Friday, November 30, 2012

To Scotland with love

Today is a happy day. Firstly, it's Friday. Secondly, I have the day off work and most importantly I am flying to Scotland, with my folks, for the weekend. I have had several weekends in Scotland recently, and will be spending a lot more time up there in the not too distant future (all will be revealed...).

Scotland is a special place to me, it's in my blood. My beloved and sadly departed Grandpa was a Glaswegian, my mum was born in Campbeltown on the Kintyre Peninsula. Even though I have never lived there, it feels like home.

It is also home to some of my favourites; scones, my beloved porridge and of course "Fish Suppers".


Originally hailing from Scotland. One of my absolute favourite treats, fresh with jam and cream, I swear you can't beat it especially with a good cuppa. The word "scone" is derived from the Gaelic word "sgoon" and rhymed with "gone" not "bone". The original scone was thought to be round and flat, made with unleavened oats and baked on a griddle (or girdle, in Scotland) and cut into triangle-like quadrants for serving. Today, many would call the large round cake a bannock, and call the quadrants scones. It was when baking powder became available that they evolved into the oven-baked, risen scones that we know and love today.

Tattie (potato) Scones

Ever ordered a Scottish breakfast intrigued by what a tattie (potato) scone is? I have (albeit the meat and black pudding), at first glance I was disappointed, the flat pancake did not resemble any sort of scone I had seen before. However, after tasting I was not let down. Basically, a tattie scone is what we know as a potato cake and served with runny eggs is simpy delicious, beats toast hands down if you ask me.


If you know me, you will know I love my porridge (See my Porridge recipes).  Breakfast this weekend may be a difficult decision for me, tattie scones or porridge? Maybe, I'll push the boat out and have both.

Traditional Scottish porridge is made with oats, water and salt. Today, most of us people prefer sweetened porridge with the addition of milk and sugar, syrup or honey. I am actually having adulterated porridge as I write this, with seeds, raisins and honey.
In more ancient times, porridge may have been one of the worlds' first 'take-away' or fast-foods. Ancient Scots would cook up a huge pot of porridge, then let it cool and 'set', before cutting it into slices which they would put in a sack (or in their pockets) to be eaten later on that day, the original "breakfast bar".

Fish Supper

Fish and chips is often referred to a "fish supper" in Scotland. It always makes me think of my Grandpa, he used to love his fish suppers on a Friday and always with brown sauce.

You may believe that fish and chips hails from England. However, Dundee City Council claims that "in the 1870s, that glory of British gastronomy, the chip, was first sold by Belgian immigrant Edward De Gernier in the city’s Greenmarket."

In Scotland, fish supper is traditionally made with haddock, while in England it tends to be cod. In my recent trips to Scotland I have been impressed by the chippy choices; deep fried scallops, haggis, black pudding, calamari, etc... I know it's not exactly good for you, but every now and then can't hurt! However, deep fried Mars bars are another matter! An NHS study in 2004 revealed that an estimated 22 percent of all Scottish fish and chip shops offered deep-fried Mars bars. I am yet to find one, not that I want to eat one but I am intrigued. I also heard on the radio the other day that deep fried pizzas are starting to feature on chippy menus, yet to be seen also.
Apparently, sales of deep fried Mars bars peaked at between 50-200 bars sold per week in some restaurants, with a national average of 23, eek!

I haven't featured the dogs for a while, here is Coober cuddled up and watching the box with me on the sofa last night, oblivious to the fact he will be going to the kennels today...uh oh!

Coober and Reindeer pajamas

I may not be wearing my reindeer pajamas to Scotland but one thing I will definitely be wearing is my Grandpa's wedding ring. The ring is so big, that it is even too big for my thumb! I wear it at times as a pendant, it may sound corny but it feels as though Gramps is with me when I wear it.

Grandpa's Wedding Ring
C'mon then Gramps, we've got a plane to catch, let's go home.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Recipe - Chia Cornflour Biscuits (Gluten-free)

This is a recipe I threw together as a tribute to the Tarahumara "running" tribe (see earlier blogs), combining chia seeds, corn flour, gluten-free flour, Agave nectar and a squeeze of lime.

As far as I am aware this recipe is gluten-free. Cornflour is made from corn and considered to be gluten-free. However, during manufacturing cross contamination with wheat may occur. Therefore, if you suffer with Coeliac Disease (gluten intolerance) you may wish to buy a gluten-free brand.

