Friday 26 October 2018

Food blog seventeen - Duck with pomegranate salad

Despite my desire to eat less sugar and wheat-based foods I haven't changed my diet radically. I haven't become vegan as I like fish. And ironically, now, trout-farmed fish and farmed-salmon may well be better for us. Sea-based fish, so full of plastic themselves, are naturally passing micro-plastics on to us. Recent research has proof of this after analysing the digested food contents (to put it politely) from a small sample of willing human subjects.
Farmed fish may make the headlines for the right reasons this time.

I'm enjoying a vegetarian diet for a few weeks, just to keep away from meats and their fat, but now the colder weather is upon us I will be looking forward to poultry or game, perhaps for Sunday lunch.

We have enjoyed vegan meals since Robbie opened a new plant-based restaurant near us. I love his pomegranate salads. So what better for someone like me, with my tastes for chicken, turkey, duck and  pomegranate than 'duck with pomegranate salad'?

It is tasty and full of good lean meats.

5 finely diced sticks of celery
1 finely chopped medium red onion
6 crushed garlic cloves
1 small piece of ginger - peeled and thinly chopped
Juice and grated zest of 1 medium orange
2 tbsp olive oil
4 duck legs
1 large pomegranate
4 tspn sumac 

A further 2 tbsp olive oil
Juice of 1/2 lemon

1 It is much easier to put the celery, onion, garlic and ginger in a food processor as all need to be finely chopped. When done place all in the bottom of a shallow casserole dish. Add the ornge juice and zest plus a tbsp or two of the olive oil. Mix it in the casserole dish. Turn on the oven to 180 C or 160C fan/ gas mark 4.
2 Season the duck legs well with sumac then place on the bed of celery mix.
3 Cook for 11/2 hours or until the skin peels easily from the duck legs.
4 Slice the pomegranate in half and squeeze out the contents into a waiting bowl.
5 When cooked remove the duck legs and shred the meat after it has cooled sufficiently. 
6 Drain the duck fat from the vegetables and add them to the shredded pieces. Stir all the ingredients and serve on a large platter or shallow dish. Make the dressing, drizzle it over the duck on its bed of salad and top it all with pomegranate.
7 Serve and enjoy while the duck is still warm.

I don't always add as much onion, garlic or ginger as suggested here and sumac is a lovely tangy, lemony paste. I buy it dried from a Lebanese restaurant. It is a deep red and adds colour to the salad.

Sunday 21 October 2018

Food blog sixteen - Fats pII

Do you remember this from my last post?

“It’s better for our bodies if we cut down on saturated fat...
Butter out of the fridge softens but doesn’t become completely runny —that’s because butter is saturated fat. “

And there is the conundrum.
Some scientists believe butter is not the baddy it’s been cut out to be and doesn’t have the terrible effects on our heart - as a saturated fat - that we were led to believe.

Michael Mosley and his team - see The 5:2 Diet, The Blood Sugar Diet & ifast12 - have shown up-to-date research refutes this. I quote:

“We used to think that if you ate saturated fat, it raised your cholesterol levels and increased your risk of heart attack. It turns out that dairy fats don’t work like that in your bloodstream. When you look at all the big studies, the proof that butter is bad for you isn’t there.”

Nutritionists from the Blood Sugar Diet & ifast12 explain the conundrum thus:- 

Butter is rich in a particular type of fatty acid called heptadecanoic acid, also known as margaric acid. (It’s a shame it sounds like margarine, just to confuse matters.) It is a type of saturated fat found in dairy fat, rye, and some fish. Lots of studies have shown that margaric acid reduces your risk of diabetes and heart disease. 

So butter is allowed back in class, but has to sit at the front where teacher can keep a close eye on him...

And we know omega 3 ( found in fish and walnuts for instance) is very good for us but what about the lesser-known omega 6? 
6 is the one to avoid. It is found in corn, safflower and sunflower oils. And we have a tendency to eat too much of it. And eating too much 6 is potentially being linked to cancer, heart disease and arthritis. Improving our health by substituting omega-3 fats for omega-6 fats in our diets is the way forward. Eating fish is the way to go.

