Monthly Archives: January 2010

Dinner’s ready (almost)

Lamb, beetroot, walnuts, porcini … here’s what’s cooking next week!


Spiced lamb meatballs, rice and beans, served with pilli-pilli sauce

Lamb is high in protein and is a rich source of the B vitamins needed for a healthy nervous system. It is also a good source of zinc and iron. Kidney beans are low in fat and rich in carbohydrate. They provide good amounts of vitamins B1, niacin and B6 and useful amounts of iron. Allicin, the compound that gives the garlic in the pilli-pilli sauce its characteristic smell and taste, acts as a powerful antibiotic and also has anti-viral and anti-fungal properties.


Rose harissa baked chicken fillets with roast sweet potatoes and Savoy cabbage

Chicken is an excellent source of protein and provides many of the B vitamins. Eaten without the skin, it is  low in fat and what fat is does contain is mostly unsaturated. Butternut squash is a great source of B-carotene, which converts to vitamin A in the body. It is als a good source of vitamin C and a useful source of vitamin E, all anti-oxidants.


Chinese style noodles with tea-marinated king prawns, sugar snap peas and toasted sesame seeds


Oven baked chestnut mushroom, porcini + pea risotto, poached egg and Parmesan


Baked trout on roast potatoes, served with horseradish-walnut creme fraiche and a beetroot salad

Trout is an oily fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which can help to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. Walnuts are an excellent souce of vitamin E, an anti-oxidant vitamin and beetroot is a good source of folate (folic acid). The red pigments in beetroot, known as betacyanins, are thought to be linked to anti-cancer properties. Beets also contain salicylic acid, a close relative of aspirin, which is an anti-inflammatory.

Eet smakelijk!


Beat the marketing hype: get label savvy!

I wrote this article some time ago for WeightMatters, , health clinics who help people change the way they eat – forever.

But having watched Monday night’s Jeremy Vine’s Panorama documentary on BBC1 about children’s diets, I am shocked again by how many people are confused about food and taken in my the marketing hype of food manufacturers.

So here it is again, some handy tips & hints to help you make up your own mind about what to feed yourself and your children.

 Marketing versus science

 Do you ever look at the nutrition labels on many processed foods and ingredients and regret that you never did do A level chemistry!

Overwhelming us with excessive nutritional information and spurious health claims is one way in which food manufacturers cleverly try to persuade us to buy their products.

However, armed with a basic understanding of the classic marketing tactics, getting label savvy is easy.

 Common labelling tricks

Low GI

“Low GI” (low glyceamic index) means that an ingredient or product contains low GI carbohydrates, which are digested slowly, helping to keep you feeling full for longer.

You may assume that all foods bearing the “low GI” symbol are a healthy choice and in the case of for example wholegrain basmati rice and oatcakes, this assumption is correct. However, some foods like ice cream and chocolate are low GI because their high fat content slows down the digestion of sugar.

Savvy tip: remember, although a food may be low GI, it still supplies calories and could be high in fat.

Low carb

Foods with this description have had sugar replaced with artificial ingredients such as sorbitol. Because sorbitol does not raise blood sugar as quickly as normal sugar, manufacturers do not count it as a carbohydrate. However, low carb products often contain the same calories as the original, normal carbohydrate, version.

Savvy tip: be aware, low carb does not necessarily equal low calorie.

Light or “lite”

These descriptions can refer to the texture of the product, meaning it is light in consistency. Examples of this are a “light” chicken liver pâté or “light” fruit cake. It does not mean that the product has fewer calories than an equivalent, non-light, product.

Savvy tip: ignore the “light” claim and instead check the nutritional breakdown per 100g and per serving.

Low fat

The legal definition of “low fat” is that the product in question contains less than 3g of fat per 100g. However, low fat spreads have their own rules and to count as “low fat” the product must contain less than 40g of fat per 100g.

Savvy tip: there is no such thing as a spread that is truly low in fat. Personally, I much prefer to use a small quantity of real butter which gives you all the delicious taste but none of the chemicals added to margarine.


Peach “flavour” yoghurt is yoghurt that gets its taste from artificial peach flavours. A peach “flavoured” yoghurt however must have most of its taste coming from the real thing. A cheaper, healthier and often tastier option is to mix some real fresh or dried fruit through some naturally low fat plain yoghurt.

Savvy tip: to cut down on artificial flavourings, avoid products that use the word “flavour”.


Emotive words are used to persuade us to buy a product but they actually mean very little. Examples of this are “farm fresh”, “country style” and “ocean fresh”.

Savvy tip: don’t be persuaded by the marketing hype and check the nutritional information on the pack.

For more information on healthy eating and how to make dinner time easier and more delicious, go to .

Those fish cakes made with love

Because they were so delicious last night, these smoked mackerel fishcakes, I thought I’d share the recipe (more a method really) with you.

Fish cakes ready to go!

Makes  6 cakes, roughly the size of a small tennisball (if such a thing existed, but hopefully this serves as a visual guide).

