In praise of the properly cooked vegetable: cavolo nero pasta for one

bucatini-with-cavolo-nero

I have come to develop strong views on greens. On kales and cabbages (and kings), and green beans and asparagus, and even Brussels sprouts.

Greens! No one likes an overcooked green thing, resigned to a grey and mushy existence following overenthusiastic acquaintance with a pan of hard-boiling water. But I think the growing middle-class dread of serving up a disintegrating plate of veg is resulting in the opposite problem, with vegetables far too often being served undercooked.

A green bean, say, tender and with a hint of crunch as your teeth break through the snappy skin, is a fine thing, perfectly balancing crispness with a soft, yielding interior. All too often, though, cooking instructions suggest as little as two minutes of cooking, resulting in hot beans with a suggestion of softness at the edges, a resolutely crisp interior, and, most unforgivably, hard, cold, mean little seeds at the centre. At that rate, you may as well give in and just served them cool, sweet and raw, so they retain that milky, sappy freshness.

Kale, too, is so often served barely cooked or raw, when its frilly edges are still spiny and throat-catching. Savoy cabbage is rarely shown to the heat long enough to allow its pebbled texture to become nubbled silk. As with vegetables, so too with pasta. Overcooked pasta is an unappestising, floppy mess, often pooled with water so thick with starch it is almost gelatinous. But undercooked pasta is crunchy and chalky and no good for winding round the fork or mopping up the sauce. Balance is essential.

cavolo-nero-pasta

Which leads me to this: cavolo nero pasta for one, in which the leaves of this deep dark Italian kale are cooked down in wine and butter and oil until delicate and submissive. Intertwined with some good bucatini – you can use spaghetti if that’s what you have – it makes a satisfying, iron-rich supper for those nights when, say, your partner in dining is trooping around the great garrison towns of Yorkshire.

When I first made this, the whole thing was a bit bland and didn’t come together until I added lemon juice and zest in at the end – remembering Diana Henry’s advice “when there seems to be something missing, the answer is lemon.” Also, if you have bacon or lardons or pancetta to hand, fry a handful of the cubes or strips off for a few minutes in the melted butter and oil before adding the garlic.

I’m also sure this will sound like, look like, a lot of cavolo nero to start. And it is, enough to make this a hearty meal and give it plenty of body, because green things will happily cook down to nothing if you let them.

You’ll notice I said ‘good bucatini’. I’m no stranger to value packs of spaghetti from Lidl and would not turn my nose up at these ever, but given the relatively sparse ingredients in this dish, a good-quality pasta will make a difference to the final dish. Bucatini, incidentally, is like a slightly thicker spaghetti with a hollow running down the centre and is a little chewier and more resilient than spaghetti; I enjoy its robustness and it stands up well to the assertive kale. If your budget can stretch to it, I’d buy it here.

Cavolo nero with bucatini, for one

  • 90g bucatini or spaghetti
  • 300g pack of cavolo nero
  • 1 tablespoon butter, plus extra to serve (optional)
  • 1 TBS olive oil
  • 4 fat cloves of garlic, smashed and roughly chopped
  • Big pinch of chilli flakes
  • a good glug of white wine – 60ml, if you want to measure
  • The zest and juice of half a lemon
  • Lots and lots of Parmesan – I like mine very finely grated on a Microplane so that it resembles cheese dust
  1. Put a big pan of water for the pasta on the hob, bring to the boil, and salt it generously.
  2. Strip the leaves of the cavolo nero from the stalks. I do this just by pinching the base of the stem between my index finger and thumb and pulling down the length of the stalk – they come away just as efficiently as if you’d used one of those plasticky kale strippersplasticky kale strippers. If you have any smaller leaves attached to slimmer, softer stems, these can just be chopped up without stripping them. Remove any yellowy bits of the kale because these will do you no favours.
  3. Tear or roughly chop the large leaves into bite-sized pieces.
  4. Add your pasta to the pan of water and bring back to the boil. Set your timer for eight minutes.
  5. Heat the butter and oil together in a frying pan over a high heat. Add the garlic and fry until fragrant and just tinged with gold – up to thirty seconds, but as little as 10-15.
  6. Add the chilli flakes and stir them around the pan for a bit, maybe 20 seconds, until you can smell their spicy fragrance.
  7. Throw in the great pile of cavolo nero leaves and stir-fry in the pan for about two minutes. Add a pinch of salt here. Pour in the wine and let it bubble for thirty seconds. Turn the heat down to medium (or medium-low if things seem to be cooking fast) and continue to cook, pushing the leaves around the pan, until they wilt down. Throw in the odd splash of water if things are getting too dry and lower the hear once the cavolo nero is wilted down. Continue stirring.
  8. When the timer for the pasta goes off, give it a test. It might need two more minutes.
  9. Once ready, drain the pasta, not too thoroughly (you want a little of the clinging water). Stir the pasta through the cavolo nero in the frying pan and stir them around together for about thirty seconds to amalgamate. Remove the pan from the heat.
  10. Zest and juice the lemon into the pan. Stir around and taste. Add some salt and pepper if you like and taste again. If you want, zest in more of the lemon and squeeze in more juice and add more salt and pepper. And, also if you want, melt in another pat of butter so the pasta become slick and glossy and the leaves tender and rich.
  11. Pour the panful of pasta and vegetables into your bowl or plate of choice and dust with lots of Parmesan. Then grate over some more Parmesan, because you only live once.
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Cookbook Review: ‘Greedy Girl’s Diet’, by Nadia Sawalha