When you’re buying canned tuna, which is really good for our health, it’s so important to look at the label to see whether it’s in brine, olive oil or vegetable oil. 
Products sold as healthy often contain vegetable oils that are so altered by processing that their health-giving properties have been stripped away. So go for tuna in olive oil every time! 

Olive oil makes all food taste delicious and it’s a natural product. Furthermore olive oil contains no cholesterol, chemicals nor artificial additives. It’s especially high in monounsaturated fat, which may reduce harmful LDL cholesterol and help maintain healthy HDL cholesterol levels.

Tired of margarine? Still bothered by butter? Try this spread instead:

How to make a healthy yogurt spread

32 oz Fage 5% Greek yogurt 
3 tablespoons olive oil (I use cold-pressed)

1 Line a medium-sized strainer with a paper filter from a cafetière. Hang it over a bowl to catch watery drops.
2 Spoon the yogurt into the prepared strainer and let it stand in the fridge,  covered, for 24 hours.
3 The next day put the drained yogurt in a mixing bowl. Gradually add the 3 tablespoons of olive oil to the yogurt. Stir constantly until all the oil and yogurt are well blended. 
4 You can use it straight away as a truly healthy spread or keep it chilled.
5 Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. 

You can use this healthy spread as an alternative to salad dressing or as a topping or marinade for steamed vegetables, grilled chicken or fish.

1 tablespoon of this spread is 32 cals

With a bit of luck we can now all make informed decisions about which fats are good for us and which are not. 
A good guide for a healthier heart is to have a lower saturated fat intake. Instead ingest more unsaturated fat, especially olive oil, peanut oil, fish, olives, avocados and nuts. Eat two fish meals each week to up the omega-3 fatty acids in your diet. 

And enjoy the lovely rich flavour of olive oil on salads and in cakes. When I'm baking carrot cake I use gluten-free flour to avoid wheat which breaks down to sugar. I use truvia - sweetener - in place of added sugar and olive oil as it's a safe fat and makes the cake extra moist. A perfect treat!

Monday 15 October 2018

Food blog fifteen - Fats, the good, the bad and the ugly part I

We all need fat to maintain healthy skin and for the metabolism of cholesterol. Although you need a PhD in biochemistry to understand the biological pathways used in its breakdown and synthesis. Fat is also needed to help form prostaglandins, which regulate the body’s response to injury and infection (we see it and feel its effect as inflammation). Prostaglandins also help in blood vessel contractions and nerve impulses. 

The fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, stored in our body fat have many vital uses:
Vitamin A, also known as retinol, has several important functions.
These include:
  • helping your body's natural defence against illness and infection (the immune system) work properly
  • helping vision in dim light
  • keeping skin and the lining of some parts of the body, such as the nose, to stay healthy
Vitamin D used to be thought essential, along with calcium, for teeth and bones. However as you may have read in my last post there is some ongoing research which disputes this long-held belief.
Vitamin E helps maintain healthy skin and eyes, and strengthen the immune system.
Vitamin K is needed for blood clotting, which means it helps wounds heal properly.
There's also some evidence vitamin K may help keep bones healthy.
So you see fat is necessary!

And fat is a concentrated source of energy for the body; it provides us with 9 calories of energy per gram (compared with 4 calories per gram from either carbohydrates or protein). Also fat is an important calorie source, especially for infants and young children; 50 percent of the calories in human breast milk come from fat. Babies need the fat to grow but for the rest of us most fat, as we know only too well, is stored in the body’s fat cells, giving us an extra tyre or an unwanted bulge. On the positive side it’s good to know that fat deposits store energy and are also important in insulating the body, ie keeping us warm, and cushioning vital organs.

Fats are divided into 3 categories: saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated - depending on the amount of hydrogen they contain. The degree of saturation determines whether the fat is a solid or a liquid at room temperature. The basic unit of a fat is called a fatty acid. Fats with lots of saturated fatty acids (like butter and lard) are more solid at room temperature; oils (like olive oil) contain mostly unsaturated fatty acids and are liquid at room temperature. There is not space to look at all fat types here but see next week for more details and thoughts on the 'Good fat-bad fat' debate.

The fat in food is often referred to as saturated, monounsaturated or polyunsaturated, but none of the fats that interest us from a nutritional point of view is 100 percent saturated, monounsaturated or polyunsaturated. Olive oil contains 13 percent saturated fat, 72 percent monounsaturated fat, and 8 percent polyunsaturated fat. Because it contains more monounsaturated fat than anything else, it is classified as a monounsaturated fat.

