Saturday, 29 March 2014


When you buy olive oil you expect it to be well, olive. Not necessarily so.

I was talking to someone recently about "healthy" fats and cholesterol and the dreaded butter. They told me they had replaced the "dreadfully unhealthy butter" (full of natural fat) in their bakery with olive oil. This got me thinking. I'm pretty sure that the olive oil they replaced the butter with is pomace.

Pomace is what is left after the oil is extracted from olives. The sludge that remains after the olives are cold pressed is then treated with a solvent. This low grade extract is pomace oil or "olive oil". It would be considerably cheaper than both butter and EVOO (extra virgin olive oil).

I don't need to stress that pomace is low grade oil. In fact a lot of what's extracted is not suitable for human consumption unless it's blended with virgin olive oil. If it is solely pomace, it is only suitable for cleaning products.

The best quality olive oil "first cold pressed" and "extra virgin" has a strong flavour and is a greenish colour. It is also very viscous and goes cloudy at cold temperatures. It is a waste to cook with it as it denatures (burns) at high temperatures. It has a strong fruity flavour. It is not great in baking or in mayonnaise (in my opinion) due to it's very strong flavour.

When I managed a bakery we used EVOO. Our supplier approached me and told me he could get me a far cheaper "olive" oil that wasn't extra virgin. I did a bit of research and discovered that this far cheaper olive oil was in fact pomace. When I read up on it, I decided that I would rather switch oil than use it. We used a lot of EVOO on our focaccia at the time. We didn't change.

When you buy olive oil in the supermarket unless it says "extra-virgin" and "first cold pressed" the chances are it's pomace.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Fennel and Mushroom Ragout

This is a really tasty recipe which has no meat (perfect for meat free meals) so should probably not really be called a ragout. I made it a few months ago having looked up recipes and sort of half followed one I found. I forgot to bookmark it and when I went to look for it again, couldn't find it.

I have made it several times since and have changed it a bit from the first time.

Fennel and Mushroom Ragout

1 fennel bulb finely sliced
1 large red onion sliced
1 clove of garlic crushed
a few sprigs of fresh thyme (leaves only)
salt and pepper
1 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 pack of oyster mushrooms or other tasty varieties not just button
100ml chicken or vegetable stock
1 tablespoon of tomato purée
1 glass of red wine (including some for the cook)
half a 250g tub of Marscapone or crème fraiche

To serve I use DeCecco penne. It is worthwhile spending a bit extra on dried pasta as the cheaper brands go from uncooked to a mush incredibly quickly and are almost impossible to cook al dente (see here).

In a large deep pan sauté the onion, fennel, thyme and garlic for a few minutes in some rapeseed oil. Season. When they have begun to soften, add the mushrooms. After a couple of minutes add the chicken stock and the tomato purée and the red wine. Simmer until the liquid begins to reduce. Finally add the marscapone. I like the fennel to still have a bit of bite but cook for longer if you prefer it more well cooked.

Cook the penne in lots of boiling salty water until al dente. Drain and toss the sauce into the pasta. Serve with lots of finely chopped parsley and black pepper. Shavings of Parmesan are lovely with it also.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Beetroot Molasses and Walnut Bread

The problem with not being able to throw away food is that, by using up something in an experiment recipe, it very often doesn't work. Then you end up dumping a lot more than the first ingredient you were trying to save.

Happily, in this instance it didn't happen. I had three small beetroot for ages and decided that even though they had gone a bit soft I'd bake them. Then true to form I put them in the fridge and forgot about them.
I would normally put grated beetroot in chocolate brownies but as I am off sweet stuff I couldn't. So next best thing is use them in a bread. Using spelt flour gives it a low glycemic index.

Beetroot Molasses and Walnut Bread Recipe

2 large mugs (300g) of wholemeal spelt flour (or wholemeal wheat)
1 large mug (150g) of white spelt flour (or plain white)
1 large mug jumbo porridge oats (100g) optional
1 teaspoon of bread soda sieved
3 small beetroot cooked, skinned and grated (125g)
A good big handful of roughly broken walnuts (50g)
1 or 2 tablespoons of molasses (depending on how sweet you like it)
350 ml Buttermilk

Preheat oven to 200 deg fan.
Grease a large loaf tin

Mix the flours, oats and soda well. Add the beetroot, walnuts and make a well in centre. Start to mix in the buttermilk. Add the molasses. Sometimes I find it easier to mix the molasses in if I put it in a cup and add a small amount of boiling water and pour this into the bread mixture. Keep adding buttermilk until you have the consistency of porridge.

