My New Year Resolution - Eat Better...so I can eat More!

Every New Year starts with the same resolutions for me - "Lose weight, Exercise more".  The lose weight bit I've always found challenging, because I simply love food.  Cooking, eating, sharing, or just thinking about food...It's hard for it not to be a major part of my life.  So this year, I've decided to change my resolution to "Eating Healthier".  I'm trading in bread, pasta and sugary foods for healthy alternatives and I'm thoroughly enjoying experimenting with new ingredients and recipes.  I want to find food that gives me license to eat quantity without guilt.  For example, cauliflower rice.  I can eat a fairly large, filling portion of this without it being bad all.  This is the kind of healthy eating I can get on board with!

This week, I tried a recipe which honestly did not feel like a compromise at all.  Our Friday night meal was a Mexican Salad Share bowl, and it felt like a treat, but literally contained ZERO fat! 

Bowls are all the rage at the moment.  You simply assemble ingredients that make up a salad when mixed together, but the choice of ingredients is key in giving you a filling satisfying meal that is still healthy. You can choose a cuisine as your theme. 

1. Select your Grain - this could be Brown Rice, Quinoa or Farro. Try to avoid pasta or white rice.

2. Select your Protein component - Beans, Tofu, Seitan, Cheese, Chicken, Fish

3. Select your Salad leaf - Romaine, Mixed Leaves, Spinach, Kale

4. Select Healthy vegetables - Avocado, Zucchini, Tomatoes, Broccoli

5. Select a Dressing - Vinaigrette, Yogurt & herb, Vegan Green Goddess dressing.  Try to choose something low-fat avoiding mayonnaise or sour cream.

6. Select something with Crunch - Sunflower seeds, Chia Seeds, Flaked almonds.

You need to select a bowl large enough to display all the elements of your delicious salad, because the look is as important as the taste.  We eat with our eyes, and this is especially true when dieting.  The variety of colors and textures fools us into believing we are eating a treat.

My Mexican bowl is pictured here; firstly with all the elements arranged separately, secondly with dressing, and thirdly all mixed together.

Present your bowl unmixed at the table for maximum visual effect.  The photos don't do this bowl justice, it was truly delicious and simple to make. 

My elements were as follows:

Mexican Salad Share Bowl

1. Grain - Tricolor Quinoa.  I love the nutty taste of this quinoa, and also, it's prettier than white quinoa!

2. Protein - Black Beans.  They are the highest protein bean you can eat, and I think the most delicious.  I prepared them simply by frying 1 onion in 1 tbsp. canola oil.  I added a crushed clove of garlic and then 2 cans of black beans, with their juice.  I added 1 tsp of cumin powder, and 2 tsp of hot smoked paprika and salt to taste.  After simmering for 10 minutes, I turn off the heat and add the juice of half a lime. 

I also added Fat-Free Feta cheese to the bowl, which is a new supermarket find.  I personally could not taste the difference between this and full-fat feta, and the saltiness worked so well with the other salad ingredients.

3. Salad Leaf - Mixed greens

4. Vegetables - I added canned sweetcorn to keep in the Mexican theme, along with sliced Avocado spritzed with lime juice.  I also made a quick Pico De Gallo by combining 2 diced tomatoes with 1 diced onion, 2 tbsp. chopped cilantro, 1 deseeded jalapeno & lime juice. 

5. Dressing - I made a quick yogurt/herb dressing by combining in a blender: 5 tbsps. fat free natural yogurt, 0.5 cup cilantro, 0.25 cup mint, half a jalapeno pepper (with seeds, if you dare!), juice of half a lime, salt & pepper.  Check the consistency and add water as required.  I recommend making this dressing a little spicy.  It lifts up all the other flavors in the bowl.

6. Crunch - I took a flour tortilla and sliced it into strips.  Pre-heat an oven to 375F.  Place the strips onto a baking sheet.  Drizzle with a little olive oil, and sprinkle over with hot smoked paprika and salt. Spread the strips out evenly on the baking sheet, and bake in the oven until brown and crispy (5-10 minutes).  Allow to cool for a few minutes before breaking up and adding to your salad. 

By only using 1 flour tortilla in a salad for 4 people, you are massively cutting down on carbohydrates, but if you wanted to be even healthier, you could add roasted unsalted sunflower seeds which would have also been delicious.

You could buy some of the elements of this recipe pre-made to make it even faster to get this on the table - for example, buy instead of make a healthy dressing and pico de gallo. 

Experiment with different cuisines: such as an Indian themed bowl featuring Paneer, Roasted vegetables & Yogurt raita, or a Mediterranean themed bowl with Falafel, Farro and Tahini dressing.