Saturated fatty acids are usually solid at room temperature, and they’re more stable than other types of fats: they don’t go rancid especially fast. Saturated fatty acids raise blood cholesterol, especially the LDL ( low density lipoprotein) or “bad” cholesterol. Your risk of coronary heart disease rises as your blood cholesterol level increases. The fat in meat is considered mostly saturated. In the brave new world of vegan and vegetarian diets we are being urged to cut down on our consumption of red meat. The world can’t sustain its production.
BBC News this weekend stated ‘Just a week after scientists said huge cuts in carbon emissions were needed to protect the climate, a UK minister has shown just how hard that will be. Scientists say we ought to eat much less meat because the meat industry causes so many carbon emissions.’
It’s better for our bodies if we cut down on saturated fat, too.
Butter out of the fridge softens but doesn’t become completely runny —that’s because butter is saturated fat

Trans fats are a subclass of saturated fat, but they started out as an unsaturated fat like vegetable oil. Food producers and snack makers add hydrogen to vegetable oils. Hence the term hydrogenated. Trans fatty acids also tend to raise LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and lower HDL (“good”) cholesterol. Saturated fats and trans fatty acids have given fat a bad name and are implicated in: heart disease, arteriosclerosis, cancer, high blood pressure, and diabetes. However, with a few changes to your diet, you can reduce the bad (saturated and trans fat), but still keep the good (and necessary!) mono-and polyunsaturated fats. Limiting saturated fats in your diet basically means avoiding high-fat red meats and whole-fat dairy products. Eliminating all the saturated fat in your diet isn’t necessary. Eating saturated fats in the right proportion with unsaturated fats —at least 2 to 1(unsaturated to saturated) —is good:
  • Try to eat fish two times per week. 
  • Use olive oil.
  • Eat more olives and avocados.

Michael Mosley’s 5:2 diet, coupled with HIIT* (high intensity interval training) is worth following. The science behind his recipes concurs with the low-sugar, low-LDL approach. However he and his team have found people who eat full-fat dairy, such as Fage 5% Greek yogurt, remain leaner and healthier than folk who choose low-fat yogurts and cheeses. The *HIIT helps raise our metabolism which in turn burns off the extra weight we, in the well-fed West, are carrying.

One food stuff all nutritionists appear to agree upon is the olive. Tuna, 
another good food stuff, is even better if you buy it canned in olive oil.

So the bad boys are saturated and trans fats. What of the good guys?

Monounsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature. Olive oil is a monounsaturated fatty acid which lowers blood cholesterol. It lowers the LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and increases the HDL (“good”) cholesterol (which is a good thing). Monounsaturateds also seem to lower triglycerides in some people when substituted for carbohydrate in the diet, according to doctors. Monounsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature.

These good fats come from almonds, avocados, cashews, olive oil, olives, peanut butter, peanuts, pecans and sesame seeds.  

Omega-3 fatty acids are special polyunsaturated fatty acids. They are the super-good guys and help our bodies fight some of the worst modern-day killers: heart disease, stroke, and cancer. We know that omega-3 fatty acids lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and triglycerides. Omega three is found in fish and fish oils but can also be found in walnuts. 

On triglycerides
In the human body, high levels of triglycerides in the bloodstream have been linked to atherosclerosis and the risk of heart disease and stroke. However, the relative negative impact of raised levels of triglycerides compared to that of LDL:HDL ratios is as yet unknown. The risk can be partly accounted for by a strong inverse relationship between triglyceride level and HDL-cholesterol level. But the risk is also due to high triglyceride levels increasing the quantity of small, dense LDL particles.
Raised triglycerides often go hand in hand with low HDL level. HDL levels are the ones you want to keep high! 

