Rock the Kasbah

Our half term break spent in Marrakech seems a lifetime away on this cold, wet November morning.  The husband and I have been before, but it was the childrens’ first visit and we wondered how they would take to the madness of Marrakech.  Thankfully the moment they arrived they loved it, but this was in no small part thanks to El Fenn, the beautiful riad we stayed in right in the centre of the Medina, overlooking the Koutoubia Mosque.

Last time we were in Morocco, we stayed in the Palmeraie, just outside the city, which was peaceful and beautiful.  Staying in the medina is a much more hectic and lively experience, but staying at the beautiful El Fenn was the perfect haven from the hustle and bustle of the city.  Outside the riad doors you are dodging mules, carts, motorcycles and bicycles, amidst all the sounds of a busy city.  Once inside the riad, it is absolute tranquility.  Built around a series of courtyards filled with palm trees, flowers, birds and, bizarrely, tortoises, there were a myriad of places to sit and relax with a Moroccan mint tea.  Our favourite place was the rooftop garden, with its restaurant, bar and swimming pool.  

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You could overlook the city streets, hear the calls to prayer, smell the smoke from the food stalls of the main square, the Jemaa el-Fnaa, but relax above it all with a glass of fantastic Moroccan rosé.  We loved the rosé and gris Domaine de Sahari and are desperate to find a case or two here in the UK.

We found the Moroccan food a bit mixed in quality but we ate well at the riad.  Breakfast was delicious; freshly baked baguettes studded with sesame seeds, served with salty butter and home-made jam, fresh goat yogurts, eggs, coffee and hot chocolate.

The children went mad for the speciality Berber pancake, or Baghrir, which was a sort of Moroccan pikelet served with honey.

On our final morning in Marrakech, while the boys played golf, the girls and I did a cookery course with the riad’s chef, Hassim.  First we went to the Mellah, the Jewish district, to source our ingredients.  The girls were a little shocked at the sight of the bloody Moroccan butcher counters in the souk, and even more upset when they saw the adorable caged livestock for sale not as pets, but as dinner.   They soon got over their distaste at the Berber pharmacy counter, however, enjoying the sweet Moroccan tea we were offered, and badgering me for Berber lipsticks, rose petals and orange flower water.   We picked up the ingredients we needed to make a chicken tagine, and I picked up some amazing Harissa, some Preserved lemons and some Moroccan mint and Berber tea herbs to take home with us.

The chicken tagine is a lovely dish for this time of year.  The spices used are warming and anti-inflammatory.  The addition of heart-healthy green olives and vitamin-rich preserved lemons add a deliciously savoury tang that contrasts delightfully with the heat of the spices.

Chicken Tagine with Green Olives and Preserved Lemons (serves 2)

  • 4 chicken thighs, bone in
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 large red onion
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground tumeric
  • 200ml water (or so)
  • 1 preserved lemon, deseeded, flesh removed, and shredded
  • handful stoned green olives, chopped
  • handful or two of coriander, torn

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  1. Heat the coconut oil in a heavy lidded saucepan (or Tajine if you have one)
  2. Brown the chicken and reserve
  3. Add chopped red onion and garlic to the pan and soften
  4. Add seasoning and herbs, and cook until fragrant
  5. Return chicken to the pan
  6. Add shredded preserved lemon and olives
  7. Add water, replace lid and cook for 30 minutes or so, until tender, stirring occasionally
  8. When cooked through, stir through a handful or two of torn coriander and serve immediately.

Couscous would be the traditional accompaniment for this tagine, but Brent threw together a quick Moroccan flatbread that worked brilliantly with it.

