • 4 chicken thighs, boned and skinned and cut into pieces
  • 250g peeled, cooked prawns
  • 1/2 tsp chilli pepper
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 2 tsp tomato puree
  • seasoning to taste

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To garnish:

  • a handful of cherry tomatoes
  • sliced red or yellow peppers
  • sliced cucumber
  • 1 bunch of spring onions, finely sliced
  • 3-4 tbsp chopped fresh coriander

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  1. Precook the rice and leave to cool.
  2. Lightly beat the seasoned eggs and make omelette.  Leave to cool, roll up and slice into narrow strips.
  3. Heat the oil in a large pan or wok, and add onions, garlic, chillies and shrimp paste until fragrant.
  4. Add chicken and prawns and cook gently for 2 mins or so
  5. Stir in chilli powder and turmeric
  6. Add soya sauce, tomato puree and seasoning
  7. Add cooked rice and stir-fry till hot
  8. Serve immediately, with omelette strips on top and garnish on the side.
  9. If you like it as hot as we do, add some Sriracha, Lotus Chilli Oil or Chilli Garlic Sauce

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There were no leftovers this evening, and it was absolutely delicious.  I think the children would love it too if I reduced the chilli content and went easy on the coriander.

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Sugar Rush

There was an interesting article published in The Times this week (The fructose timebomb: it’s sweet drinks that are making our children fat | The Times).   Most of us know that fizzy drinks aren’t a healthy option.  Coca Cola is my particular bugbear as it has no redeeming features – 10 teaspoons of sugar in the average can and high caffeine content to boot, but all fizzy drinks are harmful.  Full of empty calories, aside from the high sugar content, they are full of artificial colours and flavourings, and many, including coca cola are high in phosphoric acid, which results in calcium being leached from the skeleton and leads to osteoporosis.

What shocked me, after reading this article, was just how much sugar there was in seemingly healthy drinks (see chart below).   My favoured smoothie bought for the children contains pretty much the same amount of sugar as coca cola.  I mean, I know juices aren’t great for you, and I have been banging on about it to my children for ages, and limiting their intake as a consequence.  It just doesn’t make sense that we can drink a juice in a matter of seconds with impunity when, if we actually ate the equivalent fruit from which the juice was taken, it would take us some considerable time (and our hunger would be satisfied before we finished eating).  It’s just too easy to mindlessly knock back juices without considering what we are actually consuming.  Moreover, as we are told that juices can count as one of our “five a day”, we believe we are actively improving our and our children’s health by doing this

How much sugar is in your drink

Average serving size: 250ml

1. Fanta 12.2g sugars / 50 kcal per 100ml
2. 7Up 11g sugars / 41 kcal per 100ml
3. Waitrose squeezed smooth orange juice 10.6g sugars / 47 kcal per 100ml
4. Coca-Cola 10.6g sugars / 42 kcal per 100ml
5. Sprite 10.55g sugars / 43.5 kcal per 100ml
6. Innocent strawberry & bananas smoothie 10.52g sugars / 53.2 kcal per 100 ml
7. Sunny Delight “California style” 8.7g sugars / 38 kcal per 100ml
8. J2O apple & mango 6.2g sugars / 27 kcal per 100ml
9. Orange Tango 4.3g sugars / 19 kcal per 100ml
10. Diet Coke 0g sugars / 0.25 kcal per 100ml

Sources: Coca-Cola; innocent; Sunny Delight; Britvic Soft Drinks; Waitrose

Dr Robert Lustig, a specialist in endocrinology, has set out to expose the sugar industry, and supports the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (ARMS) who, as an anti-obesity measure,  is demanding a 20% tax on high-sugar drinks.  Several countries, including France, have recently imposed a duty on sugary drinks at 20p per litre.

Dr Lustig explains why fruit juices in particular are so deleterious to health.  The sugar content, or fructose (simply sugar contained in fruit, vegetables and honey), is slightly higher in, for example, orange juice, than the average fizzy drink.  Fructose is metabolised by the liver, the only part of the body able to do this job.  So when a fruit juice or smoothy is consumed, the liver is hit by a massive dose of sugar that it has to process.  Often the body simply cannot cope with the traffic and is overloaded with toxins; this is when problems such as non-alcoholic fatty liver, cirrhosis and other liver diseases can develop.