Michael Mosley, he off the tele in 'Trust Me, I'm a Doctor' gives the following advice for a heath-giving weekly diet. It includes the following general (low-refined-carb, higher fat) tips:

  1. Eat 2 – 3 servings of full-fat yogurt a week.
  2. Choose eggs for breakfast at least twice a week.
  3. Embrace a variety of vegetables - see my earlier post on the benefits of phytochemicals and fibre. 
  4. Have at least one serving of salmon per week.
  5. Add at least one other fish or seafood during the week - remembering the super-good guys - omega three!
  6. Avoid consuming grains / legumes consecutively (ie. lunch then dinner).
  7. Have approximately two meals of chicken a week. It’s high in protein. 
  8. Go easy on red meat or cut it out completely.
  9. Enjoy vegetarian foods - which can include fish and eggs. At least two meals is a guide, more if you feel like it.
  10. Aim for approximately 800 calories on your 5:2 or 4:3 fasting days. Mosley’s research shows that if the body thinks it’s going to starve it helps reduce weight. 800 calories doesn’t seem much but see below. 

1. Always take the stairs. Incidental exercise like this helps keep us fit and adds to the advised magic number of 10,000 steps we are meant to take daily.

2. Avoid FIZZY DRINKS and SOFT DRINKS. Stick to WATER or SODA WATER. Soda water is calorie-free.

3. Don't snack between meals - snack bars often contain high levels of added sugar.

4. Don't keep pasta or milk chocolate in the house. Two squares of low-sugar, high-cocoa chocolate are good for an evening treat however. 

5. When you can, walk. 

6. Always chose the full fat option. You won’t get Mosley to agree with nutritionists who claim low-fat butter, yogurt or cheese is the way to go.

7. Avoid breakfast cereals (apart from porridge) as they contain high levels of added sugar. Steel-cut porridge fills you up longer and it's a whole food (see an earlier post of mine re: whole foods v processed.)

8. Occasionally give in to temptation (for example, having dessert if you are dining out for a special occasion) and high-cocoa chocolate is advised. 

9. Practise mindfulness for at least 10 minutes every day. Relaxation has been shown to help reduce extra fat we are carrying. Stress helps us lay down unwanted fats.

10. Stand on the scales everyday. This way you can do a few more steps or do another fasting day to lose those added pounds before they settle around your vital organs as visceral fat.

A typical 800 calorie day for me might be

50g whole porridge oats with blueberries. 

As much water as I like to stop dehydration and headaches. Drinks of Green & Blacks cocoa keep hunger at bay on fasting days.

Home-made carrot soup now we are well into autumn. On warm days I prefer salad:

Half a can of tuna in olive oil.
Home-grown baby spinach leaves.
Home-grown cherry tomatoes (about 5).
Grated carrot.
A handful of olives.
Sprinkled nuts, sesame seed or pomegranate on top.

If I feel hungry later I chop a large carrot into sticks and stay satiated that way. But I don’t reach into the cookie jar.

Evening meal. I try to eat before 7:30pm.
A small cut of chicken breast, flavoured with harissa. (See a previous post for full details).
Home-grown French beans.
Six shoots of asparagus.
No potato!!

If I haven’t had tuna for lunch I substitute a salmon fillet for chicken.

For afters
3 tablespoons Fage 5% Greek yogurt favoured with blueberries.

At bedtime, when you might find you feel a gnawing hunger on fasting days, it’s good to have a drink of fruit tea. It contains no calories and helps you feel full and get to sleep - or nibble on a carrot.

The 800 calories above contain phytochemicals in the vegetables and berries, omega three in the fish, good fats in the olive oil and yogurt. Protein is in the chicken. Cheese can be substituted for tuna and, again, it helps you feel full on fasting days. And good carbohydrate, which avoids sugar spikes, is in the porridge oats.

In brief it's best to avoid saturated fats, ie red meat and hydrogenated oils, trans fats. We all need to keep LDL levels low and HDL levels high and cutting down on red meats and hydrogenated oils is a good maxim. 

Next time: Good fat, bad fats - part II.

Wednesday 10 October 2018

Food blog fourteen - Dairy, dairy, quite contrary

Cheese is, of course, a dairy product and it contains fat. Some nutritionists say it’s best to choose the low-fat versions to reduce our calorie intake. Others believe it is better to ingest full-fat cheese (or yogurt or milk) as it’s more filling. Plus we are less likely to gorge on the empty calories provided by a sugar-loaded snack bar, a biscuit or a packet of crisps if we’ve eaten full-fat dairy beforehand. 

