Simple summer chicken with basil and pomodori

Summertime is a great time to embrace healthy eating as the warmer weather naturally steers us towards colourful salads, seasonal fruits, grilled seafood and bbq’d* meats, bringing us closer to the halo’ed Mediterranean diet. Out with the stodgy winter pies and gravies, and in with the best that summer can offer; pick your own strawberries, runner beans, fresh garden salads, plums straight from the tree, and so much more. With so many of us holidaying around the Med, its only natural that we take inspiration from their diet, considered to be one of the healthiest in promoting longevity. At the heart of everything, is simplicity. Two or three ingredients, perfectly cooked, and served with care.

Chicken, with pomodorini and basil

Ingredients (Serves 2-4): 2 chicken breasts <500g, 8-10 cherry tomatoes, 1 bunch of basil leaves, salt and pepper, olive oil, extra-virgin olive oil, fresh lemon quarters

Preparation: <1 hrs cooking time (based on exact weight of the chicken).

1. Pre-heat oven to 180-190C
2. Prepare an oven-proof dish with a small amount of olive oil to cover the tray.
3. Place the chicken breasts in the dish and lightly score with a knife.
4. Wash and half the tomatoes place in the dish around and over the chicken.
5. Lastly roughly chop the basil leaves and sprinkle across the chicken and tomatoes.
6. Cover with baking paper / foil for the first 30-40 minutes to help cook the meat evenly, and place the dish in the oven. Remove the paper after 40 mins.
7. Once the cooking time is complete check the meat with a large skewer by inserting it into the centre of the meat and seeing if the juices that escape run clear. If there is any sign of blood return to the oven and cook for a further 5-10 minutes. Repeat this same process until cooked through.

8. Serve wwith a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice.

Download a printable version of the recipe here, and for more recipes visit the recipe section.

 

*When BBQ’ing, avoid eating burnt or charcoaled foods which may contain carcinogenic properties.

Recipe: Embracing healthy fats with Avocado Guacamole

After years of being told that fat is bad for us there has been a welcome shift in focus in recent years towards “healthy fats” and the essential role they play in the body. Just a decade ago the advice was typically to choose low fat products. However many of these products can be high in sugars which as we now know have a major role to play in weight gain and obesity. The new guidelines (click here) differentiate between types of fat and advocate including a good range of healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in the diet. These fats are typically liquid fats which help lubricate the body, helping heart health and circulation. They can be found in oils (such as olive oil & plant oils), nuts and seeds, avocado and oily fish and include the omega 3 and omega 6 essential fatty acids.

This simple avocado guacamole combines avocado and the natural oils found in it, with extra virgin olive oil for a double dose of healthy fats. It can be used as a dip, spread or as an accompaniment to many meat and fish dishes and can be easily transformed with the addition of extra herbs and vegetables (see additional ingredients listed below).

Ingredients (Serves 4): 2 medium-sized ripe avocados, juice from 1 lemon, zest from 1 lemon, Extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, ground black pepper

Additional:  Add 1 red chilli if you prefer a spicier version, 1 x finely chopped tomato, ¼ of a red/yellow pepper (finely chopped), fresh chopped coriander, fresh chopped mint

Extra virgin olive oil / sesame oil / chilli oil / lemon oil to flavour

 Preparation:  <10 minutes

  1. Zest the lemon into a mixing bowl and then add the juice.
  2. Cut the avocado in half, remove the stone and use a spoon to scoop the flesh from the skin and add to the mixing bowl.
  3. Use a fork to gently mash the avocado and mix well with the lemon to prevent discolouring.
  4. Add in a glug of olive oil and season with salt and pepper for a simple guacamole.
  5. If using additional ingredients, finely chop and stir in to the guacamole.
  6. Serve immediately.

Download a printable pdf here.

Visit the recipe section here for a range of other healthy dishes.

Recipe: Turkey, Courgette & Mint Polpette

Getting a good balance of lean protein in the diet can be really helpful for supporting the body’s natural growth and repair systems. Animal proteins such as meat, fish and eggs provide the complete range of essential amino acids which the body uses as the building blocks for muscle and tissue which is why it’s often discussed in the context of sports nutrition and athletes. However we all need a certain amount of protein to help repair the daily damage our body occurs through everyday tasks, as well as through exercise. For those following a vegetarian or vegan diet, plant proteins such as quinoa, beans and pulses provide many but not all of these same amino acids so its important to include a wide variety in the diet to get the combined intake. For current nutritional guidelines click here.

