Category Archives: Healthy

Barbecued baked beans (in the pressure or slow cooker).

I’m not not a fan of baked beans, but I’d never think “ooh I must have some baked beans”. They feature very little in my life other than when my partner decides to have some on toast, from a tin, for lunch, when there is very little else to eat. Then, they are a Godsend.

So the idea of making them only really came to me because I was seduced by a photo of them in the recipe book that came with my Sage Fast Slo Pro (and this is the recipe below, with some adaptions). I am quite shallow.

Sourcing “dried small white beans’ which the recipe called for (I went for cannellini but you can also choose haricot) was really not easy, they were nowhere to be found locally to me (I live in the countryside) so in the end I had to resort to the evils of Amazon. But you will be able to find them in the supermarket, it’s just that mine didn’t sell them…

These are really easy, but bear in mind you will need to reduce the sauce at the end. If you have a pressure/slow cooker that allows you to do this, all you really need to do is stir occasionally – it took about 20 mins on medium heat.

Making things that are easily bought is often a double edged sword and the shop bought can easily out trump the home made. Hummus, for me, comes into this category. I have only once tasted home made that was better than shop bought (that was my friend Sarah who made it whilst we were staying at Sackville House together).

I made these because, seduced by the aforementioned picture, I had bought some dried cannellini beans some weeks before and forgotten about them. Then, when we found ourselves without “a hot meal” as my partner put it one Saturday lunchtime, I looked in the store cupboard and found we had all the ingredients (the original recipe calls for bacon, I have omitted it). It’s super easy to make, I don’t know how you end up with a smokey barbecue flavour, but you do. They are delicious, nutritious and it makes LOADS. We had enough for beans on toast for about ten people. They properly fill you up – which is rare for me. Six hours after eating, I still wasn’t hungry.

My children don’t like baked beans, so I can’t tell you that children will love it as I don’t know – mine certainly ate more than shop bought beans, but only marginally so. My partner who is a life-long baked bean fan, said they were fantastic and gave me a round of applause.

This is what you need

1 onion, sliced

1 tablespoon of olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or crushed

500g small white beans, rinsed and picked over (I’m not sure what for, mine were all fine).

1 litre of water

125ml strong black coffee (I used a big tablespoon of instant espresso powder which I keep for making coffee cakes, dissolved in 125ml of hot water)

250ml passata

110g dark brown sugar (I’m sure you could alter this to use less but this is what the original calls for, I’m sure it still works out at having a lower sugar content than shop bought)

1 tablespoon of English mustard

1 tablespoon of black treacle

half a teaspoon of Tabasco sauce

1 and a half teaspoons of salt

2 tablespoons of white or cider vinegar (for the very end)

What you do

If you have a pressure/slow cooker which allows you to saute, put this function on, heat up the oil then add the onion and cook until soft – about five mins. If yours doesn’t have this function do this bit on the stove top in a frying pan/saucepan.

When soft, add the garlic and cook for a minute.

Now, either add the rest of the ingredients, minus the vinegar to the pot of your pressure/slow cooker, or now tip the onions/garlic into your pressure/slow cooker and then add the rest of the ingredients (minus the vinegar).

Select pressure cook 80kPa, natural steam release and cook for 35 mins (I like my beans really soft, you may prefer to do them for 30 mins) or select slow cooker mode for 10-12 hours on low.

When time is up, add the vinegar and you need to reduce the sauce right down until it’s syrupy – either in the pressure/slow cooker if you have a reduce function or decant into a large sauce pan and do it the traditional way. Mine took 20 mins.

 

 

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The very best tomato sauce for pasta.

In Italy, August is the month of  ‘i pomodori’. Where they make pasta sauce for the whole coming year. The tomatoes are boiled, ‘passati’ (literally ‘passed’ through a sieve), reboiled and bottled. There is a lovely video here which shows you.

Because it’s quite a job, it tends to be done with everyone pitching in. It’s very low-tech (or used to be). Because the raw materials are the sweetest tomatoes the salsa you get (or passata) is incredible.

I never hoped to reproduce that in the UK, but my mother makes a very keen contender in her kitchen, in central London. She has even made it in my kitchen. I have tried to replicate it, I have watched her do it. I have bought the exact same ingredients as her, but it’s never the same.