Moroccan Flatbread with Cumin

  • 125g self-raising flour
  • 125g goats yogurt (St Helen’s Farm)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp roasted cumin seeds
  • pinch onion salt
  1. Combine dry ingredients and add yogurt to the mixture
  2. Knead on floured surface until no longer sticky.  Add more flour if necessary
  3. Roll out to size of your palm, or thereabouts
  4. Toast on griddle pan over high heat until crisp and charred

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Sautéed Chard with Garlic and Chilli

  • packet (2-3 heads) of chard, or dark green leafy vegetable
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 chilli, finely chopped
  1. Wash, trim and roughly chop chard
  2. Blanche in salted boiling water for one minute
  3. Rinse under cold water and squeeze out excess water
  4. Heat 1tbsp coconut oil
  5. Fry garlic cloves and chilli with a pinch of salt
  6. Add chard to pan, sauté for 2 minutes and serve

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From Marrakech we headed to Essaouira, a 2 1/2 hour drive across the dusty Moroccan plains to the atlantic coastline of Morocco.  A fortified city, it has a working port, a mini medina and a long, windswept beach that is popular for kitesurfing.

Essaouira is famed for its Argan oil production.  This comes from the fruit of the argan tree (Argan Spinosa) which grow in southwestern Morocco.  It is rich in vitamin E and polyunsaturated fatty acids, and has a savoury taste reminiscent of sesame oil.  Breakfasts Essaouira-style were all about Moroccan pancakes (Msemen), made from semolina, which we drizzled with argan oil and topped with Amlou, a Berber speciality made from argan oil, crushed almonds and honey.

We bought both the oil and the amlou to bring home, and imagine ourselves back in Essaouira with delicious and nutritious breakfasts of goats yogurt (St Helen’s Farm) topped with my Swiss Paleo Granola, and drizzled with amlou and argan oil.
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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.

Barbecue Season

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It’s a bank holiday, it’s warm outside, the garden looks lovely, the builders next door are temporarily quiet and the trampoline has arrived and been erected by my handy husband – it must be time for the first barbecue of the year.  We are taking inspiration from the Deep South, and having barbecued pork ribs, with a red cabbage and fennel slaw, jersey royal potato salad, buttered corn on the cob and new season British asparagus.  For a healthier take on lemonade, we are drinking freshly muddled lime and mint leaves with soda water.

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Ten years ago or so in New York browsing in a bookstore in SoHo we picked up Sheila Lukins’ USA Cookbook.    We have used this fantastic book so many times for inspiration. It has a great collection of cocktails, as well as being a compendium of every American recipe you can think of.  My husband swears by the recipe for Junior’s Famous Cheescake as being the best cheesecake recipe ever (and we have tried a few).  It’s also great for salad dressings, and interesting salads with ingredients that I would never think of combining (but Sheila does sucessfully).  And I love the fact she recommends wines or different alcoholic beverages to accompany every recipe (NB she recommends a Merlot to go with ribs detailed below).  See if you can get a copy of the book – you won’t regret it.  Amazon has new copies for around £20  (USA Cookbook: Amazon.co.uk: Sheila Lukins: Books.).

All the below-detailed recipes serve a family of 4-5, with left-overs.

Sheila Lukins’  USA Cookbook Pork Spare Ribs in Backyard Barbecue Sauce

  • 2tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves sliced
  • 1 can cherry tomatoes in juice
  • 6 tbsp tomato ketchup
  • 250ml orange juice
  • juice of 2 lemons
  • 6 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 100ml water
  • heaped tsp smoked paprika (the recipe calls for Liquid Smoke which we did not have so substituted this instead)
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 2 tbsp Blackstrap molasses
  • 2 tbsp muscovado sugar
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
  • a dash of Tabasco
  • 1 tbsp chilli powder
  • 1 tbsp ground coriander
  • 1 tbsp English mustard powder
  • 1 tsp salt

NB:  We added 1/2 pint of sweet cider to add a mellow fruitiness to the sauce which was a little sharp for our little ones’ palates.  A swirl of soured cream added to the reserved serving sauce helped to mellow it further.

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  1. Preheat oven to  80º C
  2. Sweat onion in olive oil until softened (4-5 mins)
  3. Add garlic for futher minute (do not allow to brown)
  4. Stir in smoked paprika so it coats the onion and garlic for a further minute
  5. Throw in all the other ingredients
  6. Bring to the boil
  7. Simmer for an hour
  8. After an hour, blitz the sauce with a stick blender until smooth
  9. Pour over the spare ribs
  10. Place in oven and leave to cook slowly overnight (12 hours or longer)
  11. When ready to barbecue, remove most of sauce to avoid burning and reserve.
  12. Barbecue ribs until they are browned (watch closely or the sugar will caramalize and the ribs burn)
  13. Heat reserved sauce in saucepan and serve on the side

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Sheila Lukins’ Ranch Dressing

Brent knocked this up last week for a salad to accompany a slow roasted chicken; there was enough left to add to my coleslaw, which I amended with some additional buttermilk, a little mayonnaise, and various other ingredients (see below).