Recipe - Chia Cornflour Biscuits (Gluten-free)

Ingredients (makes approximatey 16 small biscuits)

80 grams of cornflour
80 grams of gluten-free plain flour
50 grams of caster sugar
A big squeeze of lime juice
A tablespoon of Agave nectar
3 tablespoons of chia seeds
100 grams of softened butter
1 egg


Pre-heat oven to 180C.

In a mixing bowl add the caster sugar to the softened butter and mix together.

Add the egg and briefly beat the mixture together.

Stir in the chia seeds.

Add a squeeze of lime and a spoonful of Agave nectar (or alternative), mix in.

Gradually sift in the flour, stirring after each addition.

Mix well, use your hands to bring it all together but try not to overwork the dough.

Roll out the dough onto a floured surface.

.Roll out to approximately 1/2 cm thick (if that, keep them nice and thin) and cut into shapes of your choice.

Place on a lightly greased baking tray, pop in the middle of the oven for approximately 20-25 minutes until just golden and cooked through.

Remove and leave to cool. Enjoy.

I made two shapes and found the flatter, round biscuits were the best. When I make them again I will keep them really thin, flat and also add some lime zest.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Recipe - Pinole Power Porridge (Gluten-free)

Good morning all,

Here is the next instalment of the Tarahumara themed recipes (see Saturday's blog). One of the ways this extraordinary "running" tribe apparently eat their energy boosting food, pinole, is as a "porridge". This is my recipe for "Pinole Power Porridge". Pinole is basically cornmeal (ground corn), sugar and spices. This recipe does require added flavour as cornmeal can be rather bland without. See my suggestions for spices in the recipe; vanilla, orange and ginger would also work well. Cornmeal porridge is also known as grits, polenta or maizemeal.

As far as I am aware this recipe is gluten-free. Cornmeal is made from corn, therefore, it is considered to be gluten-free. However, it could be produced with machinery that manufactures wheat and contamination may occur. If you suffer with Coeliac Disease (gluten intolerance) you may wish to buy a gluten-free brand.

Recipe - Pinole Power Porridge (Gluten-free)

Ingredients (1 bowlful)

Approximately 50 grams of cornmeal (maizemeal)
Spices: 1/2 teaspoon of allspice, 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon of ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon of Agave nectar (or syrup, honey, maple syrup)
Small handful of sultanas (optional)
Optional topping: a glug of hazlenut milk, chopped pecans and sultanas


Put the corn meal in a medium sized saucepan, add approximately 200ml or water, stir and heat gently.

Add the spices, Agave nectar (or syrup) and the sultanas, stir in.

Heat gently on the hob for about 15 minutes, stirring regulary. Add water as required until desired consistency is achieved.

Once cooked, remove from the heat and transfer to a bowl and hey presto!

Add whatever toppings you desire.

Pinole Porridge
Yum! I will be adding this to my ever-expanding "Porridge" recipes.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Recipe - Baked Pinole (Gluten-free)

Following on the Tarahumara theme (see Saturday's blog) here is the recipe for another staple of their diet; pinole. Pinole is made from cornmeal (maizemeal), it is a source of carbohydrates and therefore energy. According to Christopher McDougall's "Born to Run" book it is a favourite food of the Tarahumara tribe who use it both pre-run and during to help them re-fuel.
Pinole proved to be quite elusive but after rooting around on the Internet I have managed to find some recipes and adapted them to create my own.

As far as I am aware this recipe is gluten-free. Cornmeal is made from corn, therefore, it is considered to be gluten-free. However, it could be produced with machinery used to manufacture wheat and contamination may occur. If you suffer with Coeliac Disease (gluten intolerance) you may wish to buy a gluten-free brand.

What is Pinole? A mixture of ground corn (cornmeal) also known as maize (maizemeal), sugar and spices.

How is it eaten? In a variety of forms including "porridge", baked as a type of biscuit or as a drink.

Recipe - Baked Pinole

Ingredients (approximately four slices)

1/2 cup of ground corn (maize) meal
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon of Agave nectar (or honey, maple syrup, golden syrup)


Pre-heat the oven to 180C.

Toast the cornmeal in a frying pan over a medium heat, until it is lightly browned then remove from the heat.

In a bowl, mix the toasted cornmeal, cinnamon and Agave nectar (or alternative). Add water until you get a kind of dough-like consistency.

Transfer the mixture to a greased baking tray.

Bake in the oven for approximately 20-25 minutes until golden brown.

