Ella’s food solution for… Revamping your summer salad

A summer salsa salad
A summer salsa salad

This is a such a fresh and easy dish, perfect for this time of year. The softness of the egg and avocado goes with the crunch of the pepper, cucumber and spring onion to provide a great combination of textures. The stronger flavours from the beetroot and olives, work well with the hidden crisp, light base of lettuce leaves.

The brilliance of this meal came about unexpectedly when considering what I could use to introduce some moisture to the dish. I try to avoid processed sauces as they are generally laden with fat and sugar, instead I experimented with a dip I tried last week and made it into a salsa. This recipe is unbelievably simple:

6-8 cherry tomatoes,
3 spring onions,
1 chilli,
1 tbsp tarragon,
1tbsp olive oil,
the juice of 1 lemon,
a handful of pine nuts,
a handful of bulgar wheat.

First blend the tomatoes then add the rest of the ingredients except the bulgar wheat which you combine with the rest of the blended ingredients after soaking it in cold water for 10-15 mins and then top with the pine nuts to give a fabulously nutty taste and texture. I always like to finish off my salads with a sprinkling of black pepper.

Ella’s food solutions for… Revision munchies

Survival kit
Survival kit

Snacking can be a great way of helping us stay motivated, even through those long slogs in the library. The right snack can be hugely beneficial, enhancing focus and productivity, while preventing dips in blood sugar levels. I have chosen to share these 4 snacks in particular with the incentive of saving money, time and effort, while most importantly, enhancing brainpower.

Roasted chickpeas: drain and rinse a tin of chickpeas (which you can pick up for next to nothing) before putting them on a baking tray along with a small amount of olive oil and salt, then add whichever spices you choose. I included a red chilli and paprika. Put in the oven for half an hour. Done.

Fuller-for-longer falafel dip: again I have incorporated chickpeas in order to make shopping as easy as possible. Simply blend 1 tin of chickpeas, 1 garlic clove, 2 spring onions, the juice of 1 lemon and 4tbsp of extra virgin olive oil with a splash of water. I topped with a sprinkling of coriander and dill. Serve with seasonal crudités such as asparagus, as I have done here, or any of the good old classics: carrot, celery, cucumber.

Peanut butter banana: this delicious snack will provide you with a revitalising hit of sugar and fibre. Bananas are one of the very cheapest fruits and their high levels of potassium will keep you alert and on track.

Blueberries: although berries are often expensive, they are also often on offer. I wait until they are reduced then reap the benefits from this powerful superfood. Blueberries are known to enhance mood which is definitely something to consider when going through stressful times such as exams or deadlines.

Ella’s food solution for… Sugar-free summer food

Courgette cheesecake
Courgette cheesecake

This is something so different to what I’ve ever made before but it was a real hit! Sugar is addictive, the more you eat the more you want, but this cheesecake contains no sugar so will keep cravings at bay. It’s light, refreshing and zesty, a perfect welcome to the summer months ahead.

To create the cheesecake, you must grate 2 courgettes and then combine in a colander with half a teaspoon of salt and let sit for 15 minutes before pressing out as much moisture as you can. Meanwhile, combine 225g ricotta, 1/4 cup of grated parmesan, 1 chopped spring onion, 1 chopped garlic clove, 2 tablespoons of chopped dill and the zest of half a lemon, then stir in 1 large beaten egg and the courgettes. Pour this mixture into an already greased cake tin or medium sized baking dish and bake for 1 hour at 170 degrees. After this time, sprinkle 75g of crumbled feta over the top and return to the oven for another 25 minutes until the cheese has melted. 

The cake is best served at room temperature so I left it to cool completely and chose to serve it with a mixed salad. This makes it a great one to pack up for lunch the next day, wherever you may be…

Ella’s food solutions for… Living well

A whole day's nutrients
A whole day’s nutrients

Breakfast: Oats are a great way to start the day because they contain slow releasing complex carbohydrates to keep you energised and ready for whatever your morning has in store for you. They are also very cheap and healthy. You can add all sorts of goodness to your porridge, here I have my favourite mix of raisins, dried coconut and a banana to provide my body with a variety of iron, potassium and fibre.

Lunch: Early afternoon is the time to replenish the nutrients in your body and this salad contains a whole host of important ingredients. All of the components to this salad are full of vitamins and minerals while the eggs and hummus are a great source of protein, and the avocado and pine nuts incorporate good fats into this perfectly balanced and substantial meal.

Tea: This superfood salad for tea revitalises your body and will top up all the nourishment you have already given it. Salmon is one of my favourite foods and as I have mentioned before, it is of huge benefit to your health.