Brent pimped this by using a vinaigrette base (4 parts extra virgin olive oil to 1 part white wine vinegar), and adding to the ranch dressing to thin this it a little.

My Coleslaw

  • 1 small red cabbage
  • 2 fennel bulbs, trimmed
  • 1 medium onion
  • Ranch dressing
  • 100ml or so buttermilk
  • 2 or 3 tbsp Hellman’s mayonnaise
  • 1-2 tbsp non-pareille capers
  • 2 tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley
  1. Mandoline, grate or spiralize (more on Spiralizers in a post soon)  the cabbage, fennel bulbs and onion.
  2. I thinned out the remaining Ranch dressing with additional buttermilk and some mayonnaise.  If you are making the dressing from scratch you will have ample, plus some left over.
  3. Add the capers and chopped parsley
  4. Mix well, and add salt and pepper to taste
  5. Chill before serving

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(Jersey Royal) New Potato Salad

  • 200g new (or Jersey Royal) potatoes
  • 1 bunch spring onions, finely sliced
  • 1-2 tbsp capers
  • 1-2 tbsp freshly snipped chives
  • vinaigrette base (1 part white wine vinegar to 4 parts extra virgin olive oil)
  • 1-2 tbsp buttermilk
  • 1 tbsp mayonnaise
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Boil the potatoes in salted water until just tender (15 mins or so)
  2. Drench under cold water and set aside
  3. Whisk the vinaigrette base in your serving dish until emulsified
  4. Add the capers and snipped chives
  5. Slice potatoes in half and add to bowl
  6. Add buttermilk and mayonnaise
  7. Combine and add seasoning to taste

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We served with barbecued corn on the cob and English asparagus, dressed with good butter from grass-fed cows.

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Brent finished off the ribs on the barbecue for about ten minutes so.  The meat was amazingly tender, almost falling off the bone.  The sauce was spicey, but the addition of soured cream took the edge off it.  It went fantastically well with the creamy coleslaw and potato salad that also helped take the heat off.  Here’s hoping the weather holds out so we can utilize the barbecue and trampoline more often.

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Cereal Killers

As a Nutritional Therapist, parents always want to know what I feed my children for breakfast.  We all know that cereal isn’t the best choice, but we find ways to justify the ones we choose; it’s not got that much sugar, it’s wholegrain, it’s not as bad as some…I struggle with my own children’s choices, especially since I have one child who is particularly sensitive to wheat and dairy, and I am not a great believer in wheat or dairy being good for anyone, yet strive to not be faddish with my children’s food choices.  So, which cereals make a good choice?

In the best of all possible worlds, I would recommend avoiding all shop-bought cereals altogether.  They are a convenience food designed to be eaten quickly and fill us up equally quickly, but not necessarily for a long time.  For the most part, they are refined, high glycaemic index foods that release their energy quickly, resulting in an energy slump after the inevitable sugar high.  As such, they are not helpful for children trying to concentrate at school, and will leave them feeling tired, craving sugar, and with a lack of focus.

In addition to their processed state, most children’s cereals have sugar added to them, with some brands containing up to 50% sugar.  And it is not always as simple as just looking out for sugar in the ingredients list.  Manufacturers disguise sugar content by using varying terminology for ingredients which are effectively still sugar.  The following ingredients are all sugar, or have the same effect on the body as sugar:

  • Agave nectar
  • Brown sugar
  • Cane crystals
  • Cane sugar
  • Corn sweetener
  • Corn syrup
  • Crystalline fructose
  • Dextrose
  • Evaporated cane juice
  • Fructose
  • Fruit juice concentrates
  • Glucose
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Honey
  • Invert sugar
  • Lactose
  • Maltose
  • Malt syrup
  • Molasses
  • Raw sugar
  • Sucrose
  • Sugar
  • Syrup

Source:  Harvard School of Public Health » The Nutrition Source » How to Spot Added Sugar on Food Labels.