Of course low-fat cottage cheese is the knight in shining armour here. It has 0 grams of fat per ounce. It’s easy to see that other cheeses have more:

Cheddar, low-fat (5 grams of fat per ounce)
Cheddar, regular (10)
Cottage cheese, low-fat (0)
Cottage cheese, regular (3)
Feta (5)
Mozzarella (5)
Parmesan (3)
Ricotta (5)
Halloumi (7.5)

( taken from Low Carb Dieting for Dummies)

But, on the plus side, whether you opt for low-fat or not, cheeses, especially, are full of protein and excellent for building muscle mass. And cheese has a low GI. 

Dairy foods such as milk, yogurt and cheese contain carbohydrate in the form of a low GI milk sugar called lactose. There is every reason to enjoy dairy products (unless you are lactose-intolerant) and we all need calcium for healthy bones and the avoidance of osteoporosis. But do we need vitamin D? That’s the subject of ongoing research which I discuss briefly at the end of this post. 

However a calcium-containing diet is the way to go. A friend’s elderly mother, now in her nineties, rarely has milk in tea or coffee, or with cereals for breakfast, preferring toast. She dislikes yogurts and I know her calcium consumption is low. As the old lady suffers from osteoporosis walking has become a battle for her. Message: drink up your milk!

For those of us who are lactose-intolerant help is at hand: Eating dark green leafy vegetables like broccoli, kale and turnip tops is an alternative source of calcium. Kale is something I don’t let hang around in the fridge for long. It can, like spinach, taste bitter. But good when cooked.

The European Journal of Nutrition found that people who eat full-fat dairy tend to be leaner than those who opt for low-fat versions. And in a 2016-released long-term study of 18,438 middle-aged women, consumption of high-fat dairy, but not low-fat dairy, was associated with reduced likelihood of becoming overweight through the years.
Fat fills you up and slows down the release of sugars into your bloodstream and helps to prevent overeating. As a result, blood sugar rises more slowly over a longer period of time. Insulin levels, therefore, remain more stable. Less circulating insulin means less risk of insulin resistance and pre-diabetes blood sugar levels.

Nutritionists who feel high-fat yogurt will fill us up and stop us diving for the biscuit tin really rate Fage 5% Greek yogurt and I’ve seen this product advertised on TV recently; it’s getting a name for itself. In the news recently low-fat yogurts were once again declared to be overfull of sugar. They aren’t what they seem!

My chosen uses for Fage 5% yogurt include

Yogurt and blueberry snack:

  1. Take a mug or individual trifle dish and layer 1 tablespoon of Fage 5% on the bottom. Sprinkle with 5-6 blueberries and/or raspberries/strawberries.

  1. Layer a second tablespoon of yogurt over the berries. Repeat with a top layer of berries or nuts. 

Breakfast Trifle

  1. Put a layer of Fage 5% in a trifle dish or mug as before. Mix 2 tablespoons of organic porridge oats with hot water until it has been absorbed. Drain off the excess liquid and allow it to cool.

  1. Layer berries of your choice over the yogurt then add half the cooled, softened porridge as a third layer. Repeat the layers and sprinkle with fruits of your choice on the top.

Yogurt and kefir or jam 

  1. As above: layer 1 tablespoon of Fage 5% on the bottom of a mug or trifle dish. Add a layer of kefir with morello cherry or diabetic (no added sugar) raspberry jam.

  1. Repeat the layers and sprinkle ground almonds, cocoa or similar on top.

I don’t resort to using jam much at all. But the diabetic variety is extra jam and only has 2g sugar per 100g of jam. I prefer to get my sweetness from fruits or the 2 squares of Velvet Edition chocolate I mentioned in an earlier post. But, just occasionally, a virtually sugar-free jam adds colour and taste if kefir added to yogurt seems a bit OTT on the dairy front. And anyway I never said I was an angel. Just keen to keep my blood sugar down. Both my nana and mother developed diabetes late in life and that poses a risk factor for me.

Fage 5% yogurt is creamy and doesn’t have a crust like traditional Greek yogurt but it’s almost as good as eating cream. It’s a quick treat and healthier than most commercial ice creams. 

