Category Archives: Healthy

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.

 

Lovely, nutty tasting (but with no nuts) poppy seed oatcakes

These are wonderfully nutty tasting, and you’ll be convinced there are nuts therein. But there are no nuts. They are very frangible, so don’t roll them too thin, and when cooked don’t be too rough with them. Lovely with some cheese, of course, but I also sometimes have them for breakfast with some almond butter and a smidge of apricot jam on top.

Being full of oats ‘n’ seeds, they are particularly good for you, too.

(Note: I’ve put these under gluten free, oats are naturally gluten free but some have gluten in due to the manufacturing process so look at the packet your oats come in.)

These are from Hugh F-W’s Light and Easy book.

150g medium oatmeal

150g porridge oats (not the jumbo variety, if you have those, give them a quick spin in a food processor)

One tablespoon of ground linseeds

One tablespoon of poppy seeds

One tablespoon of sunflower or pumpkin seeds, or half of each

half a teaspoon of salt

75ml of sunflower or other tasteless oil

You will also need 100-150ml of boiled water

Baking parchment

 

Oven to 180C.

Put all the ingredients, save for the oil and water, into a bowl. Make a well in the middle and now add the oil and mix the ingredients around. Add 100ml of just boiled water and mix to a sticky wet dough, if you need to, add up to 50ml more but try not to if possible. This will seem like an unpromising dough and won’t be like a smooth dough, such as you may be used to.

Now you need two sheets of baking parchment to roll the dough out. Not too thin. Cut into squares – just free form with a knife, you don’t need to be madly exact. Hugh recommends cutting the square in two so you get triangles and I like this shape, too.

Don’t be tempted to use a cookie cutter. But do ball up and re-roll any off cuts. I shaped the last one by hand, in a butter-patting style.

Put on baking parchment lined baking tray and cook for 20-25 mins until just coloured. These give out a lot of steam (cos of the water) so be careful when you open the oven. You don’t want them too cook too much and be too dark, but equally they do need to be cooked so if your oven is temperamental, check after 15 minutes. The surface should be dry – no bubbling bits of steam – but not too coloured. Mine took about 22 minutes in a quite fierce oven. You may need to cook in two batches, I did.

This makes about 20-24, depending, on course, on the size.

 

Making your own almond milk

Although we all eat everything in this house, we do also try to mix things up a bit. In smoothies, especially green ones, I stay away from dairy, but often want something a bit more luxurious than water.

Enter almond milk. You can buy almond milk, of course, and we do, but it tends to be full of stuff I don’t recognise and it contains just 2% almonds. So we make our own when possible and it’s really easy, nutritious and super tasty but not, I should add, cheaper than buying ready made. I like to use this in iced coffee (even though the base is dairy) to add a lovely nutty dimension to the finished drink.

Anyway, this is what you do:

Get 250g almonds, skin on and put them in a container that will fit in the fridge, cover with water and leave overnight. When you are ready to make the almond milk, drain the almonds, give them a rinse then put them in a powerful blender with 700-800ml of clean fresh water and blend up until all mushed up – it takes about 30 seconds.

Take out this sludge and place it on a muslin, in a sieve, over a bowl. Let it drain and then gather up the muslin and give the nuts a squeeze to get the most out. What comes out is almond milk (and you can use this method to make hazelnut, cashew etc milk too) – store it in a big jar/bottle in the fridge and it will keep for a few days (probably up to a week but I’ve never kept it that long). Stir it up before you use it and if you like, you can add a bit of vanilla extract to it for an extra bit of flavour.

The nut residue you have left in the muslin can be used in bread, biscuits, soup, smoothies, porridge or ice cream. If you don’t use it straight away put it in the fridge for a day or two or even freeze it to use later. Whatever you do don’t throw it away!