Lean protein such as fish and turkey meat provide less of the saturated fats which typically are considered unhealthy in the diet. This recipe is a popular favourite with many of my clients as it combines minced turkey breast with courgette and fresh mint for a light meatball, and alternative to eating a steak or full fillet of meat.

Ingredients (Serves 4-8): 500g minced turkey, 1-2 eggs (1 large or 2 small), 1 large courgette (grated), 1 large handful fresh mint (finely chopped), salt & pepper, olive oil or coconut butter (for frying)

Optional: 1 carrot (grated), other fresh herbs; parsley, coriander, flour* (for rolling)

 Preparation:  3 stages: <10 minutes to make mix, < 30 mins leave to chill in fridge, <10-20 mins rolling & pan frying / oven baking**

  1. Mix all of the ingredients together in a mixing bowl and then leave to chill for 30 minutes in the fridge. If using grated carrot, add at this first stage.
  2. Prepare a large fry pan with a light covering of olive oil or coconut butter and bring to a medium heat.
  3. Take the polpette mix and using a teaspoon scoop a small meatball-sized amount into the palm of your hand and roll (You can choose the size you prefer).
  4. Roll all the polpette first and then place into the pan so that they cook evenly.
  5. Cover for 1-2 minutes and then turn the polpette and cover again for 1-2 minutes to ensure they are cooked through. Leave to turn golden for the last couple of minutes, shaking the pan every so often so that they roll and cook on all sides.

*You can use flour for rolling which also provides an additional crust to the polpette if desired

** For oven baking, place the polpette in an oven proof dish prepared with oil / coconut butter and bake at 180C for 25-45 minutes depending on the size of the polpette. The best way to check if they are cooked through is wait till they are nicely golden on the outside and then cut one open. You may also need to turn them half way through cooking to colour them on each side.

Serving suggestions & Accompaniments:

  1. Mixed garden salad: mixed leaves, tomato, grated carrot, cucumber, celery, radish
  2. Steamed greens: broccoli, spinach, kale, bok choi, cabbage
  3. Roasted root vegetables: Beets, sweet potato, pumpkin, parsnip, turnip
  4. Yoghurt & mint sauce
  5. Beetroot Puree (see recipe)

For other recipes click here.

Download a printable pdf version here.

 

Making Easter treats just a little bit healthier

Traditionally Easter has always been a time of feasting, after the prolonged fasting period during Lent which precedes it.  The modern-day take on Easter has turned it into an entirely sweet affair with chocolate eggs, simnel cake and hot cross buns leading the charge, and with these foods being mass produced by food manufacturers they are likely packed with even more sugars.

So this year I decided to turn Easter into a home-made affair and make my own versions of Easter treats and attempt to put a slightly healthier twist on them.

First up are my hot cross buns. I adapted a classic recipe into a gluten free (gf) alternative and used wholegrain gf flours rather than white flours. I switched caster sugar for coconut sugar and halved the amount and to keep the sweetness I added in extra raisins and mixed peel. The end result is surprisingly close to the classic bun, perhaps a little more crumbly due to the gf grains, however they taste identical!

Next up are some chocolate crispies for the children which I made using bran flakes in place of corn flake, and fondent chocolate 70% instead of milk chocolate. I mixed the chocolate with coconut oil in place of butter and used a small amount of agave syrup to help bind the mix. These substitutes are simple to make and they help turn a sweet treat into a slightly healthier version of itself. My girls don’t know any different and a taste test by one of their friends proved that they were just as well liked as other traditional sweets. I did make one concession and put milk chocolate mini eggs on top for decoration. 80/20 rule! There needs to be some room for little indulgences.

Happy Easter to you and your families!

Beetroot-blushed gnocchi to fill your heart with love this Valentines

Beetroot-blushed gnocchi with heart-beets and rocket

Gnocchi is one of the quickest dishes to prepare and whether fresh or packet, has a cooking time of just 3 to 6 minutes. Garnished with beetroot love hearts, a handful of rocket and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese this valentine’s supper is sure to be a winner for all the family.

For those wishing to get their hands a little dirty this Valentines then why not make your own gnocchi? Ideal for those following a gluten free diet as you can easily switch regular flour for a gluten-free alternative to mix into the potato dough. See the recipe below.