Snacks: Throughout the day, it’s good to eat every 2-3 hours to keep blood sugar levels stable, this will help with concentration, energy levels and all round general well-being. The best snacks for me include a handful of almonds, oatcakes and hummus or maybe some fruit. I always like to have some form of snack with me so if I get hungry I am prepared – buying food while you’re out is much more expensive and it often leads to less healthy options.

Drinks: Drinking is also a very important element to your day. Feeling thirsty can often be confused for feeling hungry and dehydration can impair health functions. I generally take a bottle of water everywhere I go and drink around 2-3 cups of tea with milk a day as well as 1-2 herbal teas. Herbal teas are a great way to relax and unwind before a peaceful night’s sleep.

Ella’s food solution for… Energy dips

Quinoa protein bars
Quinoa protein bars

These quinoa protein bars are a treasure! They are delicious, filling and so easy to make. They will provide your body with lots of energy so they are a great snack for anytime of day. This mixture of ingredients combine to make a protein-packed bar which makes it particularly effective after a workout:

1/2 c quinoa
1/2 c chia seeds
1/4 c flax seeds
1/4 c shredded coconut
1 c oats
1/2 c almonds, chopped
1/2 c dried fruit
2/3 c nut butter
2/3 c honey/maple syrup
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cardamom
1 tsp vanilla extract

Lots of these ingredients can be found at any big supermarket but a couple, like the chia seeds, you may need to go to a health food store for.

First, preheat the oven to 175 degrees. In a mixing bowl, you must combine the quinoa, chia, flax, coconut, oatmeal and almonds (which I put in a plastic bag and bashed with a rolling pin until broken enough – other less aggressive methods may be used). Put this mix in the oven on a baking tray for 5-10 minutes until lightly browned. Meanwhile, combine the peanut butter and honey and bring to boil before removing from the heat and stirring in the salt, cinnamon, vanilla extract and cardamom (push down on the pods to crack them open and tip out the seeds). Add the toasted ingredients and dried fruit of your choice. I used half cranberries and half blueberries which tasted delicious. Finally, pour the combined mixture into a baking tray lined with cling film and push out to each corner to create an even surface before leaving to cool then refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Once set, lift the hardened mixture out of the tray and slice into bars. Put them into a sealed container and they will last up to three weeks, still tasting just as wonderful.

Ella’s food solutions for… Fuelling an active morning

My kind of morning
My kind of morning

If I am planning a morning jog, this suits me perfectly so that I can get straight up and at it. The banana gives me enough energy for the exercise then as soon as I get back I eat my full breakfast so that I fill up with protein straight away. This mix of 2 scrambled eggs with smoked salmon on top of a toasted slice of sunflower and pumpkin seed loaf is a protein powerhouse and so tasty! Over the next couple of hours it’s good to reinforce these sources – nuts and/or a protein bar is a great way to do this. You can buy bars similar to this but I will share the fabulous recipe in my picture with you next Thursday! This combination of nutrients throughout the morning gives my body the fuel it needs to recover from the exercise and build lean muscle ready to carry me through the rest of the day.

Ella’s food solution for… A fancy fibre fix

Mushroom, tomato and white bean stew
Mushroom, tomato and white bean stew

I found this recipe in a wonderful cook book I was given for my birthday which has collected recipes from a whole range of people from around the world, all who express the joy for casual entertaining in their homes. This filing and fibrous dish comes from the English Countryside.

First of all, heat a tablespoon of oil, then add an onion, garlic, 1 teaspoon of dried thyme, 1 teaspoon of ground fennel seed, and a pinch of dried sage. These flavours and herbs provide delicious, good-quality flavouring to a true home-cooked dish. Meanwhile, begin to cook the bulgar wheat in a pan of boiling water, stirring regularly so it doesn’t stick, until it soaks up the water. After about 8 minutes of cooking, the onion should be soft and at this point you add 60 millilitres of chicken stock and then 340 grams of chopped mushrooms which you leave to simmer, covered for 5 minutes so that the mushrooms can release their own juices. Now add a can of cannellini beans, a can of chopped tomatoes and 1/2 cup of finely chopped flat-leaf parsley to create 3-4 portions before leaving to simmer over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes. Season with a small amount of salt and pepper and serve with the bulgar wheat and top with a sprinkling of parmesan cheese.

The ingredients in this dish provide your body with a fantastic balance of fibre, protein, carbohydrate and plenty of minerals. Your hunger and tastebuds will be fully satisfied – this is certainly a dish to impress any guest at your dinner table.

Ella’s food solution for… Cooking for company

Salmon, cous cous and roasted veg
Salmon, cous cous and roasted veg

Cooking for guests need not be daunting. All this meal requires is the preparation of salmon fillets and veg, then you just leave them to cook. The accompanying cous cous is so easy it needn’t even be mentioned now. This meal is perfect for feeding friends as the quantity is so easily adjusted – 1 fillet per person and then just add as much veg and cous cous as necessary.