The end product tasted nice but the texture was a little dry and crumbly. It needs some refinement, maybe the addition of a nut butter. I will persevere, more on this to follow.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Recipe - Chia Fresca Drink (Iskiate)

As promised in yesterdays blog, a recipe for Chia Fresca (Iskiate) the "sports drink" of the Tarahumara. A simple recipe using water for hydration, chia seeds for energy, protein and nutrients and sugar and lime for flavour. My recipe is adapted from those I found on the Internet, replacing sugar for Agave syrup. The syrup dissolves readily in water and has a lower glycaemic load than refined sugar. It is also a product of Mexico so seemed fitting. Drinking seeds may sound a little odd, but it really is very refreshing and feels good for you, I swear it gave me a boost! I would most definitely rather drink this than a manufactured energy or sports drink.

Recipe - Chia Fresca Drink (Iskiate)

Ingredients (1 serving)

250ml of cold, filtered or bottled water
The juice of half a lime
1 spoonful of Agave syrup or sweetener of choice (try starting with a teaspoonful and add more if needed)
1-2 heaped tablespoons of chia seeds


Add chia seeds to a glass of water and stir. Leave for at least 15 minutes, the seeds absorb water and form a gel which makes them easy and smooth to drink.

Stir well

Seeds beautiful seeds!
Add the lime juice and Agave syrup then stir well until the syrup dissolves.

Easy peasy lime squeezy!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Running Fuel - Secrets of the Tarahumara: Chia Seeds and Pinole

Thanks to this awful weather, flooding and consequential weekend home alone, I have decided to indulge by writing about the second love in my life, running (second only to food of course). During my "Chia Seeds" blog I mentioned the Tarahumara tribe briefly and the book "Born to Run" by Christopher McDougall. I thought I would share with you some "secrets" of the Tarahumara tribe and their amazing running ability.

Who are the Tarahumara?

The Tarahumara (a.k.a. Raramuri - "running people") are an elusive, reclusive tribe that inhabit Mexico's Copper Canyons. They are probably the greatest long distance runners on the planet. They have an ability to run 50 to 100 miles at a time with ease, speed and for pleasure and they do this well into old age. Legend has it that Francisco Almada, a Tarahumara champion, once ran 435 miles and others in the tribe have been known to run 300 miles at a go. Dr Dale Groom stated in the American Heart Journal, "Probably not since the days of the ancient Spartans has a people achieved such a high state of physical conditioning".

Not only are they incredible runners but it is not uncommon for them to live to over a hundred years without the disease and illnesses of our modern existence.

What makes them the greatest runners?

This is the all-important question, if only we knew the answer. We can, however, surmise based on information by the likes of Christopher McDougall author of the book "Born to Run", Caballo Blanco a running legend who lived among the tribe and Scott Jurek current running legend (and my hero) who joined them for the Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon. Two reasons of particular interest have been suggested:

Firstly, they do not "baby" their feet in expensive trainers. They run basically bare-foot in an extremely simple "sandal" with no cushioning and no support.

Secondly, diet, the staples of which (according to McDougall and others) are pinole and chia seeds.

Barefoot Running

"One surprising advantage the Tarahumara seem to have is their lack of technology. They essentially run barefoot and experience very little injury. Over the years running shoes have become more cushioned and more high-tech. Rather than improving our runs, these developments seem to have worsened them. The latest running shoe is causing the average runner more harm than good. The foot is desgined to run. Simplicity is key." Bill Rodgers, San Francisco Chronicle.

The best runners in the world, (the Tarahumara, Kenyans, Ethiopians) run barefoot, fact. Personally, I bought my first pair of Vibram FiveFingers about four months ago and have not put a pair of running trainers anywhere near my feet since. I am lucky to have never had a running related injury but had noticed that my knees were starting to ache especially going up and down inclines or stairs. Since running "barefoot" the aching has ceased, I have not had one injury, blister or pain. My running technique has changed and improved with very little heel strike, resulting in a lighter, easier, more natural style.

"The best runner leaves no tracks" (Tao Te Ching).

Diet & Nutrition

The Tarahumara diet is based on readily available foods. The staples of which are said to be "pinto beans, squash, chili peppers, wild greens, pinole and lots of chia".

Iskiate a.k.a. Chia Fresca

This refreshing "sports drink" popular with the Tarahumura is made with water, chia seeds, sugar and lime. As described in my "Chia Seeds" blog, these little seeds are nutritional gems packed full of omega fatty acids, protein, iron, calcium amongst other nutrients. Once dissolved in water they form a gel, making them incredibly easy to drink. The water provides essential hydration and sugar for energy.


A recipe for pinole has proved quite elusive. As I understand it, pinole is essentially ground corn (cornmeal) with sugar, spices and water. It can be consumed in different forms e.g. as a porridge, a drink or as a biscuit/cake. Corn (maize) is a cereal grain of which the Americas are the biggest producer. Corn is central to Mexican food and even a fungus of maize (huitlacoche) is considered a delicacy. Corn provides energy in the form of carbohydrates, it is low in fat and readily available to the Tarahumara.

And they like beer! Not your average lager though, their special brew "tesguino" is very lightly fermented, low in alcohol and high in nutrients. It is reported to be a corn beer that includes wild geranium which is said to be, "anti-everything; anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-bacterial and an anti-oxidant."

Recipes for Chia Fresca and Pinole to follow.

"When you run on the earth and with the earth, you can run forever." (Raramuri Proverb).

Friday, November 23, 2012

Stranded in Sodden Somerset

It felt strange to wake to silence this morning. I have grown accustomed to the pitter patter, or rather hammering, of the rain. My early morning runs have turned into "flood watch". Standing over the river today it felt quite humbling watching the water roaring beneath me.

French Weir, Taunton

  Apparently, more rain is forecast for this weekend.

River Tone, Taunton
I was due in London this weekend for lectures. However, trains to Paddington have been cancelled and I'm certainly not going to attempt to drive, that would just be stupid! Looks like I'll have the excitement of reading about phytonutrients and organic acids all on my lonesome...

I headed to my local health food shop this afternoon and stocked up (any excuse!), which included chia seeds and cornmeal, which I was impressed to find. Interesting recipes to follow this weekend.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Chia Seeds

I have mentioned chia seeds several times in my recipes, here is some information on these nutritious little seeds.

Chia Seeds

What Are They?

Deemed as a "superfood" these teeny, tiny seeds are grown from the Salvia hispanica plant, a flowering member of the mint family, native to central and southen Mexico and Guatemala.

Chia Seeds

Only approximately 1-2mm in length with grey or brown marbled colouring and smooth pebble-like surface. They have a mild, nutty taste.

The people of the ancient Aztec and Mayan empires reportedley revered chia seeds as vital nourishment.

The word "chia" is derived from the word "chian" meaning oily, which makes sense as they are a source of omega-3 fatty acids.

Chia seeds are now readily available in health food stores and online e.g.Healthy SuppliesWholeFoodsOnline.  Other products include, white chia seed and chia oil.

Nutritional Value

According to the Nutritional Science Research Insitute 100g of chia contains approximately:
  • Protein: 20.7g
  • Fat: 30g of which :
  • Saturated fat: 3.1g
  • Mono-unsaturated fat: 1.9g
  • Poly-unsaturated fat: 25g, of which Omega 3: 18.6g, Omega 6: 4.8g and Omega 9: 1.6g
  • Carbohydrate: 41.8g (of which 41.2g is fibre)
  • Calcium: 714mg
  • Iron: 16.4mg
  • Niacin (B3): 613mg
  • Thiamine (B1): 0.18mg
  • Riboflavin (B2): 0.04mg

Chia seeds are gluten-free.

Claims have been made that chia contains more omega-3 fatty acids than salmon, many anti-oxidants, minerals, it is a complete source of protein and contains more fibre than flax seed.

Christopher McDougall author of "Born to Run" is an advocate of the seeds. His best selling book is about the Tarahumara ultra-distance running tribe in Mexico who fuel their runs on chia seeds. He writes "if you had to pick just one desert-island food, you couldn't do much better than chia, at least if you were interested in building muscle, lowering cholesterol, and reducing your risk of heart disease".

How To Eat Chia Seeds

As you will see from my recipes (including Chia Seed Scones and Go Get 'Em Granola Bars) the seeds can make a great addition to baked goods, including bread.

Recipe Suggestions:
  • Add to savoury dishes such as couscous.
  • Sprinkle over salads.
  • Add to breakfast cereals and porridge.
  • Once soaked in water they form a gel that can be added to recipes e.g. jams, yoghurt and salad dressings.
  • Add to smoothies and drinks.
  • Add chia seeds to beaten eggs, soak for 10-15 minutes and use to make an omelette.
  • Make a thin batter using ground chia seeds and milk then bake to make thin crackers.
  • Add to bread and cake recipes.

With so many ways of using them and many reported health benefits, why not give them a go?

(Have I persuaded you P.B? You know who you are...)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Recipe - Go Get 'Em Granola Bars (Gluten-free)

This recipe makes delicious, chewy gluten-free granola bars, ideal for a pre or post exercise energy boost. Go get 'em!

