Monthly Archives: September 2010

Dinner menu w/c 27th of September


Baked chicken thighs with roast tomatoes, Puy lentils and salsa verde


Rose harissa griddled salmon, Persian spiced pilaf, runner beans and minted yoghurt


Chilli tofu, sweet potato & broccoli soba noodle stir fry with toasted sesame seeds


Sticky lemongrass & turkey patties, basmati rice and sugar snap peas


Baked cod cheeks with spinach, tapenade & tomatoes, service with Roseval potatoes


Aromatic chicken with apricots, couscous and courgettes


Baked pancakes with chestnut mushrooms + Gruyère,  little gem salad


Rigatoni with Chianti baked beef meatballs, rocket & Parmesan salad


Honey roast chicken, lemon + rosemary potatoes, wilted greens with horseradish

Glycemic index versus glycemic load

GI and GL or the ups & downs of blood sugar

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Glycemic Index (GI).

Since then, I have had several conversations about GI (and glycemic load – GL – of which more later) and how important the release rate of carbohydrates is.

It appears that the ups and downs of blood sugar, and the effect on behaviour, mood and generally how you feel and function is generally not very well understood.

Carbohydrates are an important source of fuel for the body

The trick is to keep supply even!

Too much fast releasing carbs (simple sugars such as fruit + corn syrup found in sweets, fizzy drinks, biscuits, cake, white toast + jam, honey, sweetened cereals, white and brown sugar) and you get the sugar “overdose” scenario.

The body responds to a glucose hit by releasing insulin from the pancreas into the blood. The insulin brings the glucose to the cells where it’s used for energy. Any excess is stored as glycogen in other parts of the body. When the stores are “full” any remaining glycogen is converted to body fat.

A diet high in sugar is probably the biggest cause of obesity.

In a glucose “overdose” scenario, so where lots of simple sugars are consumed in a short period of time (big bowl of processed, sweetened cereals, bag of sweets in the car) the body releases more insulin than usual and too much glucose can be escorted out of the bloodstream.

This leaves you with a blood sugar level that’s too low, causing you to experience a crash in energy and leaving you to want more of what caused the problem in the first place – sugar! – just to feel good …

and round you go again!

It’s a vicious circle that leads to constant cravings, poor concentration, irritability and flagging energy levels.

Carbs that keep blood sugar even

Now that you understand the importance of the release rate of carbs you need to know which carbs are fast and slow releasing.

As a rule of thumb you can assume that unprocessed foods release sugar slowly. For more finesse, you can refer to a measure called glycemic load (GL).

The glycemic load (GL) is a relatively new way to assess the impact of carbohydrate consumption that takes the glycemic index into account, but gives a fuller picture than does glycemic index alone.

If you are already familiar with glycemic index than think of GL as a the more sophisticated sibling.

GI tells you how fast (or slow) the sugar in the food you eat is released.

GL tells you not only about speed but also how much of the sugar there is in the food.

In other words: GI says nothing about quantity. GI of a portion of grapes is the same as a bunch of grapes, whereas GL relates to the serving size.

So you can see the type of sugar effect you are getting from a serving of a particular food.

A good,often used, example of the difference between GI and GL is watermelon.

Watermelon is high GI because it contains fast releasing sugar. However, watermelon contains so little sugar that eating a slice of watermelon actually has little effect on your blood sugar. So, watermelon is classified as low GL.

High or low GL?

A GL of 20 or more is high, a GL of 11 to 19 inclusive is medium, and a GL of 10 or less is low.

For a comprehensive list of the GL of common (American!) foods check this list from The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

Surprises and suggestions for swaps

Some of the foods you may have thought were nutritious may be surprisingly high GL; luckily, it’s easy to find delicious substitutes that will help keep you blood sugar levels on an even keel.

Here are some examples:

white toast + jam – wholegrain/multi-seed toast + peanut butter or baked beans or a boiled egg

white bagel – wheat tortilla

cornflakes – porridge with a topping of grated apple + cinnamon

croissants + baguettes – rye and sourdough breads

white rice – wholegrain rice

rice cakes – oat cakes

pretzels – salted popcorn

banana – banana + a few Brazil nuts or almonds

Kissing sugar goodbye!

Weaning yourself off sugar is a huge part of the switch to eating for good blood sugar balance.

The best way to do this is to gradually decrease the sugar content of your diet so that you’ll get used to less sweetness. Stay away from sugar substitutes: they’ve been linked to adverse effects on your health and don’t help you to adjust to less sweet food either. The exception is xylitol which is derived from a natural source and has a small effect on bloodsugar levels.

Reserve it for treats or when sweetness is essential, for example in a dessert or cake!

Also, the more fibre and protein you include in your diet, the slower the release of the carbohydrates.

Other habits that affect bloodsugar include coffee (and to a lesser extent) tea, eating breakfast, Coca Cola and other fizzy drinks and chocolate.