Here’s what you need:

1 medium sized whole smoked mackerel (I buy mine at Lidl – fillets would do also but will produce a drier, smokier result), skin + bones carefully removed

250g cold mashed potato (needs to quite solid, so not loaded with butter/cream/milk) or 1/2 large, cooked + cooled, baking potato

1 tbsp of grated Parmesan

1 tbsp dried chives

1/2 tsp ground paprika

grated zest of 1/2 lemon

1 egg, beaten

3 tbsp flour

3 tbsp dried breadcrumbs (homemade are better than shopbought and an easy, good way of using up stale bread)

1 tbsp of oil

This is what you do:

1. in a bowl, mix fish, potato, chives, paprika, Parmesan and lemon zest + 1/2 the beaten egg + a good grinding of black pepperb(you won’t need to add salt: the mackerel and Parmesan provide quite enough already)

2. using your hands, form into 6 balls and flatten slightly

3. put cakes on a plate, cover with foil and leave to harden for at least 30 minutes in the fridge – longer is better

4. when you are ready to eat, heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan over low heat + pre-heat the oven to 200C

5. dredge the cakes, one by one, through the flour, then the beaten egg and lastly the breadcrumbs; this is quite messy job so have some paper towel nearby to wipe your hands!

6. fry the cakes for about 2 minutes on each side, until nicely coloured

7. when ready, transfer to a baking tray and put in the oven for about 20 minutes by which time the cakes should be warmed through and ready to eat

8. serve with some simply steamed spinach + a blob of horseradish creme fraiche made by mixing 1 tbsp of grated horseradish (English Provender is good and pure) with 2 tbsp of low fat creme fraiche


Can you taste the love?


What’s cooking next week?


Fish fillets baked with a spicy tomato sauce, butternut squash and basmati rice

A healthier interpretation of a West African dish; orginally created as a nutritious alternative to appeal to Chelsea Football Club’s West African 1st team players. Now a favourite with non-athletes too!


Moroccan spiced turkey with carrots, chickpeas and bulghur wheat


Baked pancakes with spinach, chestnut mushrooms and Gruyere, served with balsamic roast tomatoes

A great warming dish! Gruyere, like other dairy foods, is a valuable source of calcium – a mineral essential for healthy bones and strong teeth. Spinach provides good amounts of several antioxidants including vitamins C and E. It also contains substantial amounts of B vitamins, including folate, niacin and B6.


Rose harissa baked salmon with Persian spiced pilaff, green beans and minted yoghurt

Salmon is an oily fish and can therefore be particularly beneficial to health as it provides omega-3 fatty acids: benefits include protection against heart and circulation problems. Basmati rice has a low GI (glycaemic index) score which means the energy is released slowly into the bloodstream, helping to keep blood sugar levels even and preventing feelings of hunger and energy dips.


Chianti baked Aberdeen Angus meatballs with penne and rocket & Parmesan salad

Lean beef is a great source of easily absorbed iron. Iron is needed to keep blood healthy and oxygenated and to prevent iron-deficiency anaemia. Tinned tomatoes are an excellent source of an anti-oxidant called lycopene. Cooking the tomatoes means that the lycopene is released from the tomato cells and more easily absorbed. Lycopene can help protect against eye disease and cancer.

Bon appetit!


“No refined sugar, dairy, eggs or fat” cake

I am at a loss as to what to call this cake – suggestions on a postcard, please!

It came about as a good way of using up some dates left-over from Christmas and the recipe is inspired by mother-in-law’s tea loaf.

The cake is wonderfully moist and fruity and a great way of using up any dried fruit. I used the aforementioned dates, along with some gorgeous yellow + red raisins (bought loose at the Turkish grocer) as well as some chopped dried apricots.

Dried fruit is naturally sweet and contributes useful amounts of fibre and the ground almonds add “good” fats and vitamin E.

Enjoy with a nice cup of strong black tea to cut through the sweetness!

You will need:

250g stoned dates, roughly chopped

300ml water

500g mixed dried fruit of your choice

170g wholemeal flour

3 tsp of baking powder

1 tsp ground mixed spice

50g ground almonds

80ml orange juice

finely grated zest of half an orange

This is what you do:

1. preheat the oven to 170C/gas 3

2. very lightly grease a 900g loaf tin + line the bottom with a strip of baking parchment

3. put the dates in a sauce pan, pour over the water and bring to the boil

4. remove pan from the heat and leave to cool a little

5. put flour, mixed spice + baking powder in a bowl

6. add the dried mixed fruits and the orange zest

7. stir to combine

8. add the wet date mixture + orange juice

9. mix well

10. spoon into the prepared loaf tin and bake for 45-50 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean

11. leave to cool for about 30 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and leave to cool completely

12. boil the kettle….



Immune boosting foods

Winter is not over yet!

Although I thought it felt almost spring-like this morning, that is probably just because it is a bit milder than it has been recently.

February and March can still be very cold and miserable and it is around this time that our natural reserves can start to run low.

So here are my favourite immune boosting foods: try and include these in your diet, along with as much fresh air and exercise (or preferably combined) as often as you possibly can.


