Category Archives: book reviews

Matt Roberts’ “I will make you fit fast”

Written by personal trainer to the stars (and the Camerons) Matt Roberts who learnt the importance of fitness from his father, the footballer John Roberts who played for Arsenal and Wales and later trained with the sprinter and Olympic gold winner Darren Campbell.

Matt Roberts presides over a multi-faceted fitness and nutrition empire, including 4 personal training centres (he opened his first gym in an abandoned art gallery in Mayfair at the age of 22), 8 books, fitness DVDs and an exercise clothing range; he is a fitness expert for BBC Radio 1 and BBC Breakfasts, columnist and a nutrition and fitness consultant for brands including Sony, Gillette and Danone.

In his latest book, Matt encourages you to think like a celebrity, presenting two of his tried and tested fitness & diet programmes. By setting very precise, clear goals against a timeline, Matt gives his clients purpose and direction and, crucially, gets results – every time!

The basic principle of the 12 week plan described in his latest book is to combine a pretty strict diet with a rigorous, albeit short, daily workout. This, Roberts says, increase calorie usage, increases muscle activity and generally makes heart and lungs stronger, allowing time to radically change your body – sculpting your shape, stripping fat and increasing fitness levels.

The second part of the book, the 2 week blitz, describes the approach Matt uses with celebrities who are preparing for a fast approaching “red carpet” moment.

It is intensive. You will need to work out 6 days a week, with one day off for recovery. The upside (!) is that you won’t need to restrict your calorie intake too much because the programme is so intense …

The  book is broken down in such a way that it provides all you need to focus on each day during the programme: “today’s diet” and “today’s workout”.

Diet is an important part and there is breakdown of your meals for each day. A small collection of easy to follow recipes are provided.  Meals are typically low-fat and low-ish carb (think Portobello burger, chicken fajitas, wheat-free pasta with smoked salmon … ), and portion sizes on the small side. Meals are repeated throughout the programme, but you could substitute meals/ingredients to suit your palate, provided they fall within the plan guidelines.

Having given up my gym membership a year ago, I was interested to find out how my routine compares and what I could do differently to make my workouts as efficient and effective as possible.

As with most things worth having in life, there is no easy, quick fix or magic wand  – and Matt states very clearly that in the 1st chapter of the book. If you eat too much and do too little, you will get out of shape and fatter. No short cuts!

The main thing that I took away from the book is that goal setting is absolutely key. Having purpose, direction and a recognisable end point is important for anyone who wants to be successful and this is an ethos that can equally be applied to fitness.

 I was pleased to read that I am, unwittingly, already implementing a number of Matt’s exercise principles designed to achieve maximum results in the shortest possible time: interval training, super sets, compound training and MHR (maximum heart rate).

Here’s an exercise from the book, knee crossover tucks, which I do a couple of time a week: it’s great for developing stability around the lower back.

 

Here’s how:

1. Assume a face down position on the ground with palms of hands on the floor under the shoulders and legs extended with the balls of the feet touching the ground. Raise yourself up using your arms, maintaining a stable, straight torso.

2. Holding this position, slowly lift one foot off the floor and raise the leg, bringing the knee across the upper body. Stop raising the leg at the point you feel your lower back bending and slowly lower back down to the starting position. Repeat for the other side.

Not feeling your best? Unhappy with the shape of your body? Preparing for an event where you need to impress?

Prepared to work hard + diligently and to give exercise your undivided attention?

If you answer “yes” to one of more questions, then this book could be for you.

Monique

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“How I cook” by Skye Gyngell

How I cook

How I cook is an original collection of over 100 recipes by award-winning chef and food writer Skye Gyngell.

It’s a book dedicated to the simple pleasures of home cooking: delighting, nurturing, others through food – with an ease, generosity of spirit and unprentiousness that are so typical of Sky’s approach to food.

In this, her latest book, Skye reveals the secrets of how she cooks at home for friends and family.

Her home cooking is influenced by the seasons, recipes are straightforward and use ingredients that are easy to obtain, with useful tips on techniques, flavours and sourcing the best. 

The book is filled with inspiring meal ideas: from breakfast, to seasonal Sunday lunches, a moveable feast for eating alfresco, an elegant and easy afternoon tea to simple late night suppers and suggestions for a birthday celebration.