Maintaining a calorie deficit is no joke. Between July 2015 and June 2016 I was consuming no more than between 1200-1400 calories a day while attempting to shed (what became) 24kg of weight. There were, obviously, exceptions to this rule – though surprisingly, I didn’t surpass my calorie allowance on my birthday or Christmas – but the majority of my days were in significant deficit, all faithfully tracked on MyFitnessPal.

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There are people who will disagree, but eating this way is actually quite exhausting. It makes work of what should be instinctive, turns meals into maths, and I found it very difficult to cook from my extensive cookbook collection simply because the calorie counts weren’t there, and sometimes it was too tiring and daunting to run it through MyFitnessPal’s recipe calculator only to discover it was well beyond my daily limit: the after-work conundrum of what to cook was magnified. On the other hand, I did need to eat with a very prescribed calorie limit in order to lose the weight I wanted to lose. This problem led to me buying up a lot of healthy-eating orientated cookbooks, the kind which are actually aimed at dieters and so will print the nutritional values on the recipe pages as a matter of course. (It also led me to multiple clean eating cookbooks. Enough said on that phase). While in this phase, desperately seeking inspiration, I found ‘Greedy Girl’s Diet’ in a charity shop and, after a bit of anxious leafing, was drawn in by the promise of quick meals where the hard work of calorie counting had been done for me.

img_0005I’d heard of Nadia Sawalha, the author of the book, but mostly know her as a winner of Celebrity Masterchef, and didn’t realise she was an actress (having acted in EastEnders, that perennial soap classic) and broadcaster prior to this. Notwithstanding popular cliches to the contrary, the cover of the book (see above), and it’s title and subtitle, really do say everything about what it will offer: a slim, happy Sawalha beaming, dressed in a (reasonably slinky) Little Black Dress, propped on the kitchen counter, whisking up what looks to be cupcakes, and the promise that you can ‘eat yourself slim with gorgeous, guilt-free food’. So this book is really, definitely, absolutely, unequivocally, aimed at women, then.

The introduction confirms it – in ‘My Secret’ Sawalha covers her dieting history, basically a potted history of “starving, bingeing, starving, bingeing and then starving and bingeing all over again, to no avail” and following every touted ‘miracle solution’ to the problem of an imperfect body, which, she verifies, have not worked for her. My own weight loss history is different – I have gained significant amounts of weight twice in my life as follows: I enter a stressful period of my life, eat to comfort myself, and then one day wake up loathing myself. I couldn’t entirely relate, but I think aspects of this story will resonate for most women. It was only when Sawalha realised she should be nourishing, not punishing, her body, that her approach to eating began to change. She also writes in a separate section about her relationship with exercise, characterised by dread, laziness and fear, and how she realised that, in order to start exercising, she would have to…start exercising. When I was very overweight, walking into the gym full of toned, ab-flashing women who were so expert on the machines made me tense and trembley, so yes, I could relate to this!