If sugar, or any of the above ingredients feature in the first three ingredients of the contents of your product, then you can be sure that it contains a lot of sugar.  In terms of good sugar-free or low-sugar choices amongst shop-bought cereals, Shredded Wheat has no added sugar, and Weetabix and Rice Krispies are both low in sugar.

Many popular cereals also have added salt.  Again, due to the highly processed nature of the cereals, there is little inherent flavour, so salt is added to make it taste more agreeable.    Kellogg’s Cornflakes and Rice Krispies have both been found by the National Food Alliance to be 10% saltier than seawater.  High salt intake can raise blood pressure and increases the risk of stroke.

Many of the cereals we see on the shelves have been fortified with vitamins.  This is purely because they have been processed so extensively to make them “appealing” and easy to eat that little goodness is left in them.  Vitamins are added to con us into thinking they are a healthy choice for our children.

Healthier Breakfast Cereal Suggestions

Bircher muesli is a great option.  It’s basically porridge oats with added nuts and fruit.  Obviously, if you make your own you can control what goes in and customise it to your tastes accordingly.  The key is to remember to soak the oats over night so they become soft and unctuous the following morning, when you can add fresh fruit to them.

Jamie Oliver’s Pukkola, or a type of Bircher Muesli

Makes many servings

You can throw all the following ingredients in some Tupperware and use it as the basis for this breakfast.  This should provide sufficient to create this breakfast for a week or two.  Obviously, you can play around with this and change the ingredients at will.

 Basic Pukkola Mix

  • 8 large handfuls of whole porridge oats (Scott’s Original – Scott’s Porage Oats are good)
  • 2 large handfuls of ground oat bran
  • 1 handful chopped dried apricots (sulphur-free, if possible)
  • 1 handful chopped dried dates
  • 1 handful crumbled walnuts
  • 1 handful smashed almonds, hazlenuts, or brazil nuts

Pimping your Pukkola

  •  Rice, almond or coconut milk to cover
  • ½ crunchy apple or so (per person)

It’s best to prepare a bowl of this the night before so the oats mix soaks overnight and it becomes soft and yielding.  Add your Pukkola mix, cover with milk of your choice, grate in your apple and stir it in to stop it discolouring.  Refrigerate.

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Eating your Pukkola 

  • add a handful of berries, or seasonal fruit
  • add a spoonful of live yogurt, if you like

Swiss Paleo’s Paleo Granola

Makes about 5 servings

Preheat oven to 150C (300F)

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  • 1 cup of pecans
  • 1 cup of almonds
  • ½ cup dried cranberries or cherries
  • ½ cup shredded coconut
  • 2 tbsp almond butter
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • ½ tsp vanilla essence
  • pinch of salt

This is an absolutely delicious, grain-free, high protein breakfast “cereal”.  This quantity should last one person a week or so.  A little goes a long way, as the nuts are nutrient-dense, so go easy on the portion size.

  1. Pulse the almonds and pecans in a food processor until broken up but not pulverized
  2. Melt the coconut oil in a saucepan, and add the vanilla, salt and almond butter
  3. Add to the food processor with the nuts, and pulse again a little to combine
  4. Add cranberries or cherries and the shredded coconut, and pulse one last time
  5. Spread mixture on parchment lined baking sheet, and bake for 20 minutes or so until golden

This can be eaten dry, topped with live yogurt, or eaten as a “cereal” with coconut, rice or almond milk (almond milk is my favourite).