Beetroot is truly a food of love…. with its deep red colour, and earthy texture, its thought to help improve blood flow and increase stamina. Research suggests its nitrate-rich flesh can also help lower blood pressure making it good for your heart-beet! Beetroot is a good source of iron and folate (naturally occurring folic acid) which support energy and detoxification processes. It also contains nitrates, betaine, magnesium and other antioxidants (notably betacyanin) which help protect against the stresses of everyday life by protecting our cells. There’s lots to love from this vegetable so why not love yourself this Valentines and give this recipe try.

 

Ingredients: Gnocchi, Beetroot, Butter, Parmesan Cheese, Rocket

Utensils: Heart-shaped pastry / biscuit cutter, sieved spoon (with holes to drain water)

Preparation:

  1. Prepare a large pan of lightly-salted boiling water ready to cook the gnocchi.
  2. Take 1 beetroot and cut into 3 or 4 chunky slices. Using the heart-shaped pastry cutter, cut out enough hearts to decorate your plates. Place any discarded pieces of beetroot into the boiling water to colour the gnocchi pink.
  3. In a small fry pan, melt a large chunk of butter until liquid.
  4. Place the gnocchi in the boiling water and cook according to the pack guidelines (typically till the gnocchi float).
  5. As the gnocchi begin to float, scoop out using a sieved spoon and place in the melted butter so that they don’t stick together.
  6. Serve with a side of rocket leaves and grate parmesan cheese on top eh voila!
  7. If you’re not a fan of beetroot then why not experiment with another coloured vegetable or even strawberries, or switch to a more traditional accompaniment of pesto or ragù sauce.

Home-made Gnocchi

Ingredients: 1 kg potatoes (preferably slightly old as they contain less water), 400g white flour (for Gluten-free; 200g each rice / quinoa flour), 1 large egg, table salt, and extra flour for dusting. Rock salt for cooking.

Preparation: 1 hour + 10 mins cooking

  1. Boil the potatoes in their skins until you can insert a knife easily.
  2. Leave to cool for a few minutes and then rub off the skin.
  3. Mash the potato with a potato creamer.
  4. Add in the flour and egg and mix into a smooth dough adding table salt to taste.
  5. Cut off small sections and roll into a long sausage c. 1cm in diameter and then cut into small gnocchi pieces (they don’t necessarily need to be uniform).
  6. Place all gnocchi on a heavily floured board before cooking to soak up an excess moisture.
  7. Bring a large deep pan of water to the boil, add some rock salt and bit by bit throw in the gnocchi. You’ll probably need to cook them in 3-4 stages.
  8. As soon as the gnocchi float they are ready for eating (c. 3-5 mins).
  9. For added greenery, add in frozen peas, baby leaf spinach & chopped zucchini (or any greens which have a similar cook time of 3-5 mins like the gnocchi)
  10. Scoop the gnocchi out with a large sieved spoon and toss into serving dish with any of the following; butter & sage, gorgonzola, pesto, meat ragu, and sprinkle with grated parmesan.

Home-made Pesto:

Ingredients:1 big bunch of basil, 1 pack Pine nuts (or substitute sunflower seeds), Grated fresh parmesan (generous helping), 1-2 anchovies (optional), 1 clove garlic (optional), Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Preparation:  5 minutes

Strip the leaves from the basil and put in blender with pine nuts, grated parmesan and anchovies. Blend together whilst adding in the olive oil until it reaches a paste-like consistency. Decant into a jam jar and cover with olive oil. You can keep in fridge or freezer but it is important that each time you use a spoonful that you cover with olive oil to preserve the pesto and stop it from discolouring and becoming hard.

 

The benefits of a fish supper

As foods go, fish is often quite polarising with people either loving it, or strongly disliking it . However there is such a wide variety of fish and seafood available that I also encourage trying it. From a nutritional perspective seafood has plenty to offer, not only as a source of lean protein, but also for the many beneficial health qualities such as essential omega 3 fatty acids found in oily fish, B vitamins found in white fish, and minerals such as iodine, zinc and potassium found in most seafood.

Between them these nutrients help support brain and thyroid activity, reproductive health, cardiovascular health and circulation, and balancing inflammatory processes in the body. An important consideration with essential omega 3 fatty acids is that our body is unable to produce this naturally so it is essential we source it from our diet. Similarly, zinc and iodine are two minerals commonly found to be low in modern diets where seafood is not regularly eaten.