Moving on from the confessional, sisterly tone – you will like it or not, but you don’t have to read it either way – and on to the recipes, there are three sections: Come on, Break that Fast, which covers both quick weekday breakfasts and recipes more suited to weekends; Let’s Do Lunch, meals I characterise as slightly lighter and quicker, and Delicious Dinner.

Personally I found timg_0008he breakfast section the least inspiring. There are some nice recipe in there – I liked the berry pancakes, wide-awake seed bars and buckwheat pancakes – but most of them were not to my taste (scrambled egg and smoked trout, egg and bacon tomato pots) or weren’t really recipes, but more ideas (avocado toast, boiled eggs and soldiers, almond butter crumpets – literally just toasted crumpets and almond butter, but the recipe takes up a full page!). However, when it comes to breakfast I am one of those people who is very tied to a routine of eating the same things on a daily basis, punctuated by the occasional weekend variation, so for me, personally, this wasn’t so much of an issue. If you’re struggling to break out of a cereal and toast rut, however, other books may be better.

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So delicious – and I think it looks so appetising, too

Things did look up when it came to lunch. There’s a decent range of soups, which is important to me in almost any book, not just diet ones, because soup is what I typically take to work with me on a daily basis. Some of the recipes worked very well and were flavourful and filling, as advertised; the leek and potato soup, however, was miserably thin and could only really serve four if the four you were serving are very young children with tiny appetites (in fact its watery texture and pallid colour made me think of gruel, the Victorian invalid/workhouse staple). It didn’t fuel me at all and reminded me of ‘traditional’ diet food (the kind that sends you straight to the biscuit tin). However, the hearty Italian soup and the Marvellous minestrone (superlatives are common throughout the book) were brightly flavoured and kept me going for hours, so I can forgive the vichyssoise blip. Other lunch ideas were more suitable for someone who is lucky enough to work from home, such as the Lamb and Hummus pitta (I cooked it on a weekend), but, that being said, it was one of those punchy, filling dishes so full of flavour and texture that it truly belied the idea of diet food. It uses only 100g lean lamb for a recipe serving four but it was truly enough.

 

img_0015As with the breakfast recipes, the salad recipes were not really up my street, although the two I did try- chicken and avocado and beetroot and potato – were good enough. My boyfriend particularly raved about the chicken and avocado salad, which contains bacon (I do not really like chicken but I did like the dressing and avocado). The nice thing about this diet book is that you’re totally allowed to be eating bacon, chorizo, potatoes and cream – just used very moderately.

Most of the lunch recipes can be pulled together fairly snappily; the more time-consuming ones are appropriately under the heading of ‘Family Sunday Lunch’, albeit a small family; the recipes largely serve four. Most of them, again, were solid and definitely suitable for sharing, although the vegetarian comfort pie, a dish of stewed celery topped with mashed potatoes without butter, did not tempt me. It sounded a surprisingly austere and traditional note of deprivation and seemed quite old-fashioned amidst the pork meatballs and za’atar chicken and chicken tagine, so appetising and very delicious.

img_0017The Delicious Dinner chapter similarly includes different themes, including of course family-orientated recipes (serving four), such as Sinless Spaghetti Bolognaise (the twist is the use of turkey mince and addition of mushrooms) and Creamy Chicken Curry in a Hurry, a somewhat old-fashioned and unchallenging curry recipe which Sawalha admits is not one she would serve to guests. Based on korma paste, I imagine it’s a dish even the pickiest of children would eat. There’s also a chicken shawarma recipe which surprised me with its inclusion of gum mastic in the ingredients: despite the rise and rise of Middle Eastern food in the UK, this is still not something you can buy in standard supermarkets. Slightly fancier recipes are included in the ‘Dinner Party Goddess’ sub-section, including my stand-out dish of the book, the Prawn and Chorizo Rice Pot, which stretches 70g of chorizo among four diners in a way which will leave everyone satisfied. This dish is quick, it is utterly delicious, it combines my favourite things of prawn and chorizo and it clocks in at 367 calories per serving: I have made it many times and my boyfriend loves it, too. Finally, there’s a sub-section on ‘Dinner for Two’, which is always helpful for me given that typically I am serving just two. This section included such pleasing dinners as Coconut, Prawn and Mangetout Curry (Sawalha’s healthier remake of a takeaway dish, apparently!) and Lemony Risotto. The portions were generous and satisfying – in fact, the Tandoori Chicken recipe resulted in more chicken than I could eat, though this might speak more to my slightly reluctant relationship with chicken than anything else.

On the whole this is a very ‘accessible’ cookbook, by which I mean virtually every ingredient, with maybe two exceptions throughout the entire book, could be bought in a bog-standard supermarket; many of the ingredients could be ‘sourced’ from a corner shop or petrol station outlet if that’s all you had. However, sometimes this impulse to make things approachable rather than authentic does go too far, as when Sawalha calls for tinned crabmeat for her chilli, crab and lemon spaghetti. In fairness she does suggest using fresh rather than tinned in the head note, and do follow her advice: the tinned variety was an absolute abomination. It tasted like the smell of cat food. I am really not ‘above’ tinned fish – I am rather fond of tinned salmon, especially eaten with cut up fresh tomatoes and chips, as served in my grandparents’ home – but tinned crab just does not taste very nice. It would have served the book better if Sawalha had just acknowledged that this recipe should be made with a fresh, slightly more expensive shellfish.

img_0014My main quibble with a number of the recipes is that, for all that this is a diet book, Sawalha actually uses much more oil than would actually be needed – I’ve cut the oil asked for by as much as a third in her recipes and did not feel that they suffered. I was also not hugely delighted by the reliance on artificial ‘light’ products (such as light butter, light cream) in some recipes, but this was admittedly limited and understandable, given the publication’s raison d’etre.

Is this a must-have cookbook? I’m not so sure. Has it produced a series of solid meals, some of them outright delicious, which enabled me to stick to a restricted calorie plan without feeling deprived? Yes, most definitely. All diets require some element of balancing out, and this cookbook would help with that even if you’re not quite calorie counting on a regular basis. The recipes are accessible and the ingredients easy to get hold of. It is not a groundbreaking tome, but it is, barring exceptions, a reliable source for weeknight dinners, some of them very delicous and some reasonably unremarkable but good enough to eat. Whether that’s enough to give it a place on your bookshelf depends entirely on your priorities.

A full round-up of every recipe I cooked from the book will be posted soon.

Itsu-inspired salmon and edamame rice bowl and matcha choux puffs

About once a month, a select (ha) group of culinarily adventurous friends and I meet up to cook and eat together. We rotate between each other’s homes and each evening has a theme. It is, in short, a supper club, or dinner party club, except that not every gathering is actually in the evening.

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Sun-dappled, a Middle Eastern feast

Our very first themed dinner was ‘Harvest Festival’ and, as you might expect, it was held in early autumn. Themes which have been particular favourites of mine have included ‘Middle Eastern Afternoon Tea’, particularly memorable because I served up muhammara according to Diana Henry‘s addictively good recipe from Crazy Water Pickled Lemons, and I read up a lot about Anglo-Indian food and heritage for our ‘Indian Summer’ themed lunch – anything which combines food and history is going to be all right by me. (In case the name seems odd, it was an homage to the Channel Four show ‘Indian Summers’, which dramatised the final years of British colonial rule in India.) In January this year I hosted a Burns Night themed evening in which anti-haggis prejudices were overcome by suspicious southerners, and even the vegetarian haggis was well-received. (I love haggis – if you love a big, spicy, crumbly meatball I urge you to try it when the weather cools down). A friend’s boyfriend gamely read Robert Burns’ ‘Address to a Haggis’ in a broad Scots dialect, a feat which was all the more impressive considering a) a Scottish amount of alcohol had been consumed and b) it was the first time he’d met us, and standing up in a room full of strangers to read a poem in Scots dialect sounds like the worst kind of trial. (Indeed, as a little girl I ran sobbing out of a room full of people at the Belgian and Luxembourg Association of Singapore‘s annual St Nicholas’ Day party when asked to read a poem in Dutch – i.e. my first language).