And finally, don't do what I did, and replace all these saved calories with Friday night alcohol calories....

Whoops!  Perhaps I need to add "Drink Less Alcohol" to the list of New Year resolutions.  Nah!  Maybe not ;-)

 

Pumpkin Risotto - jumping on the Pumpkin and Halloween bandwagon!

Halloween, or should I say Fall, or actually, just the start of September sees the beginning of the American love affair with pumpkins.  The PSL was available on 1 September at Starbucks, and with that key indicator, the start of all other pumpkin related recipes and drinks began.

I'm sorry to say, that I'm not really a fan of anything sweet that contains pumpkin.  Pie, Latte... I just don't have the taste for it.  But I do love pumpkin, butternut squash and sweet potato for hearty Fall recipes.  I actually look forward to having the chance to cook with those ingredients. 

Risotto is one of my "go-to" comfort foods that works magic on the soul.  I actually make it all through the year - in Spring/Summer I make Pea, Zucchini & Asparagus Risotto or Wild Mushroom Risotto.  On those Fall evenings when there is a nip of cold in the air, or it's pouring with rain, like today, Pumpkin risotto is just perfect.  Creamy, hearty and using seasonal ingredients, you will really impress with this dish.  It's even orange colored so you feel like you are eating Fall! 

If you've always been a little daunted by cooking risotto, follow this recipe and it won't fail you.  It's simple, and you will only be stirring your risotto at the stove for between 20-30 minutes, nothing more than that.  If you're having friends over for Halloween and want to give them something vaguely themed, but grown-up, this is the recipe for you.  Happy Halloween!

 

Pumpkin Risotto

Serves 2

Ingredients

For the roasted pumpkin/butternut squash: 1 cup diced pumpkin or butternut squash, 1-2 tbsp. olive oil, salt & pepper

For the risotto:

1 quart (1 litre) good Vegetable stock (I use More than Gourmet, Culinary Vegetable stock)

2-3 tbsp. olive oil

1 medium onion diced

3 garlic cloves crushed

1 tbsp. unsalted butter

1 cup Arborio rice (or any other Risotto rice)

1/2 cup white wine

1/3 cup pumpkin puree from a can (not the pie mix, just plain pumpkin)

3-4 basil leaves finely chopped

1 1/2 tbsps. mascarpone

3/4 cup grated parmesan

For serving: Goats cheese crumbled (optional), Chopped basil, Olive Oil, Grated parmesan

 

Preheat your oven to 380F.  Take your diced pumpkin or butternut squash and scatter on a baking tray.  Drizzle with the olive oil and salt & pepper.  Toss until coated.  Roast in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, turning halfway through cooking time. 

Whilst the squash is cooking, place two large pans on the stove.  Empty the stock into one pan, over a medium/high heat and start heating up to simmering. 

In the second pan, start to warm the olive oil on a medium heat, and then add your onion and cook gently until translucent.  When the onion is cooked, add the crushed garlic and the unsalted butter.  Stir gently until the garlic is cooked, and the butter has melted. 

Add your risotto rice to the garlic/onion mixture and gently fry the rice for 1 minute until the rice has absorbed some of the butter and looks a little more translucent. 

Add the white wine, and stir the rice until the white wine has been absorbed. 

Take a ladle and spoon one ladle from the hot stock pan into the rice mixture.  Keep the heat on both pans on medium.  Stir the risotto pan until the stock has been absorbed.  Don't let the rice completely dry out before adding a second ladle and stir again.  The rice should always have a little liquid in it as you keep adding new ladles of stock.  Adjust the heat on your risotto pan to medium/high if it's taking too long to stir in the stock, but don't cook it on too high a heat.  Risotto needs to be cooked slowly so it's fully cooked through, but remains creamy. 

Keep adding ladles of stock, until you only have around 2 ladles of stock remaining.

Add the pumpkin puree and chopped basil, and stir through.  Then add the remaining ladles of stock, stirring until absorbed. 

Add the mascarpone, parmesan and basil leaves.  Stir until everything has melted and combined.  Turn off the heat and put the lid on the risotto, and let it sit for 5 minutes. 

In the meantime, take your roasted squash out of the oven (if using), and stir this into the risotto.  Taste and check seasoning.  The stock already contains some salt so add as appropriate. 

Spoon into bowls and sprinkle with a little goats cheese (if using), parmesan, basil and a little drizzle of olive oil. 

 

 

 

 

 

Elevating a Tea time treat to a Canapé (and making it go with Chai!)