According to Dr Lustig, fructose is the main cause of metabolic syndrome, the precursor to diabetes, which has become an epidemic along with obesity in the western world.  You don’t have to be obese to get metabolic syndrome; many seemingly slender people suffer from it, and it is on the rise in tandem with our increased intake of fructose (fructose consumption has increased sixfold over the past century, according to Dr Lustig).

So, what can we drink instead of fizzy drinks and juices?

  • filtered water flavoured with slices of cucumber, lemon or orange is cooling and refreshing
  • filtered or naturally carbonated water flavoured with ginger is cleansing and warming
  • naturally carbonated water flavoured with the juice of a lime.  This is very sour, but my children actually love it.  An acquired taste possibly.
  • citron pressé (freshly squeezed lemon juice, diluted with filtered water).  Also very sour, obviously.
  • fruit juice diluted with filtered or naturally carbonated water (use juice like a cordial to flavour the water).
  • CherryActive.  This is a cordial made from Montmorency cherries.  It has numerous health benefits, including improving sleep patterns and aiding recovery after sports.  It provides a much lesser hit of fructose than other cordials and juices; check out the website to find out more.  I consider it a wonder product and my children love it too.
  • Coconut water.  I like Vita Coco Coconut Water which is stocked by most supermarkets.  Choose the pure version, not mixed with tropical fruit juices.  It is rich in potassium, very hydrating and an effective electrolyte drink that can be used to aid recovery after sport.

How can we limit the effects of fructose on the body?  Use water (always filtered – tap water is full of chemicals harmful to the body) to quench thirst.  Ensure that any sweet drinks are consumed after a meal to limit the sugar hit on the body.  Keep juices as a treat, not as an everyday essential 1 of your “5 a day”.  Remember to break the rules from time-to-time; the odd lemonade is not going to kill you.

Rhubab Rhubarb

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I always think the arrival of British forced rhubarb signifies that Spring is not far off.  It’s cheering colour is such a contrast to other seasonal fare and looks so pretty that I can’t resist it.  We have consequently been eating a lot of it in the Harris household over the last week or two.

Rhubarb has been known in the UK for 500 years or more.  Its root originally came from Siberia, and it was imported for medicinal purposes (it has astringent, laxative, purgative and anti-parasitic properties, as well as aiding bile flow).  Mrs Beeton mentions it as relatively little-known plant, and the first recipes using it date from the late 18th century.

Here in the UK, the best forced rhubarb is grown in Yorkshire.  Forced rhubarb, or early-season rhubarb, is grown under cover, at a constant (high) temperature.  Natural light spoils the appearance of its leaves, so it is harvested by hand by candlelight.

Early-season rhubarb is acidic in its raw state, and requires cooking and the addition of sugar to make it palatable.  Its leaves are toxic due to the high oxalic acid content, so discard before preparing your rhubarb.  It is rich in potassium, as well as calcium and vitamin C.

Rhubarb is generally used as a fruit, although it is by definition a vegetable related to sorrel and buckwheat family.  It is often used for puddings and sweet foods, and makes a popular crumble filling.  It also makes a fantastic syrup to use for martinis.

Rhubarb Martini

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To make the syrup, we used Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recipe in The River Cottage Year, doubling up on the quantities, as it can last for several weeks in a sealed jar in the fridge.

    • 1 kilo British rhubarb
    • juice of 4 blood oranges
    • 8 tablespoons sugar
  1. Rinse and chop rhubarb roughly
  2. Add to pan with juice of 4 blood oranges, as well as 4 tablespoons of sugar
  3. Simmer rhubarb for ten minutes or so until tender
  4. Strain syrup into jar
  5. Leave to cool and refrigerate

IMG_1417For the martini, use 1 part rhubarb to 4 parts vodka.  We used Chase Vodka, which is British.  Serve with 2 inch stick of raw rhubarb to garnish.  Watch out though, these are lethal!

We kept the rhubarb and blood orange pulp post-straining, and this compote can be used to tart up a breakfast porridge, or served as an accompaniment to oily fish (we like it with grilled mackerel).