Recipes that caught my eye include

Easter cake: a not-too-sweet cake from Bologna decorated with candied orange slices

Oeufs en cocotte with spinach & Parma ham

Gratin of white beans to serve alongside roast lamb, or slow-cooked belly of pork

and Skye’s ideas for “time to spare” cooking: edible gifts, marmalade, cordials …

The book is illustrated with beautiful, evocative pictures shot by leading photographer Jason Lowe.

Sky Gyngell

 Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries Cafe in Richmond.

http://www.petershamnurseries.com/cafeandteahouse.aspA

Skye’s cooking at Petersham Nurseries has won many awards and last week the cafe was awarded its first Michelin star – and rightly so!

Located in what can only be described as a shed (spacious, light and furnished, but definitely a shed), it’s the sort of place where you’ll see the chefs popping out of the kitchen to pick herbs from the garden: rustic simplicity perfected. Dirt floors, rickety furniture and food grown in the gardens or bought directly from tiny organic farms all over Europe are laid-back but o-so chic.

Weather pending, this has all the makings for an ideal Valentine’s treat …  a relaxed meal, prepared with love, in a romantic location.

The restaurant is currently closed and will re-open on the 2nd of February.

Vacherin

One of the true seasonal cheeses, Vacherin becomes available in December, heralding the start of Christmas eating. By February it will be gone for another year.

So, if you’re quick you may be able to lay your hands on a Vacherin Mont d’Or (the Swiss version) or Vacherin du Haut Daubs (the French version made with unpasteurised milk).

A small cheese, 400g, serves 8, a medium-sized cheese, 800g, serves 10-12 as a cheese course or snack.

Left-overs, once the cheese has been warmed, are still edible the next day but the taste  texture won’t be quite the same.

I like to serve the cheese as part of an informal meal, with small, boiled potatoes and cornichons, or with drinks accompanied by a spoon, some walnuts, grapes and good bread.

To warm the cheese, pre-heat the oven to 160C.

Slice a lid from the Vacherin.

Add any of all of the following: a glug of white wine, slivers of garlic, a sprig rosemary or thyme.

Replace the lid, wrap the cheese in foil and replace in its wooden box.

Bake for about 10-15 minutes or until the cheese is warm and soft to the touch, but not oozing out of the box.

Allow an extra 5 minutes for a medium or large, 1.2kg, cheese.

How not to get Fat: your daily diet

How not to get Fat: your daily diet

As I am writing this review, I have listened to Radio 4 Woman’s Hour on diets and the diet industry with, amongst others, Arabella Weir who has struggled with weight all her life and whose latest book is called “The real me is thin”.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/console/b00x76vm/Womans_Hour_05_01_2011

From listening to the introduction to the programme, where women recount the many and varied (mad) diets they have tried, it is abundantly clear that although many of us know more about food and nutrition than ever, diets don’t keep the weight off (diets have a 97% failure rate!) and as a nation we are generally becoming fatter.

I have also watched Channel 4’s documentary “Britain’s Fattest Man”  which looked at Britain’s most desperate cases of overeating and the nation’s rising tide of obesity: at 57 stone, the 49-year-old Paul Mason is the tragic object of tabloid scrutiny, logistical nightmares and extreme medical measures. One thing is for sure, there is no dignity for the super-obese!

Of course, it is hard to relate to extremes, but Paul Mason wasn’t born fat. He grew fat, and fatter and fatter still.

Dieting is big business: worth £2.6b in the UK alone.

We believe fad (read “quick fix”) diets will quickly deliver the desired weight loss and the concept of “healthy eating” has become a muddled term. “Weight management” and “nutrition” are often confused as  a diet based on food choices focused on nutritional content can still lead to weight gain.

So, if you are among the millions of people for whom day-to-day-dieting is a way of life, what now?

The Author Ian Marber

Ian Marber, also known as The Food Doctor www.thefooddoctor.com , believes there is another way to eat.

One that enables you to manage your weight, promotes energy, reduces hunger and still provides the good nutrition you require.

This is what his new book “How not to get Fat: your daily diet”, due out on the 11th of January, is about.

I must state here that I have never been keen on The Food Doctor’s ready meals and salads: they lack imagination, look “messy” in their plastic containers and every single meal has been generally sprinkled with mixed seeds.

Bit I do rate Ian Marber, MBANT Dip ION, regular contributor to leading magazines and publications, prolific writer, founder and principal consultant at The Food Doctor Clinc and his no-nonsense approach to nutrition.

