Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Go Bananas

People often ask me “Don’t you ever just get sick of cooking”
My answer is always the same "nope!" If I’m particularly busy with work I can end up cooking around 10-12 different recipes in one day, when you take into account my own meals as well, but I never get tired or stressed with the cooking itself, maybe just with the cleaning up! In fact, I really miss it when I have less on my to do list, like today for example. Today is one of those rare days where I have small a break between the end of one project and the start of another. Instead of relishing the thought of a lazy day I found myself desperate for a project this morning. So on inspection of the fruit bowl and a quick glance in the fridge I decided to tackle a recipe for 'no refined sugar' banana bread.

I got introduced to Sukrin gold when my other half started doing the Body Coach 90 days shift, shape and sustain plan. The brown sugar alternative was used in a granola recipe included in the pack and I was really impressed with the results. It got me thinking about what else it could be used in, and I was keen to try it out in some baking recipes. I thought it would be ideal for a version of the highly popular banana bread. The over ripe bananas are deliciously sweet anyway so I thought it would be a perfect base to begin my exploration with. I’m using coconut oil instead of butter, adding some whey protein and flax seed in place of some of the flour and switching to wholemeal flour. All in all a pretty healthy bake!

I’ve been sticking to my healthy diet quite religiously of late and in the last couple of days I’ve been craving something sweet. I’m not someone who usually has a sweet tooth but who am I to argue with what my body clearly wants. Although I have to draw the line somewhere as if I listened to it too much I’d end up eating pizza for breakfast, lunch and dinner some days. I thought this recipe could kill two birds with one stone; satisfy my stomach and my cooking itch.

The best thing about this banana bread? Other than the taste of course, it actually gets better as it gets older, so makes a great breakfast or afternoon tea for a good few days after you’ve baked it. However this removes any excuses you might make just to eat it all in one go…bugger!! 

I’ve even worked out the macros for you too, so you can easily incorporate a slice or three into your daily food intake….I know - there’s no end to my kindness is there.

If you cut the loaf into 10 slices then each one (un-iced) contains:

19.4g Carbs 10.7g Fat 9.1g Protein 207 Calories

Protein Banana Bread with Lime & Yogurt Icing
Cuts into 10 slices

150g plain wholemeal flour
2 scoops banana whey protein
1 tbsp chai and flax seed mix
1 tsp each bicarbonate or soda and baking powder
½ tsp salt
90g coconut oil, melted
140g Sukrin gold brown sugar substitute (get it from Amazon, Tesco or Holland & Barrat)
3 large or 4 small really ripe (black) bananas – the riper the better here. I tend to store them in the freezer until I have enough black ones, and then defrost them for an hour before using them
80g full fat Fage Greek yogurt
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 medium eggs
90g full fat Fage Greek yogurt
Zest and juice from ½ lime
1 tbsp Sukrin gold brown sugar substitute
about 10 dried banana chips

1 Heat oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4. Line a 2lb loaf tin with a loaf tin liner or long strip of baking parchment. Put the flour, flax seed, salt, whey protein, baking powder, bicarb and sugar into a medium bowl.

2 Using a stick blender blitz half of the bananas, the eggs, vanilla and yogurt until smooth. Mash the other half of the bananas and add to the mix with the melted coconut oil. Whisk to combine. Tip into the dry ingredients and quickly fold together using a large metal spoon. Don’t over work the mixture, work quickly using as few folds as you can or the bread will become tough.

3 Pour into your lined tin and bake for 45-55 minutes, until golden brown and a skewer inserted comes out clean, cook for a further 5 mins if the skewer comes out sticky. Cool on a wire rack. Meanwhile beat the yogurt, lime juice, zest and sugar until combined. Once the cake is fully cooled spread over the topping then cut into slices to serve with extra yogurt and blueberries, if you like.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Skinny Pad Thai

Skinny Pad Thai

I feel I need to start by saying this recipe is by no means authentic. I probably shouldn’t even be calling it a Pad Thai but hey that’s the beauty of freedom of speech. It is a great, tasty way to pack a lot of vegetables and lean protein into your midweek meals.