As salmon can be expensive, I always buy 3 packs of salmon fillets for £10 or buy smoked salmon when it is on offer and put whatever I’m not using straight away in the freezer. Salmon is a brilliant source of protein. It also provides omega-3 which benefits a huge amount of health functions and can reduce risk in cardiovascular disease. The vegetables in this dish can vary according to what you have left over or what you can find most cheaply. I used the ever-impressive saving pack of seasonal veg, along with a sweet potato and topped them with paprika. The cous cous is actually Ainsley Harriott roasted vegetable flavoured cous cous. Usually I add my own flavour to plain cous cous however, as I’ve said before, when these packs are on offer it’s well worth stocking up. They really are full or flavour already, allowing you to relax while knowing your guest will be treated.

So, preheat the oven at around 180-200 degrees before putting in your salmon fillets. These must each be wrapped in foil and cut (though not right through) horizontally to allow slits for wholegrain mustard. I add about a teaspoon or a little less to each fillet and top with finely sliced chilli. Once the salmon goes in, you can chop your vegetables into wedges or however you want them presented. Whether you skin them is up to you, I find the skin adds a nice crispiness. When the veg is ready (around 10 mins later) they can join the salmon in the oven on a separate tray with a drizzle of oil and leave both to cook for around 25-30 minutes, just remember to shuffle the veg around half way through so that they are evenly covered with paprika and oil and it all gets roasted. Towards the end of this process simply put the cous cous in a bowl and cover with boiling water and then a tea towel to insulate the heat. After 4-5 mins, fork through and if fluffy, serve along with the salmon and roasties.

Ella’s food solution for… Feeling unwell

Wholesome vegetable soup
Wholesome vegetable soup

Whether it’s a cold, a tummy ache or even a bit of home sickness, a hot bowl of steaming homemade soup has to be the best cure…

Canned soups bought in the supermarket are often very high in sugar whereas if you make your own you can pack in tons of flavour without the added downfalls. Homemade soup is so nutritious and comforting and can so easily be made in large quantities with the view of freezing portions. Ingredients in a soup can vary hugely to make all sorts of delicious versions. This also means that this a super-saving meal as it’s a great way to use up veg on its last legs whether it’s at home or selling for cheap in in the shop. 

For this soup, instead of following my family’s traditional carrot, celery and leek combo, I used 1 parsnip, 4 carrots, 2 onions and swede because these seasonal packs of veg were on offer – 2 for £2. So I used the whole of 1 pack and just the onion from the other (and roasted the veg from the remaining pack another day). Firstly, I fried onion and garlic and as I had some chilli I put that in too before adding the rest of my veg which I sliced and diced. After about 3 minutes, it was time to add the chicken stock with 1 litre of boiling water (then just keep adding water throughout the whole cooking process whenever you feel it needs it). After the stock, I added half a cup of lentils to thicken the soup. I then added Lee & Perrins sauce, lots of black pepper and a squidge of tomato puree. I then stirred and brought to the boil before leaving to simmer for around 40 minutes with the odd stir along the way.

Now it’s time to blend the soup. How much of this you do depends on how you like your soup. I like to leave some bits of veg to give it a bit of bite. This is one of the most wholesome dishes you can make and  and no cold will dare fight back through this army of goodness!

Ella’s food solution for… Guilt-free comfort food

Healthy chicken curry
Healthy chicken curry

A curry is often something people think of as unhealthy but this is only because they associate it with their local take-away where salt and fat are very prominent ingredients. This healthy recipe will allow you to enjoy a truly delicious curry for whenever you want comfort and warmth. The first time I made this I couldn’t believe how easy it was!

Firstly, you must heat the oil for your onion, garlic, chilli and ginger (I buy the dry powder rather than fresh – lasts so long and can be added to all sorts). You can vary these amounts depending on flavour and number but if unsure, 1 of each will be fine to make 2 portions. Then add 4-5 teaspoons of a curry paste of your choice. I did this one using rogan josh which tasted great with chicken too – a great source of lean protein. Once you have added the chicken and let cook through, add 100ml of chicken stock, 4 tablespoons of half-fat crème fraîche, 1 teaspoon of tomato purée and black pepper. Then stir in green beans and cover for 10-15 minutes to cook. After that, stir in a handful of chopped almonds which are bursting with nutrients; potassium, magnesium and monounsaturated fats. Nuts really are a superfood which will keep you feeling fuller for longer.

So next time, instead of getting a takeaway, enjoy the satisfaction of having made this mighty meal yourself. You will reap the benefits through saving money, maintaining your health and eating a high-quality, delicious meal. And again, remember to make extra which you can freeze and get out whenever you next want your inviting curry!