In his latest book, Ian Marber takes us through the basic science of how food becomes energy, in particular glucose management, how much glucose different foods create and their effect on your energy levels and how soon after eating you feel hungry again.

This section is excellent: it explains in layman terms how food is turned into fuel by the body’s digestive system. In particular, Ian explains glucose management, which is such a vital aspect of weight management, in detail.

In my work with clients at SavvyCook www.savvycook.co.uk and children and parents at SavvyKids www.savvykids.org.uk I am very aware how confused many people are about food and what constitutes appropriate eating.

Earlier this year I wrote in this blog about glycemic index and glycemic load in an effort to demystify glucose management and to explain some simple facts about how the human body works as well as offer tactics to manage bloodsugar levels.

Ian Marber goes on to apply the understanding of glucose management to knowledge of other food groups, fat and protein.

A vital concept in the daily diet is always to eat protein and complex carbohydrates together and to eat every two and a half to three hours, starting every day with breakfast.

The book then goes on to provide information on 50 typical healthy foods you might choose to eat, including advice on how to choose, buy, prepare and cook these foods and offers over 200 suggestions on how to turn them into easy but appealing meals and snacks.

I was pleased to see a wide range of ingredients described, including some less well-known grains, pulses, different kinds of meat and a wide range of vegetables. More information about provenance and seasonality under “what to look for” would have been welcome, although I appreciate that in the context of this diet these factors are largely irrelevant.

The recipes + meal suggestions are imaginative, practical and should be easy to follow by even not very confident cooks.

I liked the dry roasted chickpeas with chilli, cumin and cinnamon snack suggestion, curried quinoa and vegetable pilaff with toasted coconut and braised steak with olives, tomatoes and orange zest.

Suggestions on batch cooking are included plus ideas on what to do with left-overs.

I am no fan of freezing food: domestic freezers are not really equipped to freeze food really fast so no ice crystals are formed in the process. More often than not, the eating quality of a previously frozen meal is compromised as a result.

Nuts and seeds play an important role in “the daily diet”. One of the ultimate convenience foods, seeds are an instant way of adding protein, fibre and “good” fats to a dish.

I was surprised not to read a recommendation to grind the seeds to make the absorption of the nutrients by the body much easier.

In the final section of the book, Ian shares a number of food planners, including his own (!), based on different ages, circumstances and lifestyles.

The food planners aim to show you how easy it is to follow the plan. You simply work out which case study most closely resembles your situation and use the food planner as a blueprint that you can adapt.

All in all this book is an excellent addition to the plethora of books on weight management already on the shelves – and perhaps on your shelf if you are among the millions of people who have happened to gain weight and are considering a(nother) diet?

I like the fact that the focus is on understanding the science of turning food into fuel, the effect of glucose on your body, energy levels and mood, not calorie counting, and the importance of eating little and often.

Naturally, as with anything in life worth having, eating well does take time, thought and effort.

Not having the time to eat well is not an excuse in my, or Ian Marber’s, book! Time, or lack of, is an issue for all of us, but this a question of priorities and eating well does not have to be complicated.

I’d like to finish here with a delicious recipe for French leek and onion soup, with the novel addition of a poached egg over which the hot soup is ladled just before eating.

French leek & onion soup with poached eggs

Serves 4

This is what you need:

3 tbsp sunflower oil

2 fairly large onions (about 350g total weight), halved and sliced

2 large leeks, well-washed and sliced

4 tbsp quinoa

1 litre strong beef or vegetable stock

1 bay leaf

freshly ground black pepper

4 eggs

85g Gruyère or Cheddar, grated

This is what you do:

  1. Heat the oil in a large, non-stick, saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and leeks and fry, stirring until they begin to soften and colour, for about 4 minutes. Then reduce the heat as low as possible, cover and cook very gently for 10 minutes. Remove the lid, turn up the heat and fry, stirring, for 3-4 minutes until golden. Stir in the quinoa.
  2. Add the stock, the bay leaf and some seasoning. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat, cover, and simmer gently for 20 minutes.
  3. Pre-heat the grill. Break the eggs, one at a time, into a cup and slide each into the simmering soup. Simmer for 2-5 minutes, depending on how well-cooked you like your eggs. Carefully lift out the eggs with a slotted spoon and place in 4 flame proof  soup bowls. Don’t worry if there are bits of egg white left behind. Ladle the soup over.
  4. Cover the top of each bowl with the grated cheese and place under the grill until melted and bubbling, about 3 minutes.

Bon appetit!

Monique