Another advantage dairy products have is as well as being low GI and helping reduce the risk of osteoporosis, dairy helps fight off hypertension (high blood pressure), kidney stones and colon cancer. Some nutritionists in the early noughties said that fat in dairy products is mostly saturated fat, which can increase the risk of heart disease. But they believed that very-low-fat dairy foods and non-fat dairy foods allow you to have all the benefits of cheese and yogurt without the fat. (But do check these low-fat versions, ie yogurts, haven’t added sugar.)I stick to full-fat versions in the main. I have had a recent cardiac function and cholesterol test. The greater risk for me is a rise in blood sugar. But your own GP practice can advise.

One excellent piece of news is that calcium provided by dairy foods such as cheese may help you lose weight. 

This is the theory: As we up our intake of calcium, counterintuitively levels of calcium within fat cells decrease. Lower calcium levels within cells impact the metabolism of fat, which encourages weight loss. Getting enough calcium from dairy foods gets the body to burn more fat and make it harder for new fat cells to form. So that’s ok. And 1000 - 1500* mg of calcium per day from dairy foods is the recommended daily allowance.

Finally dairy products are excellent sources of vitamins and minerals: calcium, phosphorous, riboflavin, protein, magnesium, vitamin A, vitamin B 6 and vitamin B 12 . This is why such  nutrients are vital for maximum good health: 

Phosphorus - a mineral in bones and teeth and in cells throughout the body.
Riboflavin - a vitamin which supports normal vision and healthy skin. 
Protein - builds and repairs body tissues. 
Magnesium - another mineral important for bones and teeth and in muscle contractions and nerve impulses. 
Vitamin A - for maintaining healthy eyes and skin. 
Vitamin B 6 - helps make red blood cells and build proteins in your body. 
Vitamin B 12 - prevents anaemia and helps maintain healthy nerve cells. 

Vitamin D - Now here’s a conundrum. In last week’s news a Professor of Important Vitamins was starting out on a three-year research project. He believes vitamin D isn’t the cherub of the osteoporosis world we’ve all been led to believe. Traditionally vitamin D was thought to help maintain calcium and phosphorus for healthy bones and teeth. But now the jury’s out. He feels vitamin D has no role to play - especially when it comes to the big ‘O’.

However it seems calcium is still king: it plays important roles in nerve conduction, muscle contraction, and blood clotting as well as being critical for bone health. 

If your calcium levels are low and your blood borrows too much calcium from your bones to compensate for this, you’re at risk of osteoporosis. It’s important to drink milk, have a yogurt and a slice of cheese up to 1500* mg daily, especially for post-menopausal women.

Just be aware of the calories with dairy products!

Saturday 6 October 2018

Food blog thirteen - Thank God it Wasn't Two Weeks Ago

So we had the party plans down to a fine art. Brother-in-law was to sleep downstairs on a fold-up bed. I'd affixed a better curtain so he wouldn't be disturbed by cracks of light from outside and given him hanging space in the en-suite shower room. Yes, we have an en-suite bathroom next to (or in... ie en...) the sitting room. On night one we ended up putting the fold-up away as b-in-law fancied another arrangement. But that was ok. And he didn't mind the cat sleeping downstairs there with him.
Next morning he told us he hadn’t slept. It wasn’t the cat or the persistence of light but the amaretto he’d had - and wasn’t used to. We had to ensure a sober evening for night number two.

Niece and nephew-in-law were to have the guest room (...not en-suite... go figure...) with Bobby-the-dog at their feet and their daughter in the en-suite transit room. I had to move everything I use for my writing out of the transit room aka my study, and move a few chairs to enable Richard to put the sofa bed down. But it worked. We could barely get into our bedroom but that's a tiny sacrifice...

Everything was going well. The meals Richard had prepared were ready. After the space-in-the-fridge wars we were a few hours off the start of the party. Then I went seriously tired. The cause was too much hoovering and making the garden look as perfect as I could get it without employing hired help.

I'd done my hair, even resorting to curlers to give it an extra bounce. I wanted a soak and turned on the bath tap. Instantly I was sprayed all over  with icy water as one of our guests hadn't switched the shower lever back to the taps. The bathroom was soaked. I was coated head to foot and swore...loudly. Thankfully there were so many party guests downstairs, nattering away, that no-one heard. Our cat, however, was looking awfully fearful.