Rhubarb CrumbleIMG_1409

Preheat oven to 180ºC

Crumble Filling

  • 1 kilo British rhubarb
  • Zest and juice of 1 orange
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Inch of ginger root, peeled and grated
  • 6 cloves
  • 175g golden caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp of water

Crumble ToppingIMG_1367

  • 225g ground almond
  • 225g coconut sugar
  • 112g porridge oats
  • 110g butter (room temperature)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  1. For filling, mix together sugar, zest, juice, ginger, cloves and add to 2 tbsp water
  2. Rinse and chop rhubarb into 2 cm pieces
  3. Pour sugar and juice mixture over rhubarb, and add to oven-proof dish
  4. To make topping, mix together ground almonds, baking powder and porridge oats
  5. Rub butter into mixture
  6. When combined, add sugar and combine again with hands
  7. Top crumble filling with topping
  8. Cook for 45 minutes at 180º C, until bubbling and golden
  9. Serve piping hot, with custard or cream

Blood Orange and Rhubarb Tart

Preheat oven to 180º C.

Pastry:

Filling:

  • 600ml rhubarb and blood orange syrup (see above)
  • juice of 1 blood orange
  • zest of 2 blood oranges
  • 180g caster sugar
  • 6 egg yolks, beaten
  • 150ml double cream
  • 2 tbsp icing sugar

Pastry Case:

  1. Roll out pastry to fill 20cm tart tin; trim edges with sufficient overhang to allow for shrinkage
  2. line pastry with baking parchment,  fill with baking beads and chill for about 20 minutes
  3. blind bake for about 15 minutes until golden
  4. remove parchment paper and beans and return to oven for 5 minutes
  5. trim pastry case again flush with tin (ie remove overhang) and leave to cool
  6. Reduce oven temperature to 100ºC

Filling:

  1. Reduce rhubarb and blood orange syrup to about 170ml, and cool.  This will intensify the flavour and thicken the mixture.
  2. Beat orange juice and zest with sugar and egg yolks.
  3. Add double cream
  4. Add cooled syrup

Tart:

  1. Put pie case on oven shelf, add filling carefully up to rim of pie case and slide shelf back with care
  2. Bake at 100º C for about 30 minutes, until filling is set but still soft
  3. Turn off oven and leave tart to cool until set firmly
  4. Cool, then chill
  5. Sift half of icing sugar on top of the tart, caramelise with blow torch, allow to cool, then add rest of icing sugar, and caramelise with blow torch again
  6. Leave to cool and refrigerate until ready to serve
  7. Serve with creme fraiche or clotted cream

IMG_1434This tart was amazing.  The blowtorch creates a Crème brûlée texture to the top of the tart that works really well with the rhubarb and the blood orange.  If anything, the tart filling was perhaps a little too wobbly – it may need the addition of one more egg yolk, but in all honesty, I liked the texture and for me felt it worked well with the brûléed top.  And it went fantastically with a glass of Sauternes.  IMG_1437

Kale and Hearty – Seasonal Eating.

I love (nearly) all foods, the more exotic the better.  One of my favourite pastimes when travelling to a new country is to try the local delicacies.  The husband (Brent) and I often shop abroad for local specialities in markets and shops so that we can try to recreate our favourite holiday dishes at home, but somehow they never tastes as good as in situ.  There is something about eating food in a location close to where the produce has been sourced that makes it taste especially good; whether it’s the freshness of the ingredients, or flavours that somehow seem to fit the environment, I’m not really sure.  Whatever the reason, it makes sense to choose local and seasonal as much as possible.  Apart from the fresher and consequently more nutrient-dense ingredients, reducing the distance your food has travelled reduces carbon emissions.    Not only that, but by choosing British, we can all support our native food producers and help boost the economy.  Of course, it is not always possible to just eat British produce – many key ingredients in our multi-cultural British diet are shipped from abroad – however, just being more aware of what is in season, and locally produced, is a step in the right direction.  Basing meals around food that we can only enjoy at certain times of the year when it is in season will make us value this produce more than if we buy its inferior counterpart from the supermarket as and when we feel like it throughout the year.

Kale (or as it is known in the States, collards) is a member of the Brassica family and has been a staple European crop and peasant food for centuries.  It is robust and plentiful, currently in season and more than likely grown in a locality close to you.  Lately, however, kale seems to be having its once humble profile raised to the status of a superfood.   It is nutrient-dense, and high in vitamins A, C and E and K, as well as being rich in iron, calcium and a number of other key minerals.  It is also high in sulforophane and indole-3-carbinol, chemical compounds which can help protect the the body against cancer and help reduce the risk of heart disease.  Kale’s high sulphur content also helps support the detoxification processes of the body, so kale really does make the perfect detox food.