Porridge Oats

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  • 1 cup of porridge oats (Scott’s Original – Scott’s Porage Oats are good)
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 cup of rice, almond, coconut (or indeed full-fat cow’s milk)
  • A handful of berries
  • A handful of seeds (pumpkin are good)
  • A drizzle of organic maple syrup, or a spoonful of nut butter (I like almond butter) to taste
  1. Add oats, milk and water to a small saucepan
  2. Bring to the boil
  3. Simmer gently for a couple of minutes until desired consistency is achieved
  4. Turn off heat, add pan lid and leave till ready to serve
  5. Serve with a handful of berries, some pumpkin seeds, some cinnamon or a little maple syrup if required

Better Shop-Bought Options

If you don’t have the time (or inclination) to make your own, my wheat-sensitive daughter eats (and enjoys) Oatibix BitesLizi’s Treacle Pecan Granola, Berry Granola – Organic – Rude Health.

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.

To market to market to buy a fat pig! (A Sunday lunch of aromatic roast pork)

There’s nothing like a Sunday roast to bring the family together.   And we all love roast pork.   Brenty’s special roast pork is fantastic, and fills the house with mouth-watering cooking smells all night long, as it slow roasts its way to perfection.

I try to buy my meat from my local butcher, J Seal Butchers. I have used this friendly, Barnes-based family butcher for about 15 years now.  They know their meat and its provenance, and it is prepared beautifully just as you like it.  They now deliver; if you are local try them out!  Or you can try your local Farmers’ Market where you are likely to find pork products from traditional British breeds.

Belly pork is a fantastic choice.  It is a succulent yet fatty cut, full of flavour, and an economical choice for feeding the family.  Saturated fat has been demonised recently, however, fat is a vital addition to the diet, and despite media scare-mongering, there is little evidence that saturated fat contributes to heart disease.  More importantly, a diet without fat means we cannot access fat-soluble vitamins such vitamins A, D, E and K.  It is also important to speak to your butcher about the provenance of your meat and check if  it is grass-fed.  We in the West tend to have an imbalance of Omega 6:3 fats.  By choosing grass-fed rather than grain-fed meats, we can increase our intake of Omeg- 3 fats, improving the fatty acid balance in our bodies, and reducing painful pro-inflammatory prostaglandins.  Increasing Omega-3 intake has been found to reduce the risk of lifestyle diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and obesity.

Pork is also a fantastic source of high-quality protein and is highly satiating.  It contains monounsaturated fat (which protective against heart disease) as well as saturated fat.  It is also a good source of B-vitamins, iron, selenium, iron, magnesium, zinc and potassium.

Don’t be put off by the preparation of the pork.  Once you have pulverised the herbs and spices, and massaged them into the pork, you will have little to do (other than lowering the temperature in 20 mins time) until lunchtime on the Sunday.  Once prepared, relax, pour yourself a drink, and enjoy your Saturday evening in the knowledge that your Sunday lunch is on its way and will be amazing!

Aromatic Roast Pork

To serve 4 or 5.  Preheat the oven to 240 ºC.

  • 4-5 rib piece of pork belly
  • 8 bay leaves, picked fresh and washed
  • heaped tbsp  fennel seeds
  • ten cloves of garlic
  • zest and juice of a lemon
  • tbsp olive oil
  • tbsp rock salt
  • 10 black peppercorns

Preparation:

  1. Ensure your belly pork is scored along the bone line in one direction only, either by your butcher, or yourself.  Use a blowtorch to dry out the crackling.  It will  start to shrivel as the moisture evaporates.  Set aside.
  2. In a mortar, crush a tablespoon of rock salt with ten de-ribbed bayleaves from the garden with your pestle.  Pound until the leaves have disintegrated and the salt is green.  Set aside.
  3. In a frying pan, dry-fry a tablespoon of fennel seeds until they just start to become fragrant.
  4. Bruise the fennel seeds in your mortar, and add ten garlic cloves, the zest of one lemon, a teaspoon of salt and ten black peppercorns.  Smash until the garlic cloves are crushed into pulp.
  5. Add half tbsp olive oil and massage 3-quarters into the non-skin side of the belly pork.
  6. Set aside and chill for 3 hours.
  7. If serving the following day, preheat the oven to 240º C, rub half a lemon over the crackling and squeeze the remainder over the belly pork.
  8. Take the bay salt and work into the crackling, and over the rest of the pork.  Do the same with the remaining marinade (in the cracks of the skin).  Avoid garlic and oil on the crackling as this will burn and not achieve the desired superior crackling.