Transfer to your loaf tin, sprinkle with a few extra walnuts and bake for 30 minutes. Turn the bread out of the tin and bake at 180 deg until the base sounds hollow when tapped (approx another 15 minutes).

Cool on a wire rack.

It is delicious eaten buttered while still slightly warm.

This bread also goes really well with cheese.

Tip: I find boiling beetroot a palaver as they can take an age to tenderise, so what I do now is boil a few and grate and freeze the rest.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

A Bit of a Departure.

For the first time in my life I visited a nursing home. I left having made the decision that I never want to go into one and secondly I don't want my father in one.  This nursing home overlooking Bray Head and the Sugar Loaf is five star. A purpose built home. Modern, clean, tastefully decorated but yet strangely soulless.

The smell when you walked from the reception through the security doors was nausea inducing. A mixture of stale food and fish. Dad still managed to escape. Beats me how as I found it a pain pressing buttons and waiting for green lights to exit.

All the rooms had fabulous views of Bray Head or the Sugar Loaf. The day rooms were decorated in a lovely pallet of pale colours, yellows, baby blue, pale greens. But when you sat in one of the arm chairs looking out at a magnificent view or at a flat screen tv you realised the fabric was waterproof. There were no cushions to slump up against, no newspapers or magazines or old coffee cups lying about. In fact, the rooms were sterile.

The bedrooms were the same. No photos, no personal effects. Just clinical with bed, locker, wardrobe, flat screen tv and an ensuite.  The corridors long and hospital like. The inmates had big cheery names on their doors but that was the only cheer I could see.

An old lady wandered up and down and came into my dad's room. He said in a loud voice "what the hell is she doing coming in here?" I jumped up and asked her did she need help finding her room. I realised with a shock that the whole side of her face was black and blue and bruised. She was a tall, slim, fine looking lady. She told me crossly she knew where her room was but yet she was wandering aimlessly.

The staff are all Filipino. My dad couldn't understand a word they were saying. They smiled a lot at him but I thought in old age when slightly deaf you need to be able to understand those around you. My dad said to me "I just want to be around people who know me."

It took my son to wake me up. He said "you all need a slap. Your dad looked after you all your lives and now you do this to him."

Dad has dementia, caused by a series of minor strokes which damaged the part of his brain associated with memory. He has the memory span of a gold fish. He knows us all though thankfully. My mother is a frail 78 year old who is worn out from him. She has gone away for a week to get a rest and dad is only here while she is away. The ultimate aim was that when he was bad enough he would go into a nursing home full time. That was the plan. I don't intend it to be the plan anymore.

In fact I wanted to bring him here but in my heart I knew he'd be just as stressed in my house as it was not what he knew. Even if I took him out and stayed with him in his own house he'd be stressed that my mother wasn't there. It's very hard to know what to do for the best.

He's is difficult at the best of times but the constant questioning would wear you out. He never remembers the answers. But I hated seeing him frightened and vunerable. My dad was always so strong.

I have spent a lot of time thinking about this. The bottom line is we treat animals better. We put them out of their misery when their quality of life is compromised. But we preserve the lives of the elderly yet don't want to be bothered with the effort of looking after them.

I suppose the only time you bother to think about this is when it affects you. 

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Sweet Spicy Pepper Relish, Sage Butter and Kitchen Tips

I get slightly old vegetables and fruit from my local green grocer for my pigs. I'm delighted to get it and even though my pigs are very picky, I figure the rest can go into my compost heap. However, I am continually amazed at the quality of stuff thrown out, not least that it is not sold at a reduced price.

Last year I had thrown loads of red and yellow peppers on the compost heap (many with little more than a soft patch on them). I suddenly decided to see what I could make and came up with a recipe from Oldfarm that I modified slightly. So the peppers were gathered up, washed and roasted and turned into a delicious sweet spicy pepper relish. This relish is amazing with scrambled eggs in particular. And the longer it is kept the better the flavour.

Sweet Spicy Pepper Relish

About 6 mixed peppers
1 chilli with seeds in
1 clove garlic
Half inch piece of ginger
Good pinch of salt
100ml white wine vinegar (or cider is fine)
100ml water
50g sugar

Roast the peppers in a hot oven. When they are blackened remove and place in a plastic bag. Allow to cool. Pull off as much of the skin as you can manage. It doesn't matter if you can't get it all off. Put the skinned peppers into a blitzer and pulse them to roughly chop them but leave some pieces visible. Transfer into a saucepan. Put the chilli, garlic, ginger and salt into the blitzer and blitz until smooth. Add to the pan. Pour the vinegar, water and sugar in and bring the whole mix up to a gentle simmer. Simmer until it has reduced and thickened. Transfer into clean, sterilised jars. Allow to mature at least three months.

This week I discovered a big bag of sage with just a few brown leaves. Memories of pumpkin ravioli drizzled in sage butter in Tuscany came to mind. So I decided to make sage butter and freeze it.

Sage Butter

A good handful of sage (I had a huge bunch but you don't need this much)
Zest from a lemon and half the lemon juiced
1 clove garlic
Black pepper
125g butter

In a little blitzer chop the sage leaves finely. Add the garlic clove, the lemon zest, black pepper and cut the butter into cubes.

handy little blitzer

When it is somewhat mixed remove to a chopping board and finish mixing it with a fork.

Using the fork or your hands gather it up and roll it into a ball. I used my hands as the butter was still quite firm.

Give it a roll and put it in greaseproof paper and refrigerate until it hardens.

You can either keep it in the fridge and cut slices off it or freeze it sliced. 

Serve a slice on a pork chop or a steak.
Use to push under the skin of a roast chicken.
Toss it into pasta.
Use to finish off roasted summer vegetables.

I also discovered a load of limes in the pigs' veg. I use limes in Key lime pie and also in lentil dahl and usually when I want one, I have none. I am a great believer in freezing absolutely everything. When you live a 10k drive to the nearest supermarket you have to be. There is nothing worse than running out of a key ingredient, because then you have to get into the car and if you go into Aldi you end up coming home with a trifle bowl and ski gear. This happened me recently!

lime juice

I freeze lime juice, lemon juice, homemade pesto and coconut milk in ice cube trays. I would also freeze leftover wine but strangely I never seem to have any.....

coconut cream cubes and pesto cubes
Homemade stock is also very useful frozen in these cubes and handy when you just need a small amount of stock.

When they are frozen, turn the ice cube tray over and run for a few seconds under the hot tap. The cubes will pop out. Transfer them into a zip lock bag and put back in the freezer.

And remember if in doubt, try it. You will never know if you don't.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Meatless Meals

I sometimes find myself going through a meatless phase. I don't know why but very often when I make a meatless meal, (I don't say vegetarian as I almost always use a meat stock) I find I don't miss it at all.

Using lentils in particular make a meal seem almost meaty. Cheese will give a similar result.

I am doing lots of cookery demos at the moment for older people and some young and this was a huge hit.  

Spinach Leek and Ricotta Lasagne

1 large red onion sliced
3 leeks washed and finely sliced
1 clove of garlic crushed
1 pack of spinach washed
1 250g ricotta (use as much or as little as you like)

Tomato sauce
1 red onion diced
1 clove garlic crushed
Few sprigs fresh thyme (leaves only)
1 tin of chopped tomatoes or passata
Splash of red wine (optional)

Sheets of lasagne
1 or 2 fresh Mozarella balls
Fresh Parmesan grated

Make tomato sauce first by cooking onions and garlic until soft in a little oil. Season. Add thyme and tin of tomatoes and cook down until thickened slightly (about 20 mins).

While the tomato sauce is simmering, in a large frying pan saute the onions, leek and garlic for a few minutes until softened. Season. Add spinach and cook until it is just wilted. Drain off any excess liquid. Cool slightly and stir in ricotta cheese. If you want a lower calorie option you can use a reduced fat creme fraiche.

fabulous contrast in colours

Stir in the ricotta

Layer up tomato sauce, sheets of lasagne and the filling in an oven proof dish. Finish with a layer of tomato sauce and scatter torn pieces of the mozarella. Finish with some parmesan grated.