More recently we had a Japanese-themed lunch, although it was called ‘Cherry Blossom Festival’, and was a celebration of both the warmer weather as well as the elegant, simple yet satisfying flavours of Japanese cooking. My friend Tina served us miso soup and stickily sweet chicken yakitori in her tiny Covent Garden flat; the windows were thrown open wide to embrace the sun and warmth coming in. I brought a salmon and edamame rice salad which was inspired by one of my absolute favourite bought lunches from Itsu, a chain which specialises in light, healthy Asian takeaway meals: teriyaki salmon on a bed. In addition to salmon (obviously) and rice, this dish includes edamame beans, which you can buy in the frozen section of most supermarkets, usually labelled ‘soya beans’. I much prefer them to the more British broad bean because they do not require a second podding after cooking. The components of fish, rice and bright green beans are easy to bring together. Such is the popularity of Japanese food that the ingredients can be bought at any standard supermarket.

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Salmon rice bowl – we had already tucked in!

It’s 047my friend Juliet, however, who shines in preparing food which is delicate (never quite as twee as ‘dainty’) and beautifully presented. She loves Asian food and predictably stole the show with some beautiful matcha cream puffs. The matcha creme diplomat used to fill them was rich, but the addition of whipped cream made it one of those dangerous foodstuffs whose saturated fat content is belied by the absolute lightness on the tongue. The floral taste of the creme diplomat was a perfect match(a) for the delicate texture of the puffs. Juliet also had some extra matcha creme diplomat with her and I can attest that, in addition to cream puffs, it is utterly divine piped or spooned into raspberries cavities or squiggled onto frozen yoghurt.

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In addition to the crisp little choux buns, there’s extra textural interest provided by a layer of craquelin, which gives the tops of the buns a pleasing giraffe-like pattern. Craquelin is effectively a pressed Francophone crumble topping – a disc of flour, butter, and brown sugar – which somehow makes the whole thing sound a lot less like you need a Cordon Bleu qualification and more like something that can be achieved at home.

 

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Eat your superfoods: quinoa, beetroot, avocado and feta cheese salad

A splash of sunshine, a hit of colour: quinoa, beetroot, avocado and rocket salad
A splash of sunshine, a hit of colour: quinoa, beetroot, avocado and rocket salad

A number of weeks ago two things coincided. One, I developed a sudden desire for beetroot. This is a very odd craving indeed. Beetroot is strongly, almost overpoweringly earthy, and difficult to cook – I find it takes much longer than most recipes give to actually go tender, especially when the recipe requires you to wrap it in foil and bake. In the UK it’s often sold cooked and vacuum-packed, pickled in strong, malty vinegar: an acquired taste by any means. However, I decided to go with the flow and bought a packet on the way home from work.

The day after I bought the beetroot was, coincidentally, a working from home day (I’m lucky enough to have one a week), so, come lunchtime, I could contentedly potter around my kitchen and pull something together based on all the delicious things in my cupboards, fridge and fruit bowl. The result was this colourful, punchy salad, which combines lots of great things. Firstly, the base is quinoa, a slightly grassy seed (a renowned superfood, it is often mistakenly referred to as a grain) which offers a high protein content (in fact it is a complete protein, rare in plant-based foods), as well as a relatively high micronutrient content, packing in particularly high levels of folic acid. I also like the taste, which is ever-so-faintly bitter. I combined this with the beetroot I’d bought – they were small, tender, and only gently pickled, lending some heft and a slightly acidic tang to the mixture. The flavour was punched up with some spring onions and rocket which were knocking around the fridge, and a slosh of lemon juice: sharp, peppery, bright. The whole was brought together with the cool, creamy blandness of avocado – such a calm flavour – and the lactic savour of feta cheese. Well, I used light feta (the taste was indistinguishable from regular, if you ask me), but you should feel free to use the regular kind. Halloumi or soft goat’s cheese would also pair beautifully with the grains and beetroot.

Eating quinoa, despite it receiving many a clean-eating stamp of approval, is not without its controversies – the export of this staple Andean crop for superfood-hungry Americans and Europeans is sending the price skyrocketing, meaning that local people in countries like Bolivia and Peru, where the crop is traditionally grown, can no longer afford it. Obviously, there are serious tensions and difficulties surrounding the export (or restriction thereof!) of many foods around the world. I personally don’t eat quinoa very often so am as comfortable with my consumption levels as I can be; the issue is complex and the boom in the export of quinoa can help communities as well as damage them.