According to recent magazines, kale is the hippest addition to smoothies and juices.  It also features in the latest celebrity diet book, Honestly Healthy as a health food with a high alkaline rating.  Eating foods with high alkaline content has been found to help increase energy and alleviate common aches and pains which can be caused by diets high in acid-forming foods, such as meat, dairy, alcohol and caffeine.  Juicing is an easy and (relatively) quick way to add alkaline foods to the body, can help boost flagging energy levels, and helps to cleanse the body.  If you have a juicer, check which sort you have.  If it is a centrifugal juicer, you may find it struggles to cope with the fibrous stalks of kale, so removing the stalks before juicing will be helpful.  Personally,  I have a macerating juicer (a Matstone I Love My Matstone Juicer!. – more about this and juicing in a post very soon), which can deal with the woody kale stalks very well.

Kale
Kale (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I use curly kale in green juices (purely because I am not so keen on its texture, but love the flavour).  My daily green juice contains all or some of the following, and I will add whatever green vegetables I have knocking around in the fridge that are looking tired.  Today, for example, I used some tenderstem broccoli that was past its prime.  Please also note that the recipe below should be sufficient for two juices.  The addition of the ginger and lemon will help to preserve the vitamins and minerals, so you can neck one glass immediately after juicing, and and save the second glass for the following day without losing too many of its nutrients.

Green Juice (serves 2):

  • 1 bunch curly Kale
  • 1 handful mint, parsley, basil (or all three)
  • 1/2 cucumber
  • handful lettuce leaves
  • 3 celery sticks
  • 1 apple or pear (to sweeten)
  • 1 peeled lemon
  • thumb sized piece of ginger root

2013-01-22 18.41.49Cavol0 Nero, or Black Cabbage, a leafy brassica, is my favourite type of kale. Popular in Italy for many years, it is now grown in England.  Like curly kale,  it is readily available, and to my tastes, more delicious and versatile than its more common cousin.  When selecting your cavolo nero, choose one with  firm leaves and a vibrant green colour.  Personally,  I love its heavily veined, earthy texture, the ridge of which become coated with and retain the oil and flavourings used to season it when it is sautéd.

To prepare cavolo nero, (and indeed any kale), rinse well in cold water, and remove the stalk which is too fibrous too eat (you can retain and use in your green juice, though, if you have a macerating juicer).

The following recipe makes a great, healthy week-night dinner.  It is relatively quick and easy to cook, and full of nutrients.  The halibut is found in UK waters, and is in season at the moment.  It is a lean, firm flaky textured flatfish, often served in steaks, and has few bones.  Grilling it quickly will ensure the delicate flesh does not dry out.  The confit of winter vegetables makes a lovely accompaniment, adding substance to the subtle flavour of the fish.

Grilled Halibut steaks with a confit of winter vegetables and cavolo nero (serves 2):

  • 2 halibut steaks
  • 200g Cavolo Nero, washed and deveined, leaves left whole
  • 1 medium sized leek, trimmed and chopped into rounds of about 1cm
  • 1 bulb of fennel, trimmed and sliced
  • 4 pearl onions, peeled, left whole
  • 50g British chestnut mushrooms, trimmed, left whole
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges, to garnish
  1. 2013-01-25 23.06.22Sweat the leek and fennel in a knob of butter until softened.
  2. In another pan, brown chestnut mushrooms and onions in a knob of butter.
  3. Add mushrooms to leek and fennel confit.
  4. Season halibut steaks on both sides.
  5. Grill halibut steaks under high heat (approx. 3 minutes each side)
  6. Blanche the cavolo nero in boiling salted water for 1 minute and then drain.  Set aside
  7. Heat tsp oil in pan and fry cavolo nero on high heat until glossy.
  8. Season cavolo nero with salt and pepper and juice of half a lemon.
  9. Serve halibut steak on top of the cavolo nero and confited vegetables.
  10. Drizzle with a little extra virgin oil.

Another great use for curly kale, but one that I have not as yet tried making myself, are kale chips.  I am currently researching which Food dehydrator to buy, and one of the first things I am going to try to make are these.  In the meantime, if like me you love salty snacks with your apéritif, try these Raw Kale Chips:Wasabi Wheatgrass by inSpiral.  They are pieces of curly kale slow baked (or dehydrated) with seasoning into a sort of vegetable crisp – absolutely delicious, as well as virtuous; I hope my homemade attempts will be almost as good and will report back shortly.