Tag Archives: food

An App For Your Appetite

I have lots of cookery books adorning my kitchen shelf. Actually, to be more accurate, I have lots of dusty ignored cookery books sitting neglected at the back of my kitchen shelf. They have an airing on occasion when I am feeling ambitious about following a recipe. This results in my cookery book being plastered with double cream, while I stress out realising I forgot to blanch my tomatoes, that I haven’t any fresh tarragon and then give up on the whole idea.

In fact, after purchasing a cookbook I flick through to see all of the lovely ideas, only to realise my ‘cupboard staples’ are looking a bit pathetic. And Mr Jamie Oliver, as much as I admire your cheeky chappie enthusiasm for cooking, I would like to talk about your 15 minute recipes, I haven’t manage to cook one within an hour yet!

Then there is the matter of pleasing your dinner guests. I am a sort-of vegetarian, I eat fish and wear leather (obviously other types of material too!) , one of my friends doesn’t eat carbs, another friend is gluten intolerant and most are often on some kind of fat-free, sugar-free, impossible to cater for kind of diet. So, if I am to embark on a dinner party my cook books do not tend to please my crowd.

So, it was with great pleasure that I discovered that a hugely talented chef friend of mine, Laura Pope, is launching an app for the iPad with lots of healthy, easy to follow and gluten-free recipes. No more trying to balance my cook book on the top of the bread bin while I lose my place, but instead I can upload a recipe from the app and take it grocery shopping with me.

The  app, Gluten Free Me, launched this month with a follow-up iPad app scheduled for December in order to satisfy the in-laws over the festive period. The recipes are simple to prepare and full of fresh flavours and nutritious ingredients. None of the recipes contain wheat, the only two with gluten use spelt instead of wheat, how many of you are now googling spelt, its OK I had to as well. Many of the sumptuous recipes are unbelievably dairy-free, sugar-free and therefore guilt free! The app is free to download and there are eight free recipes available, with four further albums of paid-for recipes.

As a taster, Laura kindly provided me with one of her yummy dinner ideas which has given me a reason to actually use the quinoa I purchased a month ago from Holland & Barrett for a recipe that I gave up on and it has since lived unloved in the back of my cupboard. I found this recipe really easy to do and honestly gorgeous to eat, resulting in my toddler type behaviour of ‘not sharing’ once it was finished.

So go download it, give it bash and as Mr Oliver would say its ‘pukka-tukka’!

Yum yum!

Yum yum!

Griddled summer vegetables with herby quinoa 
� Laura Pope 2013
A super-healthy accompaniment to your meal or a main course in itself. Go for lovely seasonal veggies and a LOT of herbs for your quinoa.
Quinoa is a fantastic food – a ‘super food’, in fact, containing all eight essential amino acids and loads of vitamins and minerals. Also, being a seed rather than a grain, it is a great source of protein and is naturally gluten-free. All the herbs make it super-delicious – the greener, the better! Cooking your veg in a dry griddle pan (no oil) gives a far better result and you don’t smoke out your kitchen in the process – by tossing them in the oil, vinegar and seasoning after they’ve cooked, they marinate and take on the flavours beautifully. Serves 6.
  • 2 red peppers, seeds and stalks removed, cut into eights
  • 2 courgettes, cut in half horizontally and then lengthways into 1cm (��) slices
  • 1 medium aubergine, cut horizontally into 1cm (��) slices
  • Good glug of extra virgin olive oil
  • Your favourite vinegar – I love fig balsamic or a nice sherry vinegar
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed (optional)
  • 200g (7 oz) quinoa
  • 100g (3� oz) rocket and soft green herbs (flat-leaf parsley, chervil, tarragon, basil, mint, coriander�)
  • I red, medium chilli (optional), deseeded and finely sliced
  • Glug of extra virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preparation Steps:
Cook the quinoa following the pack instructions, then drain and rinse under cold water. Drain again.
Chop the herbs and rocket roughly and mix through the cooled quinoa with the olive oil and chilli (if using) – season with salt and pepper.
In a large heat-proof bowl, mix together the oil and vinegar to get the right balance of acidity, add the garlic, if using, then season with salt and pepper.
Heat a griddle pan up really high – this can take 5 minutes – and then start to cook your veggies in batches until you get distinct griddle marks on each side. In my experience, the peppers take the longest. As each batch cooks, tip the veggies into the oil and vinegar and toss well.
Once all the veggies are cooked, leave them to marinade in the oil and vinegar for up to half an hour, then arrange on a platter with the quinoa to serve.

Make Mine A Veggie Burger Please

I’m a complicated vegetarian, in fact I wouldn’t officially call myself a vegetarian because I’ve never given up eating fish, only meat. So, you could call me a pescetarian though it doesn’t really have a nice ring to it, sounds more like I have a weird phobia. But I’m not really a pescetarian either as I went back to eating chicken when I was pregnant with the twins, although I ensure it is free range, organic, had a nice life and slaughtered in a humane way, preferably by having its beak stroked while it is put to sleep.

When I was 13, my parents took me and my then 16-year-old brother to a cottage holiday in Wales. It was a beautiful place with a natural waterfall at the end of the field which housed our little cottage. The field also contained a lot of sheep, a flock I suppose you could call it. We loved having them there, waking up to their bleating and as it was springtime, being able to fuss the little lambs as their weird eyed mothers looked on. It was all a big Disney film for me, however, I skipped out to see the lambs one morning to find the farmer backing up a huge lorry and assembling a ramp. He made some unintelligible noise at me as my Dad rushed out to bring me indoors, reassuring me that ‘the lambs were being moved to a different field or just being taken for a shearing’. But I knew what was happening, I finally understood that the reason Clarice didn’t eat lamb shank wasn’t because Hannibal Lector put her off it with his eating liver impression, but because of that noise the lambs make when they are taken away. I gave up meat that day.

Photographer Dirk Ingo Franke

Photographer Dirk Ingo Franke

Now 13-year-olds don’t do things by half, we like to make a point. If we are becoming vegetarians it means soya milk, plastic shoes and animal rights campaigning. No sooner had I unpacked my suitcase from the ‘sheep holiday’, I was then rallying my friends to paint a sheet against vivisection and joining a march on Trafalgar Square. I was trying to teach my friends the evils of McDonald’s and refusing to eat anything that had even been in contact with an animal. My Mum has been a vegetarian for over 40 years, she became a veggie in the early 70s when even Paul McCartney was eating bacon butties. As a child there were bowls of mung beans soaking in water in the kitchen way before the invention of Quorn. She was the original Veggie but never forced her views on us and used to ‘switch off’ as she prepared our meaty dinners. Following the Wales holiday, she was concerned about my sudden refusal to eat meat. She was very supportive but when I turned down her offers of lentil hotpot in exchange for my new diet of plain jacket potato she knew she had a battle on her hands to get me to eat properly.

Over the years I adopted a healthier approach to my vegetarianism, i.e. eating more vegetables and thanking the McCartney’s for Linda’s range of sausages and burgers and I did go back to fish. However, I have never returned to eating meat and especially not lamb. Now I am a Mother to 3 children and have a hugely carnivore husband. I decided to take the same approach as my Mum and allowed them to eat meat while I try to pass off my veggie food as meat to their enquiring eyes. However, what I am 100% adamant about is that I try my absolute best to only buy meat that is free range, organic and British. I do this to make sure the animal has had a certain standard of welfare before the big day comes to be carted off, but mainly to ensure the farming is at a certain standard so that the meat has less chance of containing god knows what (GKW). GKW can be animal antibiotics, bulking ingredients, a higher risk of BSE and most recently horse meat.

As the many shocked messages hit Facebook last week about the realisation that supermarket giant Tesco had sold ‘beef’ burgers containing horse meat, I can’t say I was that surprised. When buying a pack of burgers for £2 I find it hard to understand why people think they’re getting quality meat for that price. When me and hubby first co-habited we had a long debate in the meat aisle of Sainsbury’s about the price of free range chicken. I didn’t want to buy 4 chicken breasts for £3 as I knew we would buying a chicken from a battery farm that had been pumped full of GKW while alive and then pumped full of GKW pre-packaging. I tried to defend the reason that free range chicken is smaller and more expensive is because it is actually chicken and not part chicken, part pig skin and 70% water.

I don’t wish to get on my soapbox about eating meat as I know people will start pointing out that I’m wearing leather shoes, but I do wish to encourage more ethical farming. I don’t think its good enough for multi-billion pound companies like Tesco to pretend to be shocked that there is horse meat in their meat products and pointing the finger at everyone but themselves. You should get what you pay for. I think meat products such as burgers should be labelled honestly much like cigarettes; Warning: may contain horsemeat, pig skin and ground down bones. I bet more people would switch to free range meat then.

It has been said that the horse meat scandal will encourage more trips to the butchers and more home cooking. And as a sort of pescewotsit/vegetarian I actually welcome this. I personally buy organic mince to make my children’s burgers and I buy free range chicken to make my children’s nuggets. If we can encourage less processed rubbish meat and more wholesome meat-eating isn’t that beneficial for all involved, animals and people alike? I know the big argument is the cost but I find you can cook on a budget without budgeting on meat, embrace your blitz spirit, our parents and grandparents did it. I will finish with a quote from the Chief Executive of Iceland for whenever you’re thinking that cheap meat is OK. When asked why his company didn’t test for horsemeat in his beef products, even though they have started to now, he answered “I didn’t test for cat or dog either.” Quorn burger anyone?

Open Wide Here Comes The Train!

As a Mum of three I have lived through many peace talks with my children at the dinner table. Fussy eating is a common gripe amongst parents and unless you have Supernanny on speed dial, it is something you and your little ones have to solve together. My eldest son is now 8, he is a brilliant eater and will pretty much eat anything I put in front of him other than mashed potato and scrambled egg, I think it’s a consistency issue. However, he wasn’t always a willing eater and I am happy to say it does get easier in most cases. He was an enthusiastic student through the weaning stage, other than the wallpaper paste baby rice, he would happily allow me to spoon feed him fish, meat, vegetables and fruit in any shape or combination with lip smacking pleasure.

Just before his 2nd birthday he had been a bit poorly so was off his food, the doctor informed me that this was the age that they showed their independence about food, no longer enamoured by the high chair and the discovery of food I should expect a bit of fussy eating. I smiled smugly thinking ‘not this child Doc, he ate Coley last week in a cheese sauce with spinach, no fussy eater here my friend’. And as if my Doctor was some weird gypsy casting a curse, within a few days of that appointment my little boy turned into tight-lipped child when the spoon of food headed towards him. When I asked him what was wrong, he replied ‘not like it’. Oh dear. The next week was spent with me cooking dinners and modelling them into some sort of animal to entice my son’s interest. It didn’t work, so I set about liquidising his 5 a day into a pasta sauce to hide any incriminating vegetable but somehow he knew. My son could spot a green vegetable at 50 paces and wasn’t about to give in. Eventually, I returned to the clinic where ‘evil doctor’ had tempted fate to be met with ‘its normal for his age’ or ‘he might be teething, stick with soft foods he likes’. But I didn’t know what he liked anymore, apart from fairy cakes and dried apple rings which didn’t seem to cover his food groups, I was at a loose end.

But we persevered, I kept up my forest scene dinners, ate our dinner at the same time with lots of ‘Mmmmm’s’, determined not to be broken down. Shortly after his 3rd birthday in December, we found out that we were expecting our twins the following August. At the same time, we were also planning our wedding. We had a hell of a year ahead of us so it was time to get our boy eating enthusiastically again. I’m not really sure how it happened but it did, with a bit of persuavive pressure to help Mummy grow the babies, he found his love for food again. I’m not saying it was easy but my son starting school helped. I can clearly remember the day I let him have his first school dinner, it must have been the peer pressure in the canteen but he bounded out of his classroom telling me that he now liked ‘that meaty spaghetti’. I was almost moved to tears, he likes Spaghetti Bolognese again and with my little boy beaming up at me with his red stained mouth I knew I had turned that corner.

Now my eldest is 8 and the twins are 5, unfortunately mealtimes are not plain sailing again. My eldest has remained a food lover but the twins have more than compensated for his enthusiasm. My twin son has a love of all things saturated and I have to ‘breadcrumb’ any type of fish or chicken so he can dunk it in ketchup, whilst my daughter could break a Guinness world record for the longest time sat at a table storing food in her cheeks without chewing. We have covered the checklist of ‘shopping together, ‘baking together’, ‘teaching them about how lucky they are’, but most mealtimes are met with one of the twins uttering that sentence that sends shivers down most parents spines, ‘I don’t like it….’.

However, we had a breakthrough recently. Much like the appeal of McDonald’s and Pizza Express have of getting your children to eat with the whole bribery of toys and treats, I found that kids microwave meals go down a treat with my little ones. It could be my cooking obviously but hubby assures me that it’s not! But my kids love it when they have an individual microwave tray purpose made for them. It’s not a full-time solution as I am always keen to cook with fresh ingredients but as a once a week treat when you have gymnastics and football to squeeze in, it is a lifesaver to have a 3 minute cooking time to deal with. We have long been devout M&S kids microwave meal fans with their Mighty Meaty Pasta becoming a household name in our family. But there is a new microwave kids meal on the market that went down a storm in my house, the No Added Salt range due to hit Tescos this month. A group of Brentwood Mums who were struggling to find organic, free range and naturally healthy food that proved cost-effective and gratefully received by their children, decided to create a new product range of frozen microwave meals.

With this range of meals made by parents for parents, my 3 children were happy guinea pigs last week when we tried out their Spaghetti and Meatballs and Sausage and Mash. The portions were generous and there were plenty of hidden vegetables. My sons devoured their spaghetti and my daughter ate her sausages and mash in an impressive 1 hour 20 minutes, which is good for her. If you’re looking for a night off without your child missing out on a healthy dinner then I would recommend you pop a couple of these in your freezer as a standby. Give yourself a break from blanching tomatoes and customising a pie to look like a hedgehog.

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The Great British BBQ

We haven’t had the best summer so far, something I remember saying last year too. As a child I can remember my 6 weeks holidays mainly being warm, we always holidayed in this country and I have photographic evidence of me on the beach in a swimming costume. But in the recent years, the summer weather has been a bit pants, not exactly a meteorological term, but fitting I think.

And even though July and August have become quite rainy months, the price of holidays, weddings, etc during this time have not been reduced to make up for it. But we are learning to adapt to the rain, rain and constant rain. Having said that, it is a sunny day today and as I sit and write this blog, I also have one ear tuned to the radio for a weather update and I am remembering to keep an eye on the cloud coverage, as I have decided to chance the washing on the line.

I can remember how unprepared for rain I was at my first festival. We all travelled down to the V festival in Chelmsford, me and hubby were in the early stages of dating so practical hadn’t been on the agenda when I chose my outfit that morning. I opted for unpractical boots with short skirt and trendy top. I hadn’t bargained for the fact that it had rained the night before so everywhere was a mud pit, the chemical toilets were less than sanitary under foot and unless you had a picnic chair strapped to your back, the only seating available was a well trodden muddy field. I came to the conclusion my boots and outfit wouldn’t be the same again and embraced the mud and rubbish, it was only when it started raining mid afternoon that I realised that I hadn’t brought a raincoat but a denim jacket as it was a lot more fetching. Thankfully future hubby gave me his waterproof in a gentlemanly gesture and fashioned himself another with a plastic bin liner.

After we got too soaked to care anymore, helped along with a lot of warm beer, the first day of the festival drew to a close so we headed back to the car to get some sleep. We figured that the car would be more comfortable and warmer than a tent at that point. Luckily, hubby in Scout mode had brought an inflatable mattress, so we pushed the seats down in his battered up BMW and laid the mattress on top. I removed my boots, wrung my socks out and we crashed out in a beer induced coma. A few hours later we awoke to find ourselves sat forward where the mattress had leaked air through the night and slowly had delivered us into a seating position! With my outfit wrecked from the day before, we nipped back to our homes, showered, ate and changed into more suitable clothing to go back for the second day of even muddier surroundings for bands and beer.

My Dad turned 65 at the weekend and has also retired from work, which meant a double celebration was in order. With an 80% chance of rain we decided to have a BBQ anyway as that is what we do with summer celebrations. We prepared ourselves by erecting a gazebo, for rain coverage not sun.  I dressed the children in their party outfits and packed their rain coats and wellies, then we layered up to brave the garden setting on a fairly cold cloudy June day.

We all love a summer BBQ as it is a good way of getting everyone together to eat, drink and be merry. But there are aspects of the event that always make me chuckle. Any other dinner time, if I was to serve hubby up a paper plate with a heavily grilled sausage in a dry bun, he may think I had lost the plot but if we are out in the garden and the said sausage has been heavily grilled on a BBQ that is a different matter. However, BBQ food has evolved and on Saturday we went to a lot of preparation with side dishes of salad and rice and a Jamaican family friend arrived with curried goat so there was lots of variety. With a few vegetarians in the family, we have to run two BBQ’s in order to not transfer ‘meat juices’, so whoever is chef needs to have a good supply of utensils and know where to use them.

We made a vat of Pimms, bizarrely the only drink where it is completely normal to have a cucumber stick and strawberries in, which seemed an acceptable tipple for daytime consumption. The kids loved the fact I wasn’t pushing vegetables and my daughter could get away with consuming processed burger cheese in large supply.  The BBQ was a great day, the drink was flowing and even when a ‘fine rain’ arrived we all put on a jumper and huddled under the gazebo until it passed over. Unlike the Iceland adverts where their summer is permanent, I think perhaps the rain at a BBQ is what brings us together after all.