The Mediterranean diet is noted for its high inclusion of fish and seafood, and research suggests that diets rich in fish promote heart health and healthy aging. Current guidelines advise 2-3 portions of oily fish per week (for the essential omega 3 fatty acids) which would include salmon, mackerel, sardines, anchovies, herrings and fresh tuna. Typically these oily fish are often the ones liked least for being “fishy fish” or “strong tasting”.

White fish such as cod, bream, halibut, hake, monkfish and haddock provide an easier route into eating fish. They are more delicate in flavour and typically have a more “fleshy” consistency. Whilst they may not contain as much omega 3, they are a great source of protein and provide a vitamins A, B, D and E making them a nutrient-dense addition to other meats in the diet.

Cod fillets wrapped in Pancetta

The following recipe is a simple oven-baked Cod fillet, wrapped in pancetta bacon (optional) and cooked on a bed of runner beans. It’s ideal for a light supper and can be served with new or jacket potatoes (or sweet potatoes) to provide a portion of starchy vegetables.

Ingredients: Cod fillets (c. palm-sized portion per person), enough pancetta bacon slices to wrap, a handful of beans per person (sliced).

Preparation: 10 mins + 30 mins cooking time

  1. Preheat an oven to 160 C
  2. Prepare an oven dish with a small coating of olive oil
  3. Slice the runner beans and cover the base of the oven dish
  4. Wrap each cod fillet with 1-2 slices of pancetta and place on top of the beans
  5.  Cover with baking parchment and place in the center of a hot oven
  6. Bake for c. 30 mins or until the cod feels firm to the touch.
  7. Remove the parchment for the final 5 minutes to allow the pancetta to crisp.

January – Bone Broth to boost immune support

Winter is often rife with colds, flus and a range of ailments which can leave us feeling depleted and drained of energy. Eating well and providing our body with a wide range of nutrients to help support our immune system is important to help us through the winter months and limit our exposure to illness.

One food which has jumped back into consciousness in recent years is Bone Broth. Once a thing of old wives tales it has now been shown to have an extensive range of health benefits as well as being a good old fashioned source of comfort food in times of illness. Research has shown that it can help;

  • Support Immune Function
  • Support the gut and help intestinal permeability often referred to as “leaky gut”
  • Protect joint health
  • Maintain Healthy Skin
  • Boost Detoxification
  • Aid metabolism

As bones cook for long periods of time they gradually leach valuable amino acids, collagen, gelatin and trace minerals into the broth. These nutrients are readily absorbed by our bodies and can then be used to support repair and limit inflammation.

Collagen helps to restore cartilage which is one of the main areas of wear and tear as we age thus providing support to our joints, and elasticity in our skin.

Gelatin from the bones helps maintain strong bones as well as added cushioning between joints. Gelatin is also fundamental in the gut where it strengthens the intestinal lining and helps limit damage known as “leaky gut”. If the intestinal lining is compromised this can lead to immune responses in the body as undigested food particles leak from the gut into the bloodstream.

Amino acids found in bone broth; proline, glutamine and arginine help seal any leaks in the intestinal lining and in doing so support healthy immune system function. The availability of the nutrients in bone broth is also helpful at aiding absorption in the gut, and foods are really only as valuable as the nutrients we absorb from them which is why bone broth is regarded as being so beneficial.

Bone broth also contains potassium and glycine, which support cellular and liver detoxification, and glutathione and glutamine which aid metabolic processes.

Here’ s how to make your own batch at home and take advantage of all the health benefits -shared above. Once made you can store in jars in the fridge for 5-7 days or freeze it to use as a base in soups and casseroles.

Ingredients

Bones (chicken, beef, pork, lamb, fish or other),

2-4 tbsp cider vinegar

Cold water

Preparation:

Most butchers will sell fresh bones however you can also use left-over bones from a roast / joint. You can easily mix things up and use bones from different animals in the same pot.

Simply place a big bunch of bones in large saucepan or slow cooker, cover them with cold water and set the temperature on low heat so it doesn’t do much more than simmer. Allow min 12 hours cooking time or longer if you are able. If you do simmer for longer then add in water as it evaporates to draw out the concentration. Add 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to the cold water to help draw the nutrients from the bones.

Seasoning should be done near the end of the cook time or you can wait to season your stock as you use it in recipes. Add fresh herbs and spices in the last 10 minutes. Dried herbs and spices or spice powders can be added during the final hour. Vegetables can be added according to their size, giving them enough time to cook.

An important rule when it comes to stock making is don’t add any salt. If you plan to reduce it to make soups or sauces, the salt concentration can easily become too high if you add it at the beginning.