Who doesn't love Madeleines?  Simple, shell-shaped mini cakes, that are light, moreish and perfect with a cup of tea.  Of course, you do need a madeleine tin, which I invested in last summer.  Great investment, because once I bought it, I realized that if you have unexpected guests drop in for tea, you are literally only 20 minutes away from serving madeleines hot from the oven.  Not to mention the fact that your guests will be hugely impressed and consider you to be a domestic goddess.  The basic batter is very simple, and also uses store cupboard ingredients you are more than likely to always have: flour, butter, eggs, sugar and lemon. 

Last week, I catered a cocktail party for 40 guests in Cos Cob, CT.  It was an event for the India Cultural Centre of Greenwich and held in a private home.  My remit was to make Indian canapés, both savory and sweet.  Boy, did I have fun planning (and taste testing!) for this event!  Here are a small selection of pictures of the items I made.  You'll find more detail on the Catering Page of my website.  I'm going to focus on one of my sweet items as the subject of this blog post today. 

After scratching my head to come up with something innovative for dessert, an idea came to me in a flash when it was mentioned I should make something to go with Chai.  I thought about that madeleine tin sitting gathering dust in my cupboard....ok, how to elevate this tea time treat to a canapé, and make it go with a cup of chai?  After some experimentation of flavors, and thinking about what could complement Indian food, I came up with the Pistachio & Rosewater Madeleine.  The pistachios, when ground up and added to the madeleine batter, add a nutty crunch, but also a lovely subtle green colour.  The hint of rosewater makes it exotic and Indian/Middle Eastern in its flavor.  It worked well, but something was missing.  It didn't feel like enough had been done to fancy up this canapé.  Then I thought, what makes an English Victoria Sponge cake, more than just a sponge cake?... the oozy generous jam filling!  I made a raspberry & rosewater dipping sauce to serve alongside the madeleines.  Fruitiness adds a sweet/tart flavor dimension, that also helps to keep the madeleine moist, especially when you won't be able to serve them fresh from the oven in large quantity.   I love raspberries for cutting through super sweet desserts.  I always serve them alongside anything rich and chocolatey like a lava cake or warm brownie to freshen up the dessert and add some tartness.  It also goes well with these Middle Eastern flavors, particularly complementing the rosewater.

Serving the items on a bed of rose petals added theatre and echoed the ingredients.  Try this recipe out for yourself.  Be careful with the amount of rosewater you use.  It's powerful stuff, and if over done, can leave you with a mouth tasting like perfume. 

Pistachio & Rosewater Madeleines (Makes approx. 20) & Raspberry Dipping Sauce

Ingredients (all measures are in grams. Apologies - this European recipe is not easy to convert into Cups without risking baking failure!)

2 large eggs

80g sugar

pinch of salt

50g unsalted pistachios

4tbsp confectioners sugar

100g unsalted butter, plus 1 tbsp for greasing pan

90g Italian 00 flour

2tbsp rosewater

Madeleine tin

Confectioners sugar for dusting

Preheat your oven to 390F.  Melt all the butter slowly in a pan, and set aside to cool.  Grind the pistachios together with the confectioners sugar.  Not too finely.  A few chunks of pistachio will add more flavor.  Set aside.

Add the eggs, sugar and salt to an electric mixer with the paddle attachment.  Beat together on medium speed until the mixture thickens and is around 3 times the original volume.  Should take about 5 minutes.

While this is mixing, prepare the madeleine tin by brushing with melted butter and dusting with flour.  Tap away any excess flour by knocking the tin against your work surface. 

Remove the bowl from your electric mixer.  Gradually add the flour to the egg & sugar mixture, carefully folding in with a spoon.  Also add the pistachio & confectioners sugar mixture, remaining melted butter and rosewater, and mix gently until everything is combined.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared madeleine tin.  One level tablespoon will fill each shell.  The mixture will spread so don't overfill. 

Bake for 5-7 minutes until mixture is set.  Check after 5 minutes. Tap the madeleine tin to release the cakes straight from the oven and cool on a wire rack.   Serve dusted with icing sugar once completely cool. 

To make the Raspberry Rosewater Dipping Sauce:  Combine 2 pints of raspberries with 1/4 cup of sugar in a pan.  Set on a medium heat and bring to a simmer.  The raspberries should start to break down and the mixture thicken up.  This takes around 10-15 minutes.  Add 1 tbsp. of rosewater at the end of cooking.  Taste and adjust sugar (you may need to add a little more if your raspberries are less sweet).  Strain the raspberry mixture through a sieve to remove any seeds, pushing through as much of the raspberry pulp as possible.  You should be left with a thick, crimson red sauce.  Pour into a serving bowl and serve alongside the madeleines for dipping.