If I have frozen salsa, and I serve it up on some pasta at a later date, my children can tell, immediately, if it’s ‘Nonna’s salsa’ or mine. They say her secret ingredient is salt, and love. And it’s true I tend to under salt things. For this I didn’t and went large with the salt.

It was a secret shame of mine, that I couldn’t make salsa as good as hers or any of my Italian relatives. Not because there is any shame in it really, but because, well, I cook a lot and you’d think this simple thing would not be beyond me. I tried cooking with plum peeled tinned tomatoes, chopped tomatoes,  fresh tomatoes, roasted tomatoes (this does work very well but is another layer of work), passata, all of the above and added tomato puree to it…but nothing came close. It all tasted too ‘new’ and didn’t have that complex taste, it always had a ridge of acidity, and none of the thickness of my family’s salsa.

“You needa to cooka it for a long time,” my Ma says – to take the acid out of the tomatoes. But whenever I tried I burnt it.

This year, I decided I really needed to step up. My mum and all the female relatives who hold the secret to good salsa are all…getting on.

So this is what I did. It’s so simple I am embarrassed I never tried it before and you will be disappointed there is no real secret recipe. Well there is. The secret is it’s really simple.

Warning, you really need a slow cooker and I think this goes some way to compensate for the fact that you are not using super red, sweet tomatoes from southern Italy. I have this one and it is a wonderful bit of kit which I use regularly and thoroughly recommend.

You take:

A jar of passata, I use Cirio’s Passata Rustica, 680g

One onion

A big pinch of sea salt

A clove or two of garlic if you like, chopped

Some very good olive oil (the better the better) – don’t skimp, this gives the sauce flavour

That’s it. Don’t add water or anything else. You finely chop the onion and fry it in the olive oil. I do this in my slow cooker as it has a saute function. When soft, you add the garlic if using and cook for a minute or so. It is at this point I add the salt but you can add it at any point, even at the very end, but give it a good stir through.

If you can’t saute in your slow cooker, and have been doing this on the stove top in a pan, you now add the onion, garlic and any remaining oil to your slow cooker. Then the passata.

Put down the lid and you cook it in the slow cooker, on low, for hours. At least six but 12 if you can. Then you take it out, cool it, use it all at once or store it in glass jars in the fridge (it keeps for a good few days) or freezer.

You can easily double/triple etc this recipe so you can make a batch up every few weeks and store it in the freezer so you are always good to go. And you will always have super-wonderful home made salsa for your pasta or pizza or whatever.

You can add herbs later but honestly, you just don’t need to. Yesterday I did as above, but cut up some sausages and stuck them in (lightly sauted first but you don’t need to) – you could also put meatballs in. I cooked it overnight for 12 hours and it was superb on pasta for lunch.

 

 

Leek and butter bean soup with crispy kale and bacon.

This is a lovely soup. What I also love about it is that you can leave the bacon off and it instantly becomes veggie/vegan. It’s stuffed full of probiotic-friendly leeks. It’s from the BBC Good Food magazine.

You need

4 tsp olive oil

500g leeks sliced

4 thyme sprigs, leaves picked

2 x 400g cans butter beans

500ml vegetable stock (or chicken if you like)

2 tsp wholegrain mustard

half a small packet of flat leaf parsley

3 rashers of streaky bacon

40g chopped kale, stems removed

25g hazelnuts, roughly chopped

You do

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large saucepan, add the leeks, thyme and seasoning and  cover and cook over a low heat for 15 mins until soft, adding a splash of water if need be – don’t let the leeks stick.

Add the butter beans with the liquid from the cans, the stock and mustard. Bring to the boil and simmer for 3-4 mins until hot. Blend with a stick blender in the pan (or put in a blender). Stir through parsley, check seasoning.

Put bacon in a large frying pan, medium heat. Cook until crispy, set aside to cool. Add the remaining 1 tsp oil to the pan and tip in the kale and hazelnuts. Cook for a few minutes, stirring under the kale is wilted and crisping at the edge and the nuts toasted. Cut the bacon into small pieces and stir into the kale/nuts.

Reheat the soup, adding a bit of water if too thick (or have both operations going on at once) and sprinkle the bacon/nuts/kale on top.

Apricot and cinnamon breakfast muffins.