I find that quinoa is satisfying but doesn’t always leave me full for very long. Combining it with the high-fat avocado (I feel compelled to use the magic words ‘good fat’ here! Avocado fat is cholesterol free) keeps me fuller for longer, and obviously the rocket and beetroot help bulk the salad out. I like crumbling the feta cheese very small so that it is well-distributed across the salad and to stretch it out, so that each mouthful has some cheese, rather than the first few.

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Something I threw together: spiced red bean stew

This recipe is for a dish I threw together at the weekend. We’d had half a bag of red kidney beans sitting in the cupboard for about a hundred years, and I decided the time was right to use them up – for whatever reason I’m itching to clear out cupboards and declutter. I soaked them a few days before (I store the soaked beans in the fridge until ready to cook) and, using various bits in the cupboard and fridge, I threw together a richly spiced, juicy, tomato-tinged red bean stew. It wasn’t going to make it into the blog – since it really was just a spontaneous, on-the-fly meal – until my boyfriend suggested it.

Spontaneous bean stew - I'd already started eating when I took the photo
Spontaneous bean stew – I’d already started eating when I took the photo

“This is amazing!” he said (it is really good – hearty and flavourful). When I told him it was my own recipe, he insisted I blog it: “The baking challenge is fine, but you can find those recipes somewhere else. You can’t find this one anywhere, since it’s yours!” He added that he thought it might be useful for other people putting together a meal based on storecupboard staples. So, I hope it is.

You can serve this with all sorts of extras - pictured with flatbreads (not homemade) and cottage cheese
You can serve this with all sorts of extras – pictured with flatbreads (not homemade) and cottage cheese

This recipe draws on Tex-Mex flavours: the earthiness of cumin, and heat, sweetness and smokiness from two types of paprika and the fresh red pepper. One you have this template in your head to draw on, you could vary it in all kinds of ways: using different beans – black beans would be great if going down the Tex-Mex route – or adding more, or different, vegetables, are the most obvious. You could make it fiery with chilli and add ground meat. But you could also gently shift the recipe’s geographical focus with some other adjustments:

  • dial down the paprika, add grated fresh ginger, a teaspoon of turmeric and sprinkle with chopped fresh coriander at the end, and it would become an Indian-inspired, not-quite dhal, for example (if going down the Indian route you could substitute various lentils for the beans, as well. I’ve made a version of this using urad dhal).Serve with naan bread or steamed rice.
  • To make something more Italian-inspired, use cannellini or butter beans, add two chopped carrots and two chopped celery sticks to the onions, and omit the dried herbs. Chop through some fresh parsley or basil and stir through some lemon juice at the end and serve with parmesan.
  • If you feel inspired by the flavours of Morocco, use chickpeas and add one or two chopped carrots to the onions. If you have any preserved lemons, chop one up and add it to the pot, and stir through some lemon juice at the end. Serve with couscous.

The above suggestions might not be strictly authentic (hence my careful use of the word ‘inspired’), but using these flavour profiles will enable you to put together a dinner based on almost any dried or tinned pulses you may have.

I use a lot of spices in this recipe, because I definitely prefer strong flavours, and I think the starchy, substantial red beans can take a lot of flavour. If you’re baulking at the idea of throwing in spices by the tablespoon, by all means reduce the amounts.

Continue reading “Something I threw together: spiced red bean stew”

My week in breakfast

I thought it might be fun to write up my week in food – I love reading articles with that theme, as it satisfies that inherently curious/nosey part of me that’s interested in what people get up to, and it can provide mealtime inspiration as well. Instead of all my meals and snacks, however, I’ve put together my week in breakfast for the previous week.

I typically have a lighter breakfast (though not always), and this tendency has been exacerbated by my relatively recent weight loss regime, as I prefer a more substantive dinner. I have however experimented with having heavier and/or more protein-rich breakfasts as protein in the morning apparently keeps you fuller, and this has usually worked well for me. I do find that surprisingly small portions keep me going until mid afternoon for much longer than I’d expect if I add something like a tablespoon of almond butter to enrich them.

Monday

Bacon, eggs, toast - not a typical weekday meal
Bacon, eggs, toast – not a typical weekday meal

This isn’t a typical weekday breakfast for me, but we had a few rashers of leftover good-quality bacon in the fridge, and I occasionally have eggs in the morning as I’m trying to increase my protein intake, so I decided to put the bacon to good use. The slice of wholemeal bread is unbuttered and perfect for dipping into the egg yolk – I have the yolk as runny as humanly possible.

