Festive recipes

Festive SusanI’m already seeing too many articles about how to deal with excessive consumption at Christmas. My advice is simple, writes Dr Susan Aldridge, HS guest blogger and freelance writer and editor based in London, with an interest in medicine, health, science and food/nutrition.

Use the season as an opportunity to give your food a festive touch by including a touch more spice. In this blog, I’m focusing on ginger and cinnamon, both of which contain some interesting phytochemicals which are good for your health.
Ginger contains potent anti-inflammatory compounds known as gingerols. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that I include ginger in every juice I make. You can also make it into a tea, by merely pouring boiling water onto a few thin slices of peeled root ginger. Add a pinch of turmeric and/or squeeze of lemon if you like, to make a healthy hot drink.

Cinnamon

Cinnamon is the inner bark of the tree of the same name. The bark is either used direct, in stick form, or ground to make a powder. The characteristic festive odour of cinnamon comes from the compound cinnamaldehyde, which is thought to be responsible for its glucose-lowering properties (below). It also has anti-bacterial properties, which is why cinnamon oil/candles are good to burn in the winter months – they might help you ward off colds and flu. Like ginger, cinnamon is also rich in antioxidant, anti-inflammatory phytochemicals. A sprinkle of cinnamon goes well with a healthy breakfast of Greek yoghurt and blueberries.

Studies suggest that an intake of up to two tbsp. per day of cinnamon may help reduce blood glucose and increase insulin sensitivity, which could help prevent Type 2 diabetes.

Ginger and berry smoothie

I made a discovery here – frozen mixed berries contain redcurrants and blackcurrants which are hard to source at the greengrocers. They work better in a smoothie than a juice, so this has to be made in two stages – extract the ginger into a juice which is then added to the smoothie.

Two servings
1kg bag of frozen berries
Pomegranate juice
Large piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
Defrost the berries. Take a handful and juice with the ginger. Then make a smoothie with this juice and the rest of the berries. Top up with pomegranate juice.

Festive soup

My mother used to make a delicious carrot and ginger soup. This is an extended version with more veg from the orange part of the spectrum and some pulses for added protein.

Four to five servings
Large piece of ginger, peeled and grated
Two tsps. ground cinnamon
Two onions, peeled and chopped
Four carrots, peeled and chopped
One red pepper, peeled and chopped
One yellow pepper, peeled and chopped
Two 400g tins of chopped tomatoes
100g soup mix pulses or red lentils
Rosemary and/or mixed herbs
Fry all the peeled vegetables with the ginger and cinnamon till softened. Add the tomatoes, pulses/lentils and herbs and simmer till pulses/lentils are soft. Top up with vegetable stock if the mix is too thick. You can serve this chunky or blend with a hand blender for a smoother soup.
Walnut turkey

When I cooked my first vegetarian Christmas dinner, friends joked about my ‘walnut turkey’. The recipe for my festive nut roast is slightly different every time and, this year, I’m returning to the walnut theme – not forgetting to add some cinnamon. Don’t wait for Christmas day – I’m rehearsing my walnut turkey this weekend!

Festive Susan
Serves four to six
1 tbsp coconut oil
1 onion, finely chopped
200g mixed mushrooms, finely chopped
100g spinach
1 400g tin chopped tomatoes
4 sprigs rosemary, finely chopped
1 tsp cinnamon
I tbsp. mixed herbs
100g walnuts, chopped
50g hazelnuts, chopped
100g crumbled Weetabix
3 large eggs, beaten
100g Pecorino cheese, grated
1 tsp Marmite
2 tbsp tomato puree

Fry the onion in the coconut oil till soft, then add the mushrooms and cook for another 10 minutes. Add the spinach and stir till wilted. Make a paste with the Marmite and tomato puree in a little boiling water and add this to the vegetable mixture, with the tin of tomatoes. Set aside to cool. Stir in the Weetabix crumbs, nuts, cheese, herbs and cinnamon. Add the beaten eggs.  Stir until well mixed and transfer to a loaf tin lined with greased foil. Bake for around an hour. I served this with onion gravy, Brussels sprouts and carrots in the rehearsal meal. On Christmas Day, I’ll make a tomato and cranberry sauce and add roast potatoes with rosemary to the vegetables.
Have a happy and healthy Christmas!
Next time
. P is for pomegranates

Experiments with coconut

CoconutI’m just back from the Oceania exhibition at the Royal Academy and was struck by how many of the 200 artefacts from the Pacific on display used coconut fibre as a material, writes Dr Susan Aldridge, our dedicated guest blogger and freelance writer and editor based in London, with an interest in medicine, health, science and food/nutrition, provides her advice and three scrumptious recipes.

The coconut, which is the seed of a tropical palm tree, might be the most complete plant on earth. Besides the fibre, it provides flesh, which can be processed into oil, flour and milk, and water which comes from the centre of the nut. Meanwhile, the blossom of the palm provides a sweetener in the form of coconut blossom nectar.

So, let’s celebrate the coconut palm with some healthy recipes that use no fewer than five of its edible products.

Coco green juice

As coconut water is rich in potassium and known for its hydration properties, this juice is a healthy post-exercise choice.

Serves one
Bag of kale (or other green leaves)
One pear, chopped
Half a cucumber, chopped
One inch root ginger, peeled and chopped
Coconut water
Pure pomegranate juice

Juice the kale, pear, cucumber and ginger. Top up with coconut water and a dash of pomegranate juice to boost the antioxidant content.

Pink coconut smoothie

Coconut milk is rich in iron and zinc and adds a creamy, luxurious touch to this smoothie

Serves one
Coconut milk/coconut and almond milk
Carton of raspberries, strawberries or a mixture of the two
One tbsp. peanut butter
One tsp. matcha
Two tsps. cacao (or cacao and cinnamon) powder
Place berries in a blender/Nutribullet. Add the matcha, peanut butter and cacao. Top up with the coconut milk and blend.

Coconut biscuits

Coconut flour is pure coconut, derived from the flesh of the nut. It is higher in fibre and protein, and lower in carbohydrate than whole wheat flour. Coconut blossom nectar is classed as low glycaemic index (a value of 35, compared with 68 for white sugar).
I thought I’d need more than one go at getting these right. Substituting coconut flour for wheat flour is one challenge (it absorbs more liquid). Using chia seeds instead of eggs (a common vegan substitute), coconut blossom nectar instead of sugar and replacing butter with coconut oil pushes this recipe into unknown territory with respect to texture and flavour – the main issue being what quantities to use. I researched, but this is an original recipe, I promise. The flavour comes from the addition of the cacao plus cinnamon powder.

Makes 10 biscuits
Two tbsp. coconut flour
One tbsp. chia seeds
Two tbsp. coconut oil
One tbsp. cacao and cinnamon powder
One tbsp. coconut blossom nectar
Around 240ml boiling water
Heat the oven to 180°C. Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl and add the coconut oil. Then add the boiling water and mix well. Leave for about 10 minutes to melt the coconut oil and let the chia seeds create a gel. Make cookies from balls of the resulting dough, and cook in the oven on a greased baking sheet for around 25 minutes.
Next month. Festive special!

Experiments without potatoes

root vegsYou can replace potatoes with other root vegetables that contain more vitamins and fibre, without sacrificing any of the comfort or taste element. The recipes below would work well at a Halloween/Bonfire supper or party if you’re planning late autumnal events. Also, I’ve been struck by the number of food delivery bikes in my area over the last few months. Look, I know we’re all busy, but I personally think we’d all be a lot healthier in the long term if we invested a bit of time in learning to cook from scratch, so we know what’s in our food.

Our guest blogger, Dr Susan Aldridge,  freelance writer and editor based in London, with an interest in medicine, health, science and food/nutrition, provides her advice and three scrumptious recipes.

Decided to rebel a bit against the food delivery people (we all know who they are…) and made my first two recipes slightly complicated (for me!) in that they involve stages and sauces.

Fish and mushroom pie with cauliflower mash
Serves four

One onion, finely chopped
One pint full cream milk
One cauliflower, sliced into florets
One 400g tin butter beans, drained
Three hard-boiled eggs, chopped
Two smoked haddock fillets
Two cod fillets
One pack prawns
300g mushrooms, sliced and fried in butter
One tbsp. fish sauce
Chopped parsley
35g butter
Two tbsp. flour
Grated cheese
Sliced tomatoes
One tbsp. mustard

Preheat oven to 200˚C. Heat the onion in the milk with black pepper and herb salt to season. Simmer for 10 minutes and set aside. Measure out about 50ml for the mash. Meanwhile, place the fish in a frying pan, add the rest of the milk, a knob of butter and simmer for a few minutes, turning the fish part way through, until fish is tender. Flake the fish on a plate and set aside.

Now make a sauce by melting the butter, stirring in the flour to make a paste, Then, add the milk from the fish and stir till thick and smooth. Add the fish sauce and the parsley.
Assemble the fish pie by mixing the flaked fish, hard-boiled eggs and mushrooms. Cover with the sauce. Leave to cool while you make the mash.

Boil the cauliflower till tender and mix with the butter beans, reserved milk and mustard. Use a hand masher to make a smooth mixture. Now add the mash to the cooled fish to make a layer, and top with sliced tomatoes and grated cheese. Bake for around 30 mins, till the top is browned. Serve with two green vegetables (we had tender stem broccoli and green beans).

Vegetarian/vegan shepherd’s pie with root veg mash

Turnips, swedes and carrots are all significantly lower in carbs than potatoes and parsnips contain somewhat less carb. So, the mixtures give you a mash that is lower carb and higher fibre than regular mash and also contributes to your fruit and veg intake, which potatoes do not.

Serves three to four
Two onions, chopped
100g lentils
Two 400g tins chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp. tomato puree
1 tbsp. mixed herbs
1 tbsp. cinnamon
Two carrots, chopped
One small turnip, chopped
One small swede, chopped
One parsnip, chopped
Flax seed or olive oil/butter/cream/milk

Make the lentil filling by frying the onions in coconut oil until soft, then add lentils. Heat through and add tomatoes, tomato puree, herbs and cinnamon. Cook until lentils are soft (around 20–30 mins) and, in the meantime prepare the mash.
Boil the root vegetables till tender. Then add oil (for vegan version) or butter/cream/milk (vegetarian version) to add smoothness. Add extra flavour by stirring in mustard and/or marmite.

Cool the lentil mixture for 15 minutes or so, to ensure the mash doesn’t sink into it. Then add a thick layer of the mash, finish with sliced tomatoes (vegan version) and/or grated cheese (vegetarian version). Bake in the oven for around 20 minutes, until the top is brown. Serve with something green (eg stir fried spring greens or cabbage and shredded leek).

Sweet potato and beetroot chips with rosemary and spicy dip
Serves two

Two sweet potatoes, scrubbed and cut into wedges
Two beetroot, sliced into chips
Olive oil
Rosemary, chopped
For the dip
Tub of quark (plain or flavoured – I used tomato and basil)
Tub of fresh chilli pesto

Heat the oven to 180˚C. Add the sweet potato chips to a bowl and toss with the rosemary and olive oil. Place on one half of a baking tray lined with foil in the oven. Meanwhile, toss the beetroot with rosemary and oil and place in the oven on the other half of the tray when the sweet potato has been cooking for around 15 minutes. Cook for a further 15 minutes till browned. Make the dip by mixing the quark and the pesto (multiple other combos are available of course – try cottage cheese, soy sauce and peanut butter, for instance).

Apologies for the length of the first two recipes. November’s recipes will be simpler!
Next month – experiments with coconut

Discovering chia seeds

Chia seedsChia seeds may be tiny, but they are packed with vital nutrients so if, like me, you hadn’t tried them previously, it’s well worth starting to include them in your diet. They come from the Salvia hispanica plant, which is native to Central and South America and a member of the mint family. It’s said that they were used in the ancient Mayan and Aztec civilisations as a source of energy (the word ‘chia’ means ‘strength’ in the Mayan language).

Our guest blogger, Dr Susan Aldridge,  freelance writer and editor based in London, with an interest in medicine, health, science and food/nutrition, provides her advice and three fabulous recipes right here:

The seeds are rich in fibre, omega-3 fatty acids and are a good source of plant protein. They taste a bit neutral, compared with other seeds, but they do have the interesting property of rapidly absorbing liquid to form a gel. This is the basis of ‘chia pudding’ (see recipe below) and also means you can use chia seeds as an egg substitute or thickening agent if you’re vegan.

There’s some (albeit rather limited) evidence that chia seeds might help you lose weight and, maybe, help prevent diabetes and heart disease. As ever, don’t rely on getting direct health benefits from chia seeds, but perhaps try including them in the ‘healthy balanced diet’ we always advocate to add variety and interest.

Autumn smoothie

I’ve been collecting blackberries from my local nature reserve and used them with chia seeds to create this beautiful pink-purple smoothie, with my usual cacao and matcha boosts.

Serves one
Around 300g blackberries
One tsp chia seeds, soaked for five mins in 3 tsp water
Almond milk, as required to make a thick, or thinner, drink
One tsp matcha
One tsp cacao powder
Blend all ingredients in a Nutribullet, or similar and drink immediately.

Carrot and chia salad

I’ve added chia seeds to my usual mix of sunflower, pumpkin and linseeds that I use for adding to salads.
Serves two
Four carrots, sliced into ribbons with a mandolin or spiralizer
Ten radishes, sliced
100g cherry tomatoes, halved
One tbsp. mixed pumpkin, sunflower, linseed and chia seeds
100g pomegranate seeds

Mix all the ingredients except the pomegranate seeds. Dress the salad with linseed oil, cider vinegar and lemon juice and top with the pomegranate seeds.

Chocolate ‘blancmange’

I saw the possibility of creating a very healthy chocolate pudding with chia seeds. No sugar, no dairy and with, hopefully, the texture of chocolate blancmange (anyone seem blancmange in recent years?) or mousse. There are many recipes online and lots of yummy pictures. I did some research and here’s my experiment. To be fair, the texture is a bit more tapioca (if you’re old enough to remember that pudding!) than blancmange/mousse, but I’m excited by my discovery of a cacao powder blended with cinnamon, which adds a luxurious depth of flavour to this dessert.

Serves four
400ml coconut milk (or almond/hazelnut/hemp milk, or a mixture)
60g chia seeds
2 tbsp cacao powder with cinnamon
1 tsp coconut palm sugar

Whisk all these ingredients together in a bowl and chill overnight. Serve topped with berries.

Next time: Experiments without potatoes

Experiments with low carb

raspberries low carbsWithout getting too heavily involved in the low carb, low sugar, low glycaemic index debate, I’d like to offer up just a few suggestions…My first thought was to look for lower carb versions of favourite pasta, rice and potato dishes. But I couldn’t face fish pie or shepherd’s pie with ‘alternative’ mash in this weather (I’ll be back with those in a couple of months) – so I’ve gone for a refreshing fruit smoothie instead. And when I say sugar, I generally mean a simple natural carbohydrate like fructose rather than added sugar, which is usually sucrose.

Our guest blogger, Dr Susan Aldridge,  freelance writer and editor based in London, with an interest in medicine, health, science and food/nutrition, provides her advice and three fabulous recipes right here:

Refreshing raspberry smoothie

All fruit contains some sugar but the amount varies quite dramatically. Check these amounts in grams per serving:
• Lime – 1.1
• Raspberries – 5
• Kiwi – 6
• Orange – 12
• Banana – 17
• Mango – 46

I’d usually make up a smoothie with hemp/almond/coconut milk, but the presence of the lime will make it go lumpy, so I used cactus water, which is lower in sugar than coconut water. I’ve added the matcha and cacao, as I do to all my smoothies for an extra healthy boost. The result has a refreshing sharpness that I think you’ll love!

Serves one
Four limes, juiced
Large carton of raspberries
Four kiwi fruit, peeled and halved
Cactus water
One tsp matcha powder
One tsp cacao power
Add all ingredients to your blender/Nutribullet, using the cactus water to make up the volume. Blend and drink immediately.

Protein pasta

You can find pasta made with a wide variety of grains, with lentil and spelt pasta being the most readily available. The one with the highest protein/carb ratio I discovered was edamame fettucine.
For comparison, per 100g.
Wholewheat fusilli 30.2g carb 5.2g protein
Edamame fettucine 15g carb 44g protein

I made up my favourite sauce to serve with the pasta…substitute your own.
Serves two

Large carton cherry tomatoes, halved
One large red chilli, finely chopped
Two cloves garlic, crushed
400g tin tomatoes
One tbsp. tomato puree
One tsp. mixed herbs
Fresh basil
Grated pecorino cheese

Fry the garlic and chilli till soft in olive oil then add the other ingredients and simmer until thick. Cook the pasta as per instructions on the packet, drain and serve with the sauce. Finish with torn basil and grated pecorino. Makes a good pasta salad when cold, or reheat.

Summer vegetable risotto

Use quinoa instead of rice, and twice as many green veg as in a traditional risotto recipe.
Serves 3–4

600g broad beans/peas/tenderstem broccoli/asparagus
250g quinoa
Bunch spring onions, chopped
Carton cherry tomatoes, chopped
Fresh herbs
Grated pecorino cheese

Cook the green veg and quinoa. Mix together and add the spring onion and tomatoes. Finish with chopped herbs and grated pecorino cheese.
Next month. Discovering chia seeds