Nelson-cat wasn't used to having all these people and a dog on his premises. Cats are sooo territorial, aren't they? It meant he stayed outside for the most part. But it was the wettest Saturday we'd had for weeks and he also got soaked. After (bravely) snatching a bite to eat mid-afternoon from his bowl he dashed outside again. But, after my bath, I found him in the guest room, looking terrified, wet and coated in mud. Needless to say the sheets he was lying on were full of small grey paw marks. Minor calamity.

Then came the issue of how to get seven cakes down to the party venue, along with balloons and displays of images of Richard through the years - it was a party in his honour after all.

How do you transport cakes, in the rain, and park at the same time? Maybe many streets away?
Answer:  Get your brother - who's just driven 100 miles - to drop you off. That way you can hold a cake or two on your lap. And get a niece to accompany you, with two more cakes on her lap. But, as with mice and men, plans don't go to plan. Our niece ended up somewhere else, in the pouring rain, with cakes, Bobby-the-dog and her four-year-old in tow... Bath isn't the easiest place for parking, and not on a wet Saturday night in a howling gale balancing cakes on one finger. (And certainly not if you don't live in Bath and aren't familiar with it.)

Thankfully my aunts were staying behind at our house, for a short time, and had wedged their cakes in proper cake carriers with slats of wood. No movement there. And aunties were as good as gold. They locked all our windows. They stroked Nelson-the-terrified-cat and ensured all internal doors were open so he could leave the guest bedroom, sneak downstairs, snatch a bit more to eat, as Bobby-the-dog was at our party, thence go outside to empty his bowels. (If he'd been shut in the guest room it wouldn't have been only muddy paw marks on those sheets.) The aunts also locked our house up and came to the party in my brother's car. Yes he made yet another journey into town ... I can't even remember where he parked... so busy was I talking to party guests when he arrived at the venue. By the end of the evening I'd almost lost my voice and my brother had driven another thirty miles. Were we all mad?

Imagine, if you will, that the minor panic about cake transportation and parking was met with this weekend's events- additional stresses and strains to throw in the mix:

Last night our cooker threw a wobbly. One ring under the ceramic hob didn't want to come on.  A standard lamp in the transit room, my study and home of the aforementioned sofa-bed, crackled, blinked several times, went off and refused to come back on. Then the cooker, oven, all rings and grill completely blew. Finally the main bedroom wall lights failed to come on at all. Something electrical was amiss. Smart work, Miss Marple.

The repair team for the cooker, rings, oven and grill can't come until Wednesday. Today we are using my plug-in induction plate and the microwave oven. Richard has never made a chicken stew on the induction hob before but I gave him a lesson this morning. He's trying it out now. You can make it with four small chicken pieces or two larger ones.

    He is using Delia Smith's chicken recipe - 
   chicken cacciatore

       4 chicken pieces - seasoned
       1 tbsp white wine vinegar
       1 tbsp olive oil
       1 thickly sliced onion
       350g ripe tomatoes, skinned or out of a tin
       1 large clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
       1 tbsp tomato puree
       140 ml dry white wine
       1 bay leaf

      1.  Heat the oil in a casserole* on P4 (hot) on the induction hob.
      2.  When it's shimmering fry the chicken in it until golden brown. Then remove the chicken pieces and allow to rest on a plate.
      3.  Add the onions to the casserole, turn the heat down to P3 or P2 and cook for about 6 minutes until soft.
      4. When the onion is brown add the other ingredients, bring it to the boil on P4 and reduce it, while bubbling, to half its volume.
     5. Add the chicken pieces, stir them in the liquor, and simmer on P1 for about 30 minutes. 

You'll likely find P1 too furious for a simmer but if you haven't got a working cooker...
Remember you need *ferrous-bottomed pans and casseroles for use on an induction hob and it cooks VERY quickly.

It's a much quicker meal than your average stew but tasty. And the above is enough for two to share.

Thanks goodness the electrics didn't go two weekends ago when we had eleven for lunch on the Saturday (aunts, nieces plus a spouse -to-be, brother-in-law, brother and my sister-in-law, Bobby-the-dog and a four-year-old) and thirteen for coffee on the Sunday morning...

I managed to fix the standard lamp this morning and our electrician is coming Monday morning to see why all our bedroom wall lights blew at the same time. It can't be anything to do with the cooker as they operate on completely different circuits. Ho hum. A gremlin has got in.