Of course, you can eat these beyond breakfast time. I made them because I was told I am borderline anaemic the other day, and apricots are a good source of iron. Not as good as a rare-cooked steak served with green leafy veg and washed down with a Guinness and an orange juice, but possibly easier to carry in your bag. These are very filling, not particularly sweet and keep me going if I can’t be bothered to eat lunch. Well, until about 4pm. I love how chewy the top apricot goes.

This recipe is from the free little newspaper Waitrose provides each week.

It makes 12 and you need to allow a little time for soaking the apricots.

You need:

250g dried apricots, I prefer the organic variety here as they have less stuff on them, it does mean they are quite dark though and not all zesty bright.

1 large orange, juice and zest

275g self raising flour (I used some wholemeal too)

2tsp baking powder

2tsp cinnamon

75g porridge oats, plus a bit extra for sprinkling

150g caster sugar

285ml buttermilk or kefir milk if you make it

2 medium eggs

50g butter, melted

3 tablespoons of apricot preserve

You also need a muffin tin lined with muffin cases.

Method

Reserve 12 of the apricots. Roughly chop the rest and put them to soak in the orange juice and zest. I do this the night before, but 30 mins is fine.

Preheat the oven to 200C. Mix together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, oats and sugar. In a separate large bowl mix together the buttermilk, eggs and butter and add the soaked apricots sand orange zest/juice. Now add the dry ingredients and mix until must blended.

Divide amongst the paper cases – you’ll find the mixture is quite up to the top but don’t worry as it doesn’t rise much (despite the self raising flour AND baking powder). If you like use those fancy tulip-shaped muffin cases that look like someone artfully folded some baking paper, the ones that cost about £20 for ten (exaggeration).

Place a whole apricot atop each muffin and sprinkle with some porridge oats (this makes the muffins look good!). Cook in the oven for 18-20 mins. When still warm, mix the apricot jam with a tiny bit of boiling water and brush over the top for a lovely glaze. I wish I could tell you my children loved these. They didn’t. But my partner did!

 

Polenta ‘pizza’ with cherry tomatoes and some sort of cheesy topping.

This is not, of course, pizza. But it is delicious.

Polenta featured large in my father’s home cuisine – northern Italy. But it didn’t feature in my mum’s – southern Italy. And because my mum was the cook when we were growing up, I feel I can safely say we never had polenta. I would hear about it, but I could not get my head around what it was. Sometimes it was a powder, then it was solid, then like mash.

When I got older I tried making polenta and it was a disaster. Since then things have improved and it features in my home cuisine and I always find it comforting.

This recipe is from Delicious magazine. I like that the making of the polenta doesn’t involve loads of butter and parmesan – sometimes you want that, but not all the time. Of course you can vary the topping to have what you want on it. Because my children aren’t so keen on dolcelatte I bought some brie with truffles in it as a treat.

Anyway this is just delicious. It easily fed four of us and I had the left overs for lunch the next day (heat up for a few minutes in a dry frying pan, if you can cover it to catch the steam) and it was wonderful.

2 courgettes, sliced thinly (I used a potato peeler)

200g or so of cherry tomatoes, halve them

Olive oil for drizzling

600ml of milk

400 ml of chicken stock, either your own or made from a cube

250g instant polenta

50g cheddar, grated (or use some other cheese it’s okay)

80ml of passata

80g of dolcelatte or brie, thinly sliced

a handful of basil leaves to scatter

Method

Heat the oven to 200C. Spread the courgettes and tomatoes over a large baking tin, drizzle with the oil, season with salt and peper and roast for 10 minutes. This bit is important as you won’t be cooking the finished pizza for long enough to get the courgettes and tomatoes sufficiently roasted. When done set aside but leave the oven on.

Meanwhile, put the milk and stock in a large sauce pan and bring to the boil. Put the polenta in a jug and when the liquid boils, pour the polenta in a stream and stir continuously with a wooden spoon or large whisk. You want the mixture to thicken and bubble on the surface, like larva. Now turn down the heat and stir in the cheddar and season well.

Pour the polenta mixture onto a baking sheet (I find some baking parchment helps but is not essential), spread out thinly to a circular or rectangular shape. Spread the passata over – it will be very thin. Top with the roasted courgettes/tomatoes and the thin slices of cheese. Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden. Scatter basil leaves atop.

You can serve this with a salad but I like it on its own, with one fork, and my feet up on the sofa.