Recipe - Go Get 'Em Granola Bars (Gluten-free)

Ingredients (makes approx 10 bars)

170 grams of jumbo gluten-free oats
170 grams of butter
1 dessertspoon of maple syrup
110g of light brown sugar
3 tablespoons of chia seeds
50 grams of mixed seeds (pumpkin, sunflower and linseed)
30 grams of dried blueberries
1 tablespoon of cinnamon


Pre-heat the oven to 150C.

Place the sugar, butter and maple syrup in a medium saucepan and heat gently until the butter has just melted.

Remove the saucepan from the heat. Add the oats, seeds, blueberries, chia seeds and cinnamon, mix well.

Press the mixture into a greased baking tin.

Pop into the oven and bake for approx 45 minutes until lightly golden.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool before attempting to cut it.

Yummy, enjoy!

Go Get 'Em Granola Bar

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Recipe - Festive Flapjack (Gluten-free)

Well the essay is going ok...the subject of which is beta-glucans which are really quite fascinating. They are phytonutrients occurring in cereal grains, baker's yeast, certain fungi, mushroom and bacteria. They are known as biological response modifiers because of their ability to activate the immune system. The consumption of beta-glucans is thought to have many health benefits e.g. lowering blood cholesterol,  regulating blood sugar levels, enhancing the immue system and more. One of the richest dietary sources of beta-glucans is thought to be oats, which leads me neatly onto today's oat inspired recipe "Festive Flapjack".

As I was making this recipe my Mum text (not knowing I was baking flapjacks today) to say she had just taken a batch of vanilla coconut flapjacks out of the oven, sound good don't they? Makes my recipe sound a bit dull in comparison, but then my Mum is the Queen of Flapjack.

Recipe - Festive Flapjack (Gluten-free)

Ingredients (makes approx. 8 big slices)

175g of oats (gluten-free) use jumbo oats if available
175g of butter (cut into chunks)
1 dessertspoon of maple syrup
110g of light brown sugar
75g of dried cranberries (soaked for an hour in hot water to re-hydrate)
1 tablespoon of allspice
1 tablespoon of cinnamon


Pre-heat the oven to 150C.

Place the sugar, butter and maple syrup in a medium saucepan and heat gently until the butter has melted.

Remove saucepan from the heat. Add the oats, cranberries and spices then mix well.

Press the mixture into a greased baking tin.

Pop into the oven and bake for approximately 40-45 minutes.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool before attempting to remove and cut. (Unlike moi, who not being able to resist its warm, unctuous-ness cut into it way too soon).

Festive Flapjack

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Recipe - Christmas Shortbread (Gluten-Free)

It is that time of the month again (I know what you're thinking, no not that time of the month). It's that weekend when I have to knuckle down and finish my latest essay for college. I have battled down the hatches and told people that I'm not available, with the exception of Sunday night when I get to venture out. Locked in the house for the weekend you know what I am going to do to distract myself from my studies...bake of course. The lovely person I am seeing tomorrow night is no doubt going to receive a tuppaware-ful of baked goodies.

Today, I made "Christmas Shortbread" so-named because the orange and allspice gives it a festive flavour.

Recipe - Christmas Shortbread (Gluten-free)

Ingredients (makes approx 12 biscuits)

125g of softened butter
50 grams of caster sugar
175g of plain gluten-free flour (Doves Gluten-Free Plain Flour)
Finely grated rind of a small orange
2 teaspoons of allspice


Pre-heat the oven to 180C.

Beat the butter and then add the sugar. Cream together until smooth (this will require some arm power).

Stir in sieved flour, allspice and orange zest gradually, mixing between each addition. Add a squeeze of juice from the orange if the dough is a bit dry. Dust hands with flour and gently knead until smooth (do not over- work).

If you have time, wrap the dough in cling film and place in the fridge for 20-30 minutes.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to approx 1/2cm thick and cut into shapes.

Place on a baking tray, pop it in the oven and bake for approximately 15-20 minutes until lightly golden.

Sprinkle with caster sugar is desired.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Christmas is a Coming

I was pootling along in my car today and was taken aback when I heard Chris Rea's "Driving Home for Christmas" on the radio. I almost turned the radio off in shock, surely it's too early for Christmas songs? However, within about 10 seconds I was merrily singing and bopping along. It is a good one isnt it? Quite possibly my favourite Christmas song. It's only five and a bit weeks away folks, can you believe it!? I haven't done anything yet, no pressies bought, no Christmas cake made, nada...Not that it's unusual for me, I dont normally start until we are at least into December. Don't get me wrong, I do love Christmas and with a little help from Mr Rea today, I'm starting to feel quite festive.

Dear Father Christmas, if you happen to be reading, here are a couple of ideas for you...