In summary, here are my savvy food rules for good bloodsugar balance:

  1. choose unprocessed foods: wholegrains, beans, nuts, seeds, fresh fruit + veg
  2. choose wholegrains, avoid refined “white” foods: rice, rye, oats, quinoa, bulghur wheat in breads and cereals. It makes a quick + easy supper, but don’t overdo the pasta.
  3. avoid sugar + foods containing sugar and all the “-oses”: dextrose, maltose, sucrose …
  4. combine carbs with proteins + eat fibre rich foods
  5. eat a good breakfast!

Understanding, and being able to manage, blood sugar is important for health and you’ll soon reap the benefits of incorporating knowledge of GL in your daily diet.

I hope you find the info helpful: do let me have your comments + thoughts.

Good luck!



Plum & Almond cake


Victoria plums from Kent

British Food Fortnight  started yesterday 18th September and runs until the 3rd October.

Events across the country have been arranged not only promoting British food but also  how to enjoy it and learn more about it. Check for more details and to find out what’s happening near you.

My friend, the rural artisan and fellow Women’s Food & Farming Union London branch member, Sally Scantlebury, is staging an exhibition in St Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch entitled “Art you can Eat” with a special open evening on 30th September from 5-9pm entitled “Daily Bread” .

For more information e-mail Sally at .

This time of year it is impossible, I think, to be unmoved by the sight of abundant produce at local farmers’ market: plums, greengages, the last blackberries, courgettes, aubergines, the first English apples such as Discovery and Worcester Pearmain and ofcourse mushrooms.

I remember being given a Discovery apple as part of my packed lunch at the start of the new school year in September; because of their attraction to wasps, we called Discoveries “wasp apples”.

Victoria plums, like the ones in the picture above, are best for the kitchen rather than eating raw: a cake, a tart with almonds or marzipan, plum sauce, a compote to be eaten with ice cream or cream or thick Greek yoghurt and ofcourse jam.

Here’s a recipe, loosely based on Nigel Slater’s, for a fresh plum & almond cake which works equally well as a coffee/tea cake or dessert.

I saw a very similar cake in the window of Ottolenghi’s deli on Westbourne Grove, London, at the weekend, but made in a large square tin.  It looked really good and makes a nice change from ubiquitous round cakes, so use that (or even a large loaf tin) if you prefer.

I used a 20cm round spring form, lined with a sheet of aluminium foil (you can also use baking parchment) and lightly buttered.

Plum & Almonds cakes ready for the oven

This is what you need:

Serves 12

150g butter at room temperature

150g  unrefined golden caster sugar

15 plums, cut in quarters

3 large eggs

75g plain flour

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp almond essence

100g ground almonds

50g finely chopped almonds (blanched or with skin on – it doesn’t matter)

This is what you do:

  1. pre-heat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4
  2. using a food mixer, beat the butter + sugar until so pale and fluffy it looks like vanilla ice cream
  3. break the eggs in a mug + beat lightly with a fork
  4. add the eggs to the butter + sugar, mixing in the egg mixture before adding more
  5. add the almond essence
  6. sift the flour + baking powder over the bowl and fold gently into the mixture with a large metal spoon
  7. fold in the grounds almonds, followed by the chopped almonds
  8. scrape the mixture into the prepared baking tin
  9. place the quartered plums onto the cake mixture; avoid overloading the centre or this part of the cake will remain runny. The plums will sink into the mixture as the cake bakes.
  10. bake for 50 minutes, then test for “doneness” with a skewer: if it comes out clean, without wet cake mixture sticking to it, the cake is ready
  11. remove from the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes or so before turning out

Happy baking!


Food glut: plums

Dinner menu w/c 20th September


Mushroom lasagne, rocket + tomato salad


Salmon fillets baked on leeks, Charlotte potatoes, parsley-anchovy vinaigrette


Moroccan fish fillets, roast vegetable bulghur wheat + minted yoghurt


Greek style chicken fillets with a zesty Feta topping, courgettes and rice


Mildly spiced lamb fillets baked with couscous, sweet peppers and black olives


Baked pancakes filled with spinach, chestnut mushrooms + Gruyère, served with roast tomatoes


Soba noodles strir-fried with chicken, aubergine and toasted sesame seeds

Dinner menu w/c 13th of September


Spiced baked chicken thighs with preserved lemon yoghurt, runner beans and basmati rice


Sausages and lentils with wilted spinach and sweet & sour figs


Seabass fillets in “crazy water”, served with butterbean mash


Butternut squash, tomato and spinach curry, basmati rice and toasted almonds


Salt cod + sweet potato fish cakes with a red pepper sauce, little gem lettuce salad 


Baked buttermilk chicken fillets with a herb crust, creamy honey and mustard sauce, broccoli and Charlotte potatoes


Tagliatelle with Chianti baked Aberdeen Angus steak meatballs, rocket  + Parmesan salad

Peach cobbler

Specially for @CityJohn.