Garlic has long been considered a natural wonder-drug and is known to have strong antioxidant properties. Not only is garlic good for your heart health, it is also thought to be – thanks to its antibacterial effect – a good way to avoid catching a cold or flu.


Pro-biotic organisms in yoghurt (make sure the packaging says ‘live and active cultures’) increases the number of good bacteria in your gut, thus protecting you against infections and more serious conditions such as cancer.

I prefer the whole milk variety for taste and also because the vitamins in the fat help the absorbtion of calcium. Also, “low-fat” foods are just not that satisfying.


If you can stand the heat, then chilli peppers contain an anti-inflammatory substance called capsaicin and has been linked with pain relief associated with conditions such as arthritis. Chillies are also thought to protect your heart, fight infection thanks to large amounts of vitamins A and C.

Citrus fruits

There is a reason why doctors advise people to take vitamin C supplements to avoid catching a cold. The body can’t produce the vitamin on its own, so the best way to get it into your system is to eat oranges, lemons or other citrus fruit. 

Lemon peel is rich in a super nutrient called limonene which helps to repel insects from the fruit and in humans has strong antioxidant properties.


Prawns (and shellfish in general) are low in fat but rich in protein, iron and zinc, which are thought to bolster the immune system. Prawns also contain vitamin B, which gives us energy and has also been linked to improving immunity.


The humble green pea is bursting with goodness, containing no fewer than eight vitamins and seven minerals as well as fibre and protein. As well as helping your heart, bones, and general wellbeing, peas also contain vitamin C to protect you from colds and other infections.


When it comes to disease-fighting vegetables, broccoli is king! As well as containing huge amounts of vitamin C, broccoli has also been linked to cancer prevention and heart, stomach, eye, bone and skin health.

Try tender stem broccoli or the stronger tasting purple sprounting  variety for a change. Delicious combined with anchovies, garlic + chilli to dress some plain pasta or try topped with a lively mixture of fresh mint + parsley, grated lemon zest + garlic + olive oil. Plainly boiled with a bit of butter and freshly ground pepper is wonderful too.

Oily fish

The omega-3 fatty acids in oily fish, such as salmon, tuna and mackerel, are good a protecting the body from respiratory infections. The oils increase the activity of phagocytes, white blood cells which destroy bacteria and thus help the body fight infection.


A slow braise….

I feel as if I am perhaps eating too much meat this month, but the cold, snow and ice of the past weeks make this feel appropriate somehow.

Lamb and chicken tagines, casseroles and even a stuffed cabbage with some mashed potato, couscous or other grains to soak up the juices.

A risotto made with garlicky Toulouse sausauges, pushed out of their skins then lightly browned and set aside on a paper towel to absorb the excess fat whilst you brown an onion, then add the rice + warm chicken stock; finish off with salt + pepper and some finely sliced green cabbage added towards the end of cooking + freshly grated Parmesan. A wonderfully simple, warming dish which does rely on good quality sausages!

We also  recently ate some amazing venison sausages from Cowdray Park farm shop, part of the polo club estate near Petworth; they rear and butcher their own meat and also run a very good cafe.

Sunday’s braised Aberdeen Angus sliced leg (made the day before) was not a particularly liquid stew, but one where the meat was coated in a thick, glossy gravy.

This is what I used:

just under a kilo of sliced leg (you could use feather steak although this is a bit drier)

1 tbsp of plain flour for dredging

1 tsp of ground chilli

1 tbsp of Colman’s mustard powder

pepper + salt

2 onions, cut in eights

4 garlic cloves, halved lenghtways green shoot removed

1 tbsp tomato puree

4 bayleaves, dried is fine

couple of bushy sprigs of fresh thyme

2 glasses of good red wine

This what you do:

Put the meat in a plastic bag with the flour, chilli, mustard poweder, pepper + salt.

Seal it and shake until all the meat is covered.

Warm a small pat of butter and a little oil in large a non-stick frying pan.

Lower in the meat, in batches if necessary, and brown gently.

Remove to a casserole dish and add the onions, garlic + bayleaves to the frying pan.

Brown over low heat in about 10 minutes, then add the thyme, tomato puree + wine.

Bring to a simmer and pour over the meat in the casserole.

Braise over low heat, with barely a bubble breaking on the suruface, for about 2 hours.

Cool + chill till needed; this actually improves the eating quality of the dish.

Scrape off any fat that has formed the surface + gently reheat when ready to eat.

Whilst the casserole is reheating, add  2 tbsp of mustard: one smooth Dijon and 1 wholegrain.

Not essential, but I like to add roughly chopped parsley just before serving; it gives a fresh note and adds useful amounts of vitamin A and C, calcium, potassium, magnesium and iron. 

Serve with mashed potatoes or 1/2 celeriac/butternut squash 1/2 potato. made with a glug of hot milk, pepper + salt + freshly grated nutmeg + small pat of butter.

Any green winter veg is delish with this!

Go on, tuck in…..

Bon appetit!