I'm glad I found out two candles and a torch the other day. But just imagine if all these electricals had gone when we had a houseful for four days...It isn't Gosford Park or Downton Abbey here. We don't have staff. But sometimes I wish we did.

I'm not an especially skilled person, although I'm fairly adaptable. Wouldn't it be nice to have a butler, or a handyman, a groundsman and a cook-housekeeper? Just now and then. When the cooker blows, for instance, or when the shower inadvertently soaks everything in sight or a terrified cat coats our guests' bedding with his muddy paws. Or you need a chauffeur and maids to carry your party cakes.

Smithers... Just attend to that would you?

Friday 5 October 2018

Food blog twelve - Two soups?

The nutritionists I’ve been following all agree on the value of vegetables for healthy eating.
Kale, spinach, cabbage, broccoli, watercress,
peas and beans add fiber and are low in fat. They are full of vital vitamins and minerals and are protein-rich.

Phytochemicals don’t just occur in berries: There are 

carotenoids in carrots
lycopene in tomatoes
lutein in spinach
genistein in beans & lentils

plus phytic acid in oats

Phytochems protect plants from disease and protect us from cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension. They prevent cell damage, prevent cancer cell replication and lower cholesterol.

Other enticing facts about vegetables include
  1. leeks are good heart ‘medicine’ ( whatever that is) and may help prevent cancer
  2. onions are good when you have a cold with catarrh - they help break up mucus
  3. carrots really do help you see in the dark
  4. spinach - not just good for Popeye - restores energy, increases vitality and improves the quality of the blood as it’s so rich in iron. Spinach also contains vitamins K, A, C and B2 and folate as well as being a good source of manganese, magnesium, and iron. Vitamin K is important for maintaining bone health.

I’ve managed to keep a crop of spinach growing all summer, through the blistering heatwave, and although older leaves can taste bitter spinach is quick and easy to cook and wilted spinach has a good flavour. Young spinach leaves are perfect in salads and most winters spinach will just keep on growing. My leeks are as fat as two of my fingers. I can sow more broad beans in the soil vacated by the summer leeks and they’ll overwinter. We don’t do well with carrots and onions in our soil but as we crawl into autumn - the warmth in the sunshine at the moment is palpable - it might be time to leave lunchtime salads for this year and concentrate on making and eating vegetable soups.

Poor Jamie Oliver lost £90m from his business interests last year so perhaps I should follow him more closely and try one of his soup recipes. Just to encourage the wee lamb.

 Jamie Oliver’s Cream of Mushroom Soup

600 g mixed mushrooms
1 onion
2 sticks of celery
3 cloves of garlic
a few sprigs of fresh flat-leaf parsley
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
olive oil
1.5 litres organic chicken or vegetable stock
75 ml single cream
extra virgin olive oil - I use cold-pressed

1. Brush the mushrooms clean, then finely slice.
2. Peel and thinly slice the onion, celery and garlic, then pick the parsley, finely chopping the stalks. Select thyme leaves.
3. Heat a little olive oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat, add the onion, celery, garlic, parsley stalks, thyme leaves and mushrooms. With the lid on cook gently until softened.
4. Pour the stock into the pan and bring to the boil over a medium heat, turn the heat down to low and simmer for 15 minutes.
5. Season to taste with sea salt and black pepper, then blend until smooth.I allow it to cool and pour the half-formed soup into the food processor before returning the blended mix to the pan.
 6. Pour in the cream, bring just back to the boil, then turn off the heat.
7. Spoon the soup into individual bowls and garnish with parsley.

Enjoy - and know it’s packed with goodness.

Next week I’ll be trying carrot and coriander soup. That will be two soups to add to my woeful repertoire as cook.

It's good to know that soups packed with the golden glow of summer produce increase your consumption of veg. And it’s one way you can help reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke and obesity. There seems to be a positive correlation between eating vegetables and a reduced risk of cancer of the stomach, oesophagus and lungs. Raw vegetables like carrot sticks are especially powerful in this regard, as are onions, garlic, leeks and chives, green vegetables and cruciferous veg.

Needless to say vegetables are low GI. (ps Hope you like the soup! )