The Nutribullet

Ours is not a house short on gadgets. This is due to many things. We cook and bake a lot. My partner and I were fully formed adults when we joined households and we both cook and bake a lot, as I just said, and we had our own homes. So when we threw our lot in together, we discovered we now had four sieves, 12 pans that all did the same thing, 25 wooden spoons etc.

We have a juicer, a blender, a grinder (two actually), two ice cream machines, a food processor, a food mixer, a dehydrator, a stick blender with enough attachments to build a robot man…you get the idea. And we/I use all of them. Regularly.

So did I need a Nutribullet?

Strictly speaking no. There’s lots of talk about how it busts open the cells in your food. Sounds fabulous! But that’s what your teeth do and also, that’s what any good blender will do.

And make no mistake, the Nutribullet is a blender. That’s it.

But this is why it’s good and this is why I’ve used mine every day since I got it at Christmas.

The foot print is tiny (14cm) compared to that of any other blender that I know of. So it sits on the work surface and you’ll use it.

It’s unbelievably simple to clean. You just rinse the blade part under hot water and put it on the draining board and stick the cup part in the dishwasher if you have one, if not that is so easy to clean, too. If you do this immediately after you’ve made your smoothie you don’t need to do anything else. I have a toothbrush I use to clean any bits that get stuck under the blades, occasionally, but that’s it. No seals to take off like on my other blender (a 1000W machine).

And those really are the two reasons why it’s great. It’s easy to use and easy to clean. What more do you want? It comes with another blade – a grinder – which I use to make things like oat flour (just chuck in porridge oats or oatmeal). The Nutribullet comes in two versions, a 600W one, which is what I have, and a 900W one which costs 50% more.

You get two blades and various container ‘cups’  (the large one is the one I use most) in the smaller version, three blades and various other gizmos in the larger version. I’m sure you can decide which one, if either, is right for you. It costs about £100 for the 600W version, £150 for the other one.

I got mine (with my press discount of 20% which I’ve had for 20 years) from Lakeland which offers a life time guarantee on everything (or at least it used to but this now seems to have disappeared from its website so I’ve asked them to clarify) *.

I use it every day to make smoothies of varying degrees of “Gwyneth-ness” and my children have one every morning (God we are so GOOD). If you need some smoothie inspiration see my drop down menu on the right for ‘smoothies’.

*And Lakeland did:

“Thank you for getting in touch to ask about our guarantee.

We’ve recently changed the wording on our guarantee but it’s still the same Lakeland ethos.

Our guarantee states ‘We’re only happy when you’re happy’. So if you’re not delighted with your purchase or our service, please tell us so that we can put it right.

So, if at any time, you feel the product hasn’t given you value for money or develops a fault we’ll be happy to help.”

 

Zingy green smoothie: cucumber, spinach, apple, mint, lime, ginger

I know there are loads of debates about smoothies and how much sugar they contain. I agree that you should consume more vegetables than fruit. But, if you eat the whole fruit – either by actually eating it or blitzing it into a smoothie – then you get lots of fibre (both insoluble and soluble), vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. The rise in diabetes isn’t due to people eating too much fruit in its whole, natural form; it’s eating too much refined sugar in sugary drinks and too many refined carbs that busts your pancreas.

Anyway, this smoothie is really zingy and my partner loved it, but my youngest struggled with it – she prefers something that contains banana/berries at its base.

I always put a cube of frozen spinach into my smoothies. Okay, not always, but mostly.

Anyway, for this one you need, for four small glasses:

About 20g frozen spinach (or fresh of course)

Half a thumb size of ginger – be careful, if it’s fresh and good it’ll be quite powerful. I used half a thumb size and it was a bit too much for the children, adults loved it though

The juice of one lime

Half a bunch of mint, you know those bunches you get in the supermarket that cost about 85p (rip off)

Half a small cucumber, washed, not peeled and cut into chunks

One medjool date to bump up the sweetness and fibre a bit but you can leave this out

Apple juice. I get mine from our local farmer’s market, it’s really good but if you can’t get really good apple juice then blend in an apple (not the pips) and some water

Put all the ingredients in a blender/Nutribullet and taste it: because lime sizes vary and the recipe isn’t precise, you may need to add that date, or a bit more apple juice or water or cucumber. The ginger and mint are strong tastes, the cucumber calms it all down, the apple juice adds liquid and sweetness.

i think this would be really good if you had a cold. I can still feel the zingy effects over an hour later.