In Asia Pad Thai is usually served from street-food vendors or at casual restaurants and has become a very popular British take-away.  You’ll often find it served with chicken or prawns but tofu is actually the traditional ingredient used to make Pad Thai in Thailand. The dish is a massive crowd pleaser – in fact I’ve yet to encounter anyone who isn’t a fan – I think it’s due to the balance of flavours. It feels fresh, slightly sweet with just a dash of spice. It can however, if done badly, be greasy and stodgy.

Here’s why I love my version; It’s really tasty, pretty quick, filling and you feel like you’re eating something a bit naughty, even though you’re not, it’s less than 350 kcals per portion and the portion is big, which I like! The prep is the longest part, once you have everything ready the dish can be cooked from start to finish in about 10-12 mins. You don’t have to use zero noodles, rice noodles would be much more authentic yet slightly less skinny, or you could use the ever trendy courgetti . I find zero noodles are a good method to trick my brain into thinking I’m eating carbs, when I’m not, in a way that courgetti doesn’t quite manage. I don’t have anything against carbs but I do find I become bloated if I eat too many so I tend to cut them out in the week and then enjoy them at the weekend. If using noodles choose medium rice noodles and soak them in boiling water for about 10 mins before you start cooking, then drain and use as directed below.

The trick for speedy cooking is to get everything ready before you start. So chop all your veggies and have them in bowls or piles on a plate or board. Get your sauce mixed and soak and drain your noodles. This way the cooking will be really simple and the veg will stay nice and fresh and wont overcook while you chop like a maniac.

Skinny Pad Thai
Serves 2
This makes a good next day lunch for work too so even if there’s only 1 of you eating I’d make the whole batch and pack any leftovers up in a  tuppawear. 

1 whole egg and 2 egg whites
1 lime
1 tsp tamarind paste
1 tbsp sweet chilli sauce
1 tbsp ketchup (KETCHUP??! Pad thai contains quite a lot of sugar, by using ketchup you can leave out the sugar and still get the sweetness along with some flavour as well)
1 tbsp Shaoxing Rice wine, Sake or Sherry 
2 tbsp light soy sauce (or if you have fish sauce already use 1 tbsp fish sauce and 1 soy sauce)
2 tsp coconut or olive oil
15g coriander leaves or chives
1 tbsp salted peanuts (optional)
1 large chicken breast or 250g tofu
200g raw peeled prawns
6 spring onions
200g beansprouts
3 baby Pak Choi
1 tbsp ginger and garlic puree
About 100ml chicken stock
Pouch zero noodles, drained and rinsed (Holland & Barrett, Morrison, Waitrose)
Fresh red chilli, to serve, optional

1 Mix together the sweet chilli sauce, ketchup, the juice from half of the lime, the tamarind paste and most of the soy sauce or fish sauce & rice wine leaving about 1/4 a tsp of each. Slice the spring onions finely on the diagonal, separating the white and the green parts. Roughly chop the coriander and peanuts. Roughly chop the stems of the pak choi leaving the leaves whole. Slice the chicken into bite size strips and drizzle with a little more soy sauce and some black pepper. Have the stock next to your pan, adding this while cooking stops the dish drying out without adding too much oil.

2 Beat the egg and egg whites with some black pepper and the reserved soy and rice wine . Brush a large non-stick frying pan with some of the oil, on a medium/high heat. Pour in the eggs and move the pan so they spread out in a thin, even layer, scatter on a few herbs. Cook for about 1 minute, until set, then tip out of the pan onto your chopping board and roll up like a pancake, then slice into strips. Set aside.