One for now, one for later

Place in oven at 180C fan for about 25 minutes or until the lasagne feels cooked when pricked with a knife.

Any extra is suitable for home freezing.

Delicious readily available ingredients (chard in place of spinach)

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Update on Slimming World

My weaponry
Three weeks in and I've shed 8lbs or 3.63kg. That's eight packs of butter to put it in context. Try picking up eight packets of butter and see what that's like.

Apart from the first few days it hasn't really been that difficult. I did notice I had very little energy at stages in the second week and think this was due to the reduction in carbohydrates. When I say carbs I mean bread at lunchtime particularly.

I had asked what SW's take on sourdough bread, but had to do a bit of research myself to get the answer. SW assume (probably rightly) that the vast majority of people eat white sliced pan (with added hydrogenated fat) or homemade brown bread with refined white flour, which they do. So I was advised as it was bread it should be "synned".

I did a bit of research myself and from what I can gather if you make your own sourdough using flours such as spelt, rye, kamut, the glycaemic index is as low as wholewheat pasta and so could be also considered a free food. Even using conventional wheat flour it still has a lower GI due to the presence of lactic acid.

Pasta is made from durum wheat, which is a less refined variety of wheat and has a higher protein and gluten content. Slimming World allows you to eat pasta as a "free food" because of it's higher glycaemic index. But, if you do a bit of digging into this you get very varying information. Basically what I can glean is that the less refined the pasta is the better. Also the thicker it is (penne as opposed to spaghetti) and the less it is cooked, al dente as the Italians eat it, is the way to go. I think using wholewheat pasta would be a better choice.

I also am not convinced that white rice should be "free". White rice is really, really refined. I have switched to using brown rice completely.

I have used nuts, almonds in particular when I was wavering and feeling particularly hungry. I saw a programme on Channel 4 (I think) that proved that although nuts contain a lot of (good) fats the method of calculating the calories may be inaccurate, so they contain 20% less than originally calculated at least. And also we are incapable of digesting and metabolising all of the fat. 

I have not trimmed every scrap of fat off my meat. Actually this would be impossible as my own pork is quite fatty. I am still using rape seed oil and pork lard for frying albeit a lot less than before. I am still making roast potatoes or oven chips using pork lard. I use butter sparingly as well.

The biggest thing I have given up is sugar. The only sugar I use is a good big teaspoon full of muscovado on my porridge. I still haven't managed to find out how many "syns" muscovado sugar has but I know it's less than refined sugar. I'm working on it.

For breakfast I measure out two tablespoons of organic porridge oats. I used to use four. I add blackberries picked and frozen last September. I add a half a dessertspoon of ground flax seed and a teaspoon of mixed seeds and muscovado sugar. Sometimes I slice a banana into it if I'm feeling hungry. I use a smaller amount of full fat organic milk. SW says the seeds, and any more than 175ml of the milk must be "synned". I don't bother. I figure I'd rather eat something good for me and lose weight slower.

Lunch, a bowl of homemade soup using my own stock (I don't "syn" this either) and a couple of boiled eggs.

Dinner, I find I'm eating more vegetarian as I can use lots of beans, lentils and even vegetables to fill up on.

In the evening, which was when I used to get longings for sugary stuff, I now eat a big bowl of fruit with a few dollops of Glenisk full fat organic Greek style yoghurt. I really don't buy this "syn-free" Mueller light with lots of sugar replacing the fat.

As I said before the bulk of SW's advise is sound. But the main reason I am doing it is for the discipline of having to weigh in. It sure puts manners on me at the weekend when I'm tempted to open a bottle of wine. I am still having a couple of glasses for a weekend treat. A couple is fine, it's when I finish the bottle that all willpower goes out the window and the fridge gets raided for cheese and crackers.

I also read here that alcohol is not as fattening as once claimed. I discovered accidentally before that a couple of glasses of red did nothing to hinder my weight loss. I thought it was just me but maybe not.

I just have to keep this routine up now and not give up as I have every time before going back to my old habits.

For optimum weight loss and for health benefits cut out sugar and all wheat flour even wholewheat completely would be my advise. Switch to spelt which has not been bred to become nothing but an empty refined carbohydrate source.