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Cooking the beast:

  1. Cook in oven skin side up on rack at 240ºC  for 20 minutes.
  2. Turn heat down to 90ºC (leave door open to drop temperature as quickly as possible).
  3.  Turn pork over (skin side down) and leave for as long as you like.  We will generally put in at dinner time on Saturday for Sunday lunch.

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Serve with some seasonal greens (we had our favourite again, Cavolo Nero).  You can put some carrots into the pan under the pork, and roast along with it.  When the skin is crackling to your liking, remove the pork and the rack and let your potatoes continue to cook until as crisp as desired.

Cavolo Nero

  1. Rinse and de-rib, leaving the leaves whole.
  2. Blanch in salted water for a minute.
  3. Allow to drain in colander.
  4. Put back into hot pan with a teaspoon of olive oil, salt and pepper and serve instantly.

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New Clinic Address

From Monday 18th March, 10am-2pm, I will be offering consultations at Neal’s Yard Remedies at 15 King Street, Richmond-upon-Thames, Surrey, TW9 1Nd.

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Introductory offer for graduate consultation £25 for one hour.  Please contact me to make a booking or request more information.

Herbily Ever After

Heap of fresh Herbs isolated on white background Stock Photo - 14773931

Supermarkets chillers are full of them, neatly stacked in their sanitized plastic containers.  But how often do you actually utilize the whole packet?  Oh, you get the odd recipe that calls for a sprinkling of coriander here, or a snippet of chives there, but don’t you always find half-empty herb packets mouldering at the back of your fridge?

Stored in their cellophane containers, we can’t really appreciate them properly, and we forget how marvellous herbs really are.  Go to your local greengrocer and (if they let you) handle the herbs.  Smell them.  Taste them.  Hand select your own herbs.  You will usually get a better quality of herb, with the root intact, from a greengrocer, and you can buy the amount you want and need, not a pre-decided amount that will rot in the back of your fridge, like mine.

Even better, buy your own herbs from the garden centre, and plant them in window boxes or old crates in your garden for an instant herb garden (although it is better to wait for more clement weather if you intend to use your garden rather than your window sill for your herbs).  Please note that not all herbs thrive all year round, but we seem to have a good success rate in our garden in the South East with rosemary, mint, thyme and bay all year round.

Herbs are plants used to add flavour to a meal, but more importantly they have a history of being used for medicinal purposes for centuries, if not millenia.  Not only do they offer a better and more varied taste to your meals, they are full of health-giving properties.  Recent research has found the antioxidant content of several common herbs (in particular, oregano, dill, thyme, rosemary and peppermint) to be significantly higher than other potent antioxidant-rich plants, such as blueberries.  Antioxidants help protect the body against cellular damage, and can delay the signs of aging and help prevent the development of aging-related diseases.  See WHFoods: Herbs-Packed with Powerful Antioxidants-Oregano Ranks Highest for more details.

Which herbs do I use regularly?  Thyme (any variety); bashed up with a garlic clove, sea salt and freshly milled black pepper, and loosened with a slug of oil to dress chicken thighs for baking for the children (and us).  Flat-leaf parsley, used as a leaf in salads, or chopped to add flavour to a tomato and onion salad, or a quinoa tabbouleh.  Basil, for tomato and mozzarella salads, or whizzed into a home-made pesto, or added to a salsa verde to use with roasted meats and fish.  Coriander, chopped coarsely and added to curries, or Asian rice dishes (Nasi Goreng is a favourite).  Rosemary from the garden, crushed with garlic and salt, with olive oil, to marinate lamb cutlets.

I tend to use my left-over herbs in my daily green juice (see my earlier post Kale and Hearty – Seasonal Eating. | Water and Wine.).  I regularly juice flat-leaf parsley, mint and basil, and indeed buy them specifically for this purpose.   Parsley is a natural diuretic, very cleansing and potent, so it is prudent to use less rather than more when starting to juice.  Parsley also helps reduce oedema (swelling),  improve the blood transport system, and support the kidneys.  It is rich in antioxidants, as well as minerals and vitamins such as K, C and A.   Leslie Kenton has a fantastic parsley juice recipe in Juice High: Experience the Power of Raw Energy , which she suggests may be helpful for allergy sufferers.

Parsley Passion

  •  1 bunch parsley
  • 3-5 carrots
  • 2 apples
  • 2 small cauliflower florets

I also often use herbs to make fresh infusions (just add a tsp or tbsp (to taste) of the washed, fresh herb to some freshly boiled water and allow to infuse for about 5 minutes).  Camomile from the garden, or lemon verbena, helps calm the mind, and makes a great pre-bedtime drink.  Fresh mint tea is a good post-prandial drink; it is carminative (anti-spasmodic) and a great digestive aid, as well as being anti-microbial, and cooling and refreshing for hot days or nights.

Last Saturday, fed up with the mediocrity of our local Indian take-aways, we decided to cook our own curry.  We wanted lots of fresh vegetables too, so we made our own Kachumber, which is a sort of Indian onion salad or salsa.  We also made a Raita from full-fat goat’s yogurt, with cooling cumin and cucumber, to take the heat off the curry.  The curry recipe we used from Madhur Jaffrey’s Ultimate Curry Bible and it was actually Trinidadian, but the flavours worked well with the Kachumber and Raita.  We chose it because it was so green, and sounded fresh and delicious with the addition of so many herbs and spices.  We ate it with fresh papadums from the local curry house, and it was a triumph.  Incidentally, we had a little left over.  It was fantastic cold as well; the flavour intensified in the fridge overnight, and I ate the leftovers for lunch with the remains of the kachumber, regarnished with extra coriander.

KachumberIMG_1420

  • 1 carrot, finely sliced into juliennes
  • 1  onion, sliced into rings
  • 1 tomato (heirloom, preferably), sliced and seasoned
  • 2 ins cucumber diced into fine strands
  • 1 red chilli, cut into strands
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1 bunch coriander, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tsp roasted cumin seeds, ground with a teaspoon of salt

Mix together, and chill before serving

RaitaIMG_1421

Mix together, and chill before serving

Curry Boneless Chicken

Serves 4

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Marinade

  • 6 tbsp peeled and finely chopped onion
  • 2 large cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 2 spring onions sliced finely into rings
  • 2 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
  • 3 tbsp coriander, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp thyme, picked
  • 3 bird’s eye chillies, chopped (I could not get the scotch bonnet variety this time)
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1lb skinned chicken breasts, sliced thickly crossways

For cooking the chicken:

  • 3 tbsp coconut oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 1 tbsp hot curry powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground, roasted cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp amchar masala (see below)

 

IMG_1400Amchar Masala (a Trinidadian mixture of roasted spices using Indian pickling spices)

  • 4 tbsp whole coriander seeds
  • 1 tbsp whole cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp whole black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp whole fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp whole brown mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp whole fenugreek seeds
  1. Dry fry all the spices over a medium heat in a small, cast-iron frying pan
  2. Stir for 1-2 minutes until spices turn a shade darker
  3. Remove from pan, cool, and grind finely with food processor or coffee grinder
  4. Store in dark cupboard in airtight jar

To make the dish:

  1. IMG_1426Make the marinade; put onion, garlic, spring onion, parsley, coriander, thyme, chilli, ginger, salt, black pepper and 2 tbsp water into blender, blend to a smooth paste.
  2. Put the sliced chicken in a bowl.  Add marinade, ensuring chicken is covered.  Refrigerate for a minimum of 30 minutes, and for as long as possible (maximum 3 hours)
  3. Add oil to a wide, non-stick pan, and add garlic, over a medium-high heat.  When garlic starts to sizzle, add curry powder and stir for 10 seconds.
  4. Reduce heat to medium, add chicken and marinade, and stir for 3-4 minutes until the chicken turns white.
  5. Add 120ml of water, the salt, cumin and amchar masala; stir and bring to a simmer.
  6. Reduce heat to low and cook, uncovered, for 2-3 minutes, while stirring.
  7. Serve with extra chopped coriander, the kachumber, the raita and papadums.  Mango chutney and lime pickle go well with this too.

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