3 Use a high heat to keep the cooking quick. Wipe the pan out if you need to, if not add half the remaining oil along with half of the ginger & garlic pure, cook for 15 seconds while stirring then add chicken and a small spoon of your sauce. Fry until golden brown adding a splash of stock if you need to, then chuck in the prawns with a little more of your stock. Toss for 1-2 minutes until the prawns are firm and pink and the chicken is just cooked through. Tip into a bowl to set aside.

4 Add the last of your oil and ginger & garlic puree then tip in the white parts of the spring onions, beansprouts and cabbage with another splash of stock. Cook for 1-2 mins, until just wilted with a little crunch.

5 Add the noodles, most of the spring onions and the sauce you mixed earlier and toss so everything combined and is coated evenly. Using metal tongues will make this easier, Return the egg, prawns & chicken and mix well, add the pak choi then heat through then stir in most of the coriander and divide between bowls. Garnish with the chilli and nuts (if using) and the reserved green spring onions and herbs, with the other half of the lime cut into wedges for squeezing over. 

Approx. per serving: 344 kcals, 7.1g fat, 47g protein, 16g carbs

Friday, 8 January 2016

Holy Focaccia!

I like to think I’m pretty good at healthy eating. I don’t like to blow my own trumpet but it’s definitely one of my key skills. I think I’m just lucky that I happen to love most healthy foods. What’s more when I eat the foods my body needs I feel good, more energised and manage to maintain a weight I’m happy with. This makes the practice a whole lot easier and more rewarding. Plus I haven’t really got a sweet tooth so I never have cravings for desserts or chocolate, this helps me to keep a cap on the fat and calories I consume. There are however two main things that really trip me up.

1 Alcohol, well Prosecco to be precise.
2 Bread. (I consider pizza to fall under the bread umbrella, any fermented, flour based, baked goods)

Here my willpower really goes out the window. My other half says my face involuntarily lights up at just the sound of a cork being popped from a bottle. In my defence I just think I am a smiley person….

Real bread to me is a thing of pure beauty. It’s like edible art - just perfect. I could look at (stuff my face with) bread all day. Hence the obsession with good pizza. Neapolitan pizza, the proper stuff (that I make in my wood oven) the ‘cornicione’ or crust as we know it is about as good as any artisan bread you can find. It has a sweet, tangy flavour which is developed over the long, cold prove and a beautiful, pillowy texture created in the intense heat of the hot clay oven. Bread should never merely dissolve in your mouth upon biting. No, no, no! Good bread, like a good date, should make you work for it. There’s nothing fast about good bread. I consider myself a fussy addict, I mean it’s not like I’m wandering the streets swigging on warm Strongbow and eating Hovis straight out the bag. Hey, we all have our vices.

Having said all that, everyone has to start somewhere. I often make sourdough Focaccia, it is delicious, chewy and has a lovely firm, golden crust. The downside is it takes a lot of time… DAYS!! This recipe gives you a slightly different - but still very good- focaccia. It’s one the quickest breads I make so it’s a perfect weekend day project.

I’m using 3 x 7 inch round tins, as I am taking one for the team and showing you 3 different topping ideas. But you can make one big rectangle focaccia instead using a large baking tray or roasting tin, measuring about 40cm x 30cm. Serve with lots of Prosecco. Have a lovely weekend.


600g strong white bread flour
7g sachet of fast-action yeast
1 tsp honey
1 tsp sea salt
2 tbsp flavoured olive oil; I used homemade garlic and chilli, plus extra for greasing
360ml warm water
1 pack rosemary, the standard supermarket size, you’ll have some left but you want to choose all the nice sprigs.  Pull them off from the stem, each sprig should have about 3-4 needles in it.
A couple of garlic cloves peeled and thinly sliced. (This is about the only time I ever use ‘real’ garlic, apart from when I make my infused oils; I am willing to admit I used garlic puree, the stuff from the oriental supermarket. I hate preparing garlic, you can never get rid of the smell and I use my hands so much it lingers for ages.
3 tbsp olive oil
Sea salt
Black pepper
Chilli flakes, optional
2 tbsp olive oil
2 large brown or red onions
a few sprigs fresh thyme
1 tbsp sherry, cider or white wine vinegar
1 tbsp soft brown sugar
100g goats cheese

NB the third topping was supposed to be sun blush tomato & olive. When I looked in the cupboard I’d run out of both. I did however have chorizo, oregano and red chilli pesto. You can figure out the rest of the story.

About 100g chorizo or even better Italian salami, OR EVEN BETTER Nduja, cut into chunks.
3 tbsp red chilli pesto or red pesto
fresh oregano leaves

1 To make the dough, put the flour, yeast, honey, oil and salt the bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook. Weigh out the water, this will give you the correct amount, you need 360g of lukewarm water. Pour it on to the flour mixture. Start the mixer on a low speed and allow to knead for about 10 minutes, the dough will look quite smooth and will be soft.

2 Oil your hands and remove the dough from the hook and the sides of the bowl, shaping it into a ball by folding the dough back on itself. Oiled hands will make this easier and means you don’t need to add any extra flour. This is good as focaccia is quite a wet dough. Leave to rise in the mixing bowl, covered with oiled cling film (or use a clean shower cap, stolen from a hotel. It’s like I always tell the boy, they want you to take them, or they wouldn’t keep replacing them). It will take between 1-2 hours to double in size, depending on the conditions in the room.

3 Take your large baking tray or roasting tin, or small round tins. Give it a good old glug of oil, be generous, this is Focaccia, use good olive oil or flavoured oil if you want to. Add a generous pinch of sea salt too.

4 Turn the dough out on to your well-oiled tin, using oiled hands (no flour remember) knock it back with your knuckles. Press the dough into the tray using your finger tips to ease it to the edges, don’t worry too much about how it looks – it’s meant to be rustic and might not spread out all the way to the edges yet but will be easier to shape once it’s rested. Cover with oiled cling film and leave for 30 minutes. Use this time to prepare your chosen toppings.

5 Preheat the oven to 220C/200C fan/Gas 7. After 30 minutes, the focaccia should look a little puffed up and spongy. Use your index finger to poke dimples all over the dough right through to the bottom of the tray, this should help it reach the edges of the tin as well.

Poke a sprig of rosemary & a sliver of garlic into each alternate hole. Drizzle the focaccia with the olive oil, allowing it to seep into the dimply holes. Sprinkle with sea salt, black pepper and some chilli flakes, if you like. Cover with the cling film again and leave for 30 minute more. Remove the film before cooking.

Peel the onions, leaving the root in tact. Using a sharp knife or mandolin slice the onions as thinly as you can. Holding it by the root will make this easier. Heat the oil and a pinch of salt in a medium saucepan, add the onions and cook gently until really soft and pale golden, stirring often. This will take about 20 minutes. Add the brown sugar, vinegar and the garlic, turn up the heat and stir until caramelised. Add the leaves from the fresh thyme. Allow to cool a little then spread over the focaccia, crumbling on the goat’s cheese. To be fair I probably should have told you to do this bit earlier, or you’ll be pushed for time, so do this when the bread is having it’s initial rise. Cover with the cling film again and leave for 30 minutes more. Remove the film before cooking.

Scatter with the chunks of meat, pushing some into the holes and then spoons of the pesto. Season with salt and black pepper and push some oregano leaves into some of the other holes. Cover with the cling film again and leave for 30 minutes more. Remove the film before cooking.

6 To cook, bake in the centre of the oven. Mine took 25 minutes, check them after 20, then should be risen and deep golden brown. If you’re making a large one check after 25, it may take up to 35 mins, if it’s getting a bit dark cover It with foil. Once cooked brush or drizzle with more oil and sprinkle on some more sea salt. Cool on a wire rack then remove from the tin and cut into squares serve warm or at room temperature. For best results eat on the day you’ve made it. If you’re anything like me this will not be hard.