Beautiful, shiny, new KitchenAid, don't you love the colour?

Vitamix Blender

I have been a very, very good girl (honestly) and promise to make delicious recipes and share them with the world, if you would kindly bring me these lovely things.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Tea Glorious Tea

Tea is enjoyed by hundreds of millions of people across all continents on a daily basis and I am most certainly one of them. Apparently, Brits consume approximately 2.5 times more tea per capita than any other nation. I love tea, my favourite at the moment is Green Chai, and when at home I pretty much constantly have a mug of the hot stuff in my hands. I have over the years cut back on caffeine and drink only a couple of cups of caffeinated a day, then stick with decaf.  Otherwise, I think I would have a serious caffeine addiction. Saying that, it is now generally accepted that tea is hydrating despite the caffeine content.

Did you know? Real tea is derived from a particular plant, Camelia sinensis, and includes only four varieties; black, green, white and oolong. Others are infusions of different plants and not technically tea.

Tea drinking is not just about quenching thirst, it is a comforting ritual and important social interaction for many of us. How often do we hear the words "Put the kettle on" or  "Fancy a cuppa?". Tea is an important part of our culture and the act of drinking tea together is arguably as important, if not more so, than the tea itself. According to the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, "Just to enjoy tea together is enough. It is like a good news occasion, when we share our joy and happiness in being together."

Tea is not only good for the soul, but also has many reputed health benefits. Tea provides a dietary source of biologically active compounds that may help in the prevention of a wide variety of diseases. It is a source of antioxidants called flavonoids and contains many other beneficial compounds. A growing body of evidence suggests that moderate consumption of tea may protect against several forms of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, the formation of kidney stones, bacterial infections, and dental cavities.

Green tea has been widely used for centuries as a health tonic in many societies. There is some evidence supporting the use of green tea in cancer prevention. Small clinical studies have found that green tea may also be helpful in losing and managing weight, and lowering cholesterol. Epidemiological evidence also suggests that green tea may prevent stroke and cardiovascular disease. The American Academy of Family Physicians (2009) states "green tea seems to be a low-risk complementary therapy for a number of conditions, but more studies are needed". Green tea may also boost exercise endurance, research has suggested that antioxidants (catechins) in green tea extract increase the body's ability to burn fat as fuel, which accounts for improved muscle endurance. Evidence also suggests that it can improve bone mineral density and strength.

Tannins (compounds responsible for the brown colour) in tea are thought to bind with tissue proteins in the gut and form a coat over the gut mucosa which can decrease the effect of irritating stimuli and therefore decrease symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Reports suggest that black tea, raspberry and blackberry teas are thought to anti-diarrhoeal. Tannins have an astringent effect (think of that dry, puckering sensation in your mouth after having a cup of strong black tea or red wine), they are defensive compounds that can counteract bacteria and fungi. 

I could go on and on. There is a lot more evidence out there exalting the benefits of tea drinking so put the kettle on, I'm parched.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Recipe - Baba Ganoush

You may remember me mentioning baba ganoush last week, well tonight was my opportunity to have a go at making it, owing to a couple of aubergines that really needed eating up. I would like to say that I just threw this together, but I did read a couple of recipes before for some guidance.

What is baba ganoush?
Baba ganoush known as caviar d'aubergines is a Levantine dish with a houmous-like texture. It is often served as a dip, side or as part of a mezze board. The aubergines are best roasted over a flame to give them a wonderful smokey flavour then mashed and mixed with garlic, tahini, lemon juice and olive oil. It is basically houmous but subsituting chickpeas for aubergines.

A lot of people seem to be pretty nonplussed about aubergines. Personally I think this is a shame, they are a stunning vegetable (just look at that plumpness and beautiful, shiny almost black skin) and very versatile. They make a great ingredient in curries, griddled and added to salads, filled and baked, salted and fried...just to name a few uses and of course made into a delicious baba ganoush.

Recipe - Baba Ganoush

Ingredients (makes a small bowlful)

2 aubergines
1 large garlic clove
Juice of one small lemon
2 tablespoons of tahini
1-2 tablespoon of olive oil
Pomegranate seeds/juice (optional topping)


Chop and crush the garlic and put in a mixing bowl.

Rinse the aubergines then pierce with a fork and grill over the flame of a gas hob until the skin is charred and the flesh is soft. This will create a lovely, smokey flavour.

Once cooked, scrape the flesh from the blackened skins and add to the garlic and mash until smooth.

Add to the aubergine and garlic mix, the lemon juice and stir in the tahini paste and olive oil, mix well. (Depending on how soft the aubergine is you may need to give it a quick blast in a food processor).
It should have a similar consistency and texture to houmous.

Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Optional topping: pomegranate seeds.

Tip to easily de-seed a pomegranate:
Cut the pomegranate in half.
Hold the half in your hand, skin side up (fingers spread so the seeds can fall out) and, over a bowl, tap the skin with a wooden spoon.
The seeds and juice will drop into the bowl (if not then beat rather than tap!).

Baba ganoush with pomegranate seeds
Enjoy as part of a mezze or simply with some warm flat bread.
(Jane and Pete, this is for you, missing you xx)

Monday, November 12, 2012

Mindful Eating

"The present moment is the only moment that is real. Your most important task is to be here and now and enjoy the present moment" (Thich Nhat Hanh).

I would describe myself as pretty frazzled at the moment, which a few days ago manifested in a stinking cold that I have now shaken off but it was my first cold in years. I am going through some big changes in my life and it is proving to be quite a testing time. I have been trying to look after myself and find some sort of peace by practicing mindfulness, attempting to be present in the moment rather than doing what I usually do and fret about what is lurking around the corner or dwelling on the past. Easier said than done, but I'm trying.

I have been doing some reading on the subject and discovered the Buddhish monk Thich Nhat Hanh. I thought I would share with you some of his thoughts on mindful eating.

"Contemplating our food for a few seconds before eating and eating in mindfulness can bring us much happiness. The following contemplations are a way of reminding us where our food comes from and its purpose:

The Five Contemplations

The First Contemplation
Food is a gift of the whole universe; the earth, the sky, numerous living beings, and much hard, loving work.

The Second Contemplation
May we eat with mindfulness and gratitude so as to be worthy to receive this food.

The Third Contemplation
May we recognise and transform our unwholesome mental formations, especially our greed, and learn to eat in moderation.

The Fourth Contemplation
May we keep our compassion alive by eating in such a way that we reduce suffering of living beings, preserve our planet, and reverse the process of global warming.

The Fifth Contemplation
We accept this food in order to nurture our brotherhood and sisterhood, build our community, and nourish our ideal of serving all human beings."

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Review - The Sign of The Angel, Lacock

As a family we have certain restaurants that we go to on special occassions, "The Sign of the Angel" in Lacock, is one of them. It has shared with us many celebrations and, therefore, has become dear to us. This weekend was our Pete's birthday, a special occassion indeed and he had the pleasure of treating us to dinner (I know, there's something not right about that...!).

The Angel is situated in the beautiful, ancient village of Lacock, Wiltshire. The building dates back to the 15th century and is thought to have originally been built as an Inn. It is still used for this purpose today, providing guests with delicious home-cooked food and cosy bedrooms. The Angel kitchen uses home grown, local produce where possible and the restaurant is quintessentially English, full of charm and atmosphere.

In such a stunning setting the food has much to live up to and it does not disappoint.

One of our family favourites, and has been for many years, is the Starter of Stilton and Walnut Pate with Sage and Apple Jelly with toast. In consideration of the gluten and a horridly sore throat, I opted for the Whole Dressed Crab with Chilli Mayonnaise instead and it was delicious.

For Main I had Chesnut Mushroom and Saffron Risotto which was tasty, smooth and went down a treat with my sore throat.

I should also mention the fabulous bread rollls that are always waiting for you on the table when you arrive, warm and fresh from the oven. I only had half of one, which I partly owe to my sore throat but also my efforts to be gluten-free.

Again (see my blog from last Sunday) it was the puddings that broke me, and yet again it was the sticky toffee pudding. What can I say, it was a cold evening and between the choices of gluten-free ice cream, sorbet, lemon tart or a warm, gooey toffee pud, I just couldnt resist. I've got to say I'm glad I did though, it was just what it should be...warm, unctuous, gooey, but light and oh so scrummy (I think I'm going to have to have a go at making a gluten-free one soon). We did ask for the Creme Brulee (another family favourite) but we were told it was not on the menu at the moment but next time to call beforehand to request it and they will make sure they have some for us. Now that's good customer service!

I haven't felt so full in ages and topped off with red wine I felt well and truly indulged. Myself and Mum were lucky to be chaffeured home by Pete. Again, not quite right you may think, as it was his birthday. I did offer to drive, but my offer was declined. The thought of being crammed into my teeny Fiat was probably not the most appealing, maybe having a slightly naff, tiny, old car has its advantages after all.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Recipe - Polenta Pizza with Harissa Houmous (Gluten and Dairy-Free)

Here is the final instalment of the harissa recipes, there is only so much hot stuff a girl can take!

This recipe is for a gluten and dairy-free pizza, with polenta crust, harissa houmous base with a red onion and sundried tomato topping.

Polenta Pizza with Harissa Houmous and Sundried Tomatoes
Gluten-free, vegetarian and dairy-free

Ingredients (serves one, two mini pizzas)

2 round slices of ready-made polenta
2 tablespoons of houmous
2 teaspoons of harissa paste (see my recipe to make your own or buy ready-made)
A quarter of a small red onion finely sliced
Approximately 6 sundried tomatoes (from a jar in oil)


Pre-heat the oven to 200C.

Cut the ready-made polenta in round slices approx 1/2cm thick, I used a pint glass.

Finely slice the red onion.

If the sundried tomatoes are from a jar then place on some kitchen towel to absorb excess oil.

Heat a little oil (I used oil from the jar of tomatoes) in a griddle pan over a medium heat. Add the polenta and red onion. Cook the polenta for a couple of minutes, don't forget to flip it and cook both sides. Cook the red onion alongside until softened. Remove from the heat.

Spread a teaspoon of harissa onto each of the polenta rounds. Top with approximately one tablespoon of houmous. Place the sundried tomatoes on top along with the red onion.

Place the pizzas on a baking tray and pop in the oven, cook for approximately 10 minutes.

Polenta Pizzas - gluten and dairy-free

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Recipe - Halloumi Salad with Harissa Yoghurt Dip (Gluten-Free & Vegetarian)

I just can't get enough of the hot stuff. This recipe is for simple, griddled halloumi salad with a harissa and yoghurt dip.

Halloumi Salad with Harissa Yoghurt Dip
Gluten-free and Vegetarian

Ingredients (for one)

1 teaspoon of harissa paste
3 tablespoons of natural, plain yoghurt
1 slab of halloumi
A handful of baby spinach leaves (or lambs lettuce, watercress)
A few sliced Cos lettuce leaves
2 spring onions finely sliced
4-5 sundried tomatoes
1 wedge of fresh lemon


Prepare the salad. Thinly slice the spring onions lengthwise. Tear the sundried tomatoes in half. Slice the Cos lettuce leaves in half or quarters lengthwise and add the spinach leaves.

Add a teaspoon of harissa to a small serving dish of natural yoghurt (approx 2 tablespoons), mix in and finish with little dollop of harissa on top.

Pop the salad and harissa dip on to a plate.

Heat a little oil in a griddle pan over a medium heat. Season the halloumi and place in the pan, cook for  approximately 1-2 minutes on each side until golden.

Once cooked, cut the halloumi into quarters and add to the plate with a wedge of lemon.

Season to taste and drizzle a squeeze of lemon juice onto the halloumi.


Halloumi Salad with Harissa Yoghurt Dip

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Recipe - Gluten-Free Polenta Burger with Harissa Halloumi

As promised, a ravishing recipe using my harissa paste. This recipe is gluten-free. Polenta is used as the "bread" for the burger, served with griddled harissa halloumi and vegetables.

Polenta Burger with Griddled Harissa Halloumi and Vegetables

Ingredients (for one portion)

1 tablespoon harissa paste (see yesterday's recipe or bought version)
2 "slices" of ready-made polenta (the bap)
1 "slice" of halloumi
2 slices of aubergine
1 piece of red pepper
1-2 Cos lettuce leaves
Optional condiment for the burger: I spread a little houmous and harissa onto the polenta baps, another option could be mayonnaise and tomato paste.


If you are organised marinade the halloumi in a coating of harissa paste, pop in a freezer bag or other suitable container and leave in the fridge overnight. If not, just coat the halloumi with the harissa and use straight away.

Slice the ready-made polenta into two thin circles, this will make the bap for the burger. Make sure they are nice and thin, approx 1/2 cm. I used a pint glass to cut out the round shape.

Take the aubergine and cut horizontally producing two thin, round slices.

Cut a piece of red pepper about the size of the bap.

Heat a little olive oil in a griddle pan over a medium heat and cook the aubergine and pepper for 2-3 minutes on both sides. Allow them to cook well and blacken slightly. Once done, place to the side.

Add a little more oil to the griddle pan and add the polenta baps and halloumi, cook for 2-3 minutes on each side until the polenta is cooked through and a little crispy and the halloumi is cooked and golden in colour.

Remove from the heat and pop the vegetables back in the pan, just to heat them through.

Serve like an open burger with a leaf or two of Cos lettuce and garnish as you like. I spread a little houmous and harissa on to my baps and served with a salad.