Hope you like the look of this pudding. IMHO it is a real crowd pleasure, dead easy to make and works beautifully with (even not so great) peaches.

What’s not to like?

Peach + blackberry cobbler

Here goes ….

This is what you need:

4 ripe peaches

punnet of blackberries (or blueberries or raspberries)

juice of 1 lemon

1 tbsp caster sugar

1 tbsp plain flour

for the cobbler crust

150g plain flour

pinch of sea salt

2 tsp baking powder

1 tbsp caster sugar + extra for sprinkling

80g butter

pot of sour cream (142ml usually)

This is what you do:

  1. pre-heat oven to 200C/gas 6
  2. put flour, salt, baking powder, sugar + butter in the bowl of a food processor + blitz for a few seconds; the mixture should resemble sand
  3. tip into a bowl
  4. slice the peaches in half, twist out the stone, slice into 8 and drop the fruit into an ovenproof dish
  5. toss with the berries, lemon juice + tbsp of flour and sugar; this won’t look appealing but it’ll be fine once baked
  6. mix the sour cream into the flour mixture; you’ll have a soft dough
  7. using a tablespoon, scoop out bits of dough and blob them on top of the fruit, flattening the blobs slightly as you go
  8. dust the dough rounds with sugar
  9. bake for about 30 minutes, till the crust is golden and you can see the fruit bubbling at the edges of the dish

Hope your dinner party goes well.



PS: if you like this recipe, try is later this year with plums or  apples + blackberries or quinces (stew these first). Sometimes, I sprinkle the dough rounds with flaked almonds or crushed hazelnuts which adds a pleasing crunch.

Hedgerow cooking: elderberries

September and we are nudging towards autumn … the season of mist and mellow fruitful ness.    

Having picked elderflowers to make elderflower cordial earlier this year, it made sense to revisit the same shrubs this time to pick the elderberries.    



Elderberries have been eaten for thousands of years – and rightly so.    

They are an excellent source of vitamin C, as well as vitamins A & B.    

Elderberry is used for its antioxidant activity, to lower cholesterol, improve vision, boost the immune system, improve heart health and for coughs, colds, flu, bacterial and viral infections and tonsilitis.    

Bioflavonoids and other proteins in the juice destroy the ability of cold and flu viruses to infect a cell.    

 Apparently, elderberry juice was used to treat a flu epidemic in Panama in 1995!    

Elderberries that are not quite ripe


 It’s really important only to pick ripe (purple-black) elderberries. You can tell they’re ripe because the fruits will be hanging downwards and will be plump, rather than being above the branch and hard.    

Avoid green and green-purple berries as these are unripe and contain traces of cyanide, which can cause vomiting and diarrhea. In some sensitive people, even ripe fruit will do this. However, cooking removes this problem.    

In fact, I did eat a couple of raw berries just to be sure … and dear reader, I am pleased to say I lived to tell the tale.    

Pick the berries on their twig: you’ll need a pair of small, sharp scissors. Nail scissors are perfect! Leave the job of taking the berries off the stalks until you are home.    

Plump elderberries ripe for picking


Stripping the berries from the stalks is easily done by raking a fork through the berries or you can just use your fingers. Stains are washed off without any problems.    

Another reason for cooking the elderberries, in addition to destroying the traces of cyanide, is that the raw fruit is tart and really must be cooked to come into its own.    

Close-up, they are very pretty: black berries on pink-tinged stems!


Is it worth it?    

Compared with elderflowers and blackberries, picking elderberries is perhaps less rewarding. The berries seem less prolific than the flowers (why is that – did the birds get their before me or is there another explanation?), and the fruit is small and seedy.    

Wash the berries to remove dust and insects


265g of berries (about half a small carrier bag) on their stalks yielded 190g of berries and once cooked down with a little sugar all that was left was a tiny bowl of cooked fruit in quite a lot of liquid.    

So you can imagine to you’d need to pick a lot of berries to make up a couple of jars of jam or jelly. Then again, elderberries are probably best used as an “extra”, to complement other ingredients and flavours rather than as the main ingredient.    

This is the cooked yield from 265g of raw berries on stalks


On balance, I believe that the drawback of less easy picking and more fiddly preparation than for example blackberries, is outweighed by the elderberry’s distinctive taste which is quite difficult to describe.    

The cooked berries remind me of the cordial you make from the flowerheads, but more haunting and less fresh – if that makes sense.  Very autumnal I guess.   

I experimented with apple + elderberry “strudel” using feuilles de brick (paper thin Mediterranean pastry sheets) but this wasn’t a success because the filling was too wet. Hence no recipe or picture!   

Later this week, I’ll have another go and think this time I’ll leave the berries whole instead and fold them at the last minute through the apple filling.    

Another idea is to use the berries in a savoury sauce to serve with game: on my “to try” list are venison steaks with elderberry sauce and a celeriac gratin.    

Have you cooked with elderberries? Worth it?    

I’d love to hear about it and read your recipes.