Tea!
Tea!

I have a mug of black tea with a teaspoon of honey every morning.

Tuesday

An egg, prosciutto, toast. Imagine the tea
An egg, prosciutto, toast. Imagine the tea

Similar to Monday’s breakfast, but with the last egg in the fridge…and this time making good use of some leftover prosciutto a friend brought us when she came round. (I have good friends).

Wednesday

A chocolate smoothie - spinach hidden
A chocolate smoothie – spinach hidden. And tea

Smoothies are all the rage, though I struggle to drink those kale, blueberry and maca powder concoctions so praised for their health benefits. Although this recipe does contain the usual suspects like spinach and coconut water, it’s cleverly disguised as a chocolate smoothie (using raw cacao powder, of course). The flavour is very good; it tastes rich, creamy and indulgent, despite not containing any dairy and, most shockingly to a smoothie sceptic like myself, it did actually keep me full until lunchtime, probably because of the addition of almond butter and chia seeds. The only sweetener in this is a banana – I let mine get very ripe indeed before using and this was sweet enough for me, but you could add a little maple syrup or honey to taste if you prefer it a little sweeter. I based this on a recipe found on Gym Bags and Glad Rags and have made it many times. My version below.

Spinach and coconut water chocolate smoothie

  • 1 banana
  • 20-30g baby leaf spinach (the more spinach you use, the less chocolatey it will taste and the muddier it will look. I prefer 20g)
  • 10g raw cacao powder (about 2 TBS if you can’t be bothered with the scales. I use the Bioglan brand of cacao powder)
  • 6g chia seeds (1 TBS)
  • 1 TBS smooth almond butter
  • 120ml unsweetened coconut water
  1. Put all of the ingredients together in your blender and mix until smooth.

Continue reading “My week in breakfast”

The Friday Rummage: a variation on salad – featuring prawns, bacon and avocado

Dinner on a Friday evening – the end of the working week – is, I think, the most difficult meal to put together. By the end of the week you’re tired, thinking longingly about the weekend and dismally about the mountain of work still on your desk to clear. The meal plans I put together on the Sunday have probably unravelled by Friday and I’m left with either leftovers from three weekday meals (about three mouthfuls each) in unlabelled food storage containers at the back of the fridge, or maybe a couple of carrots, a sad looking bag of spinach and half a butternut squash. Probably half a cake, whose temptations now seem all the greater. By the time I’m home my imagination usually fails me entirely and I struggle with deciding what to cook – despite an hour of empty travelling time on the Tube to figure it out.

A salad anyone could get behind, packed with prawns, avocado, bacon and asparagus
A salad anyone could get behind, packed with prawns, avocado, bacon and asparagus

So on Fridays there tends to be either a bit of a rummage through a fridge of slightly wilted produce, or a capitulation in the form of a run to the local fish and chip shop. As good as the fish and chips and lovely as the couple who run the place are, this is not an option for me given the ‘dietary recalibration’ I am currently putting myself through. Instead, there are experiments with salad.

Salad! I have never hitherto really considered a bowl of lettuce a proper meal…and I still don’t. A bit of soft butter lettuce, a handful of cherry tomatoes, maybe a scattering of chives or parsley…this is the stuff of a side plate. To be a real, proper meal – satisfying, filling and nutritious – you need different textures, and it needs to be loaded up with more than twelve varieties of rocket. If you’re having salad for a meal, lettuce and its varients aren’t constituted of a whole lot beyond water, and finding nutritional balance is even more important for me as I’m restricting my calorie intake temporarily, giving me fewer instances in which to find the nutrients my body requires. At the very least there should be a protein component to keep you going for a bit.

So, a salad perfect for the Friday evening rummage (though no less suitable for lunch). This one is quick and offers enough interest to suit both a dieter and a non-dieting partner or friend, if those are your circumstances. The most important thing is that, in terms of taste, this salad is utterly rewarding to eat: delicate, slightly bouncy prawns; crunchy, salty lardons; sweet asparagus; creamy avocado. It all comes together beautifully. In many ways the lettuce is just token.

Continue reading “The Friday Rummage: a variation on salad – featuring prawns, bacon and avocado”