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.

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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!

Ella’s food solution for… A hangover

Spinach and mushroom omelette
Spinach and mushroom omelette

I know peoples’ preferences for ‘the morning after’ can vary widely, but this is an ultimate back-on-track brekky which is nice and light to suit even the very delicate. The protein from the eggs will support enzyme systems involved in breaking down and removing alcohol, carrying out the work for your long-suffering liver.

This is also one of the very cheapest and easiest meals possible – all you need is a dash of oil to cook the mushrooms for a couple of minutes followed by a handful of spinach, and two or three eggs! I like to get the eggs whisked before I start the cooking process just so that there’s no danger of burning anything. I add lots of paprika and black pepper to the egg mix before I pour it over the mushrooms and spinach (or whatever else you have lying around e.g. onion, chilli, pepper, tomatoes etc). This mixture should fill the pan and then reduce the heat. Leave for a few minutes until the bottom is cooked (light brown in colour) then use a flat paddle-like kitchen utensil to peel it away from the pan and flip over. Some people grill this side but I find a simple flip and a flop does the job. For some sauce, light soy sauce goes great and will still enable you to hit that salty hangover craving while knowing you’ve had a fighting fit breakfast!

The 3 stages of saving

The number one rule for saving money on food is to never throw any out. In order to achieve this ideal you must  think ahead and plan out meals. This does not mean having to have the same meal over and over but means being creative.

Stage 1: Create a list of meals that take your fancy which involve overlapping ingredients. Obviously you don’t need to follow a recipe step by step but can modify to your liking/ingredients. Let this list stretch as far as possible, as in general the further it stretches, the more you will save. For example, meat is much cheaper when bought in bulk and can then be frozen. It is good to build up a diverse collection of herbs and sauces in your stored cupboard which can last a long time and create very different flavours from the same ingredients. You must invest now in order to gain in the future.

Stage 2: Now you can enter a shop with a clear list of the things you need to buy and are much less likely to buy anything you don’t need. Having said that, do allow some space for an open mind when it come to offers, but only in terms of dry stores (e.g. cereals, tins and cans etc). Fresh produce on offer should also be considered but only if that can take the place of something already written on your list. For example, if a certain vegetable is on offer and you had another vegetable in mind for your dishes, it is likely that it can be replaced with the cheaper alternative.

Stage 3: It’s now time to cook. What’s important here is to cook more than you need. This saves on energy bills as well as the time cooking; you can cook enough for four meals in pretty much the same time you would spend cooking one! Depending on what you’ve made and what your schedule is over the next few days you can decide whether to freeze portions, have the same meal the next day, or combine part of the meal with other ingredients to give it a totally different feel.

Here is a personal example from the last few days:
My previous blog entry showed you how I made stuffed courgettes. This was a particular recipe I wanted to try so bought all the ingredients specifically. So, when I made the courgettes I made 6 halves and also cooked a large portion of the bulgar wheat and veg – this meant that after that meal, I had lunches to last the next two days (two stuffed courgettes) as well as the bulgar wheat and veg mix boxed up to take to uni two days later and it still tasted great. The next day I used up more of the veg mixture, this time with quinoa. Then for last night’s meal, I boiled the remaining three large tomatoes I had bought to stuff the courgettes, in the same pan I boiled linguine. Meanwhile, I fried together garlic with my left over mushrooms and asparagus which I had previously combined with bulgar wheat/quinoa and then added the tomatoes, which had by that time softened, to the pan. I later added the spinach which I had left from my salad in the previous blog entry displaying my salads. After a splash of the water used to boil the linguine and some seasoning, I combined the pasta and vegetables in a bowl before topping with my left over sun-dried tomatoes, parmesan and basil – all ingredients bought for my stuffed courgette recipe. Another delicious meal created out of ingredients bought days ago. Buon appetito!

Courgettes stuffed to satisfy

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This is an Italian recipe which is done in 30 minutes and is hard to go wrong. The courgettes must be sliced in half and the middles scooped out and chopped up together with tomatoes, mozzarella, basil leaves and then seasoned. I used Sainsburry’s basics mozzarella which did the job perfectly and cost barely over 50p! Although it may seem pricey adding the basil, this herb can be added to many other dishes so just keep sprinkling it over your meals for the next few days to add a wonderful flavour. Any type of tomatoes will do as long as they are chopped small. After the hollow courgettes have been in the oven (at 200 degrees) for 10 minutes, take them out and fill with this mixture and top with grated parmesan. They then go in the oven for a further 15 minutes or until golden brown. While these were cooking, I simply fried a red onion, mushrooms and asparagus in a pan with rapeseed oil as this oil has less unhealthy saturated fat than all other cooking fats and oils. It is also a rich source of vitamin E, a natural antioxidant. I also boiled bulgar wheat in a separate pan until it had absorbed the water before adding it to the vegetable mix in the wok and some soy sauce. This was a really delicious meal with so many flavours which I will definitely do again soon. As usual, I made extra so that I now have enough for my lunch tomorrow – something I will certainly be looking forward to!

Roasted butternut squash and goats cheese salad

Roasted butternut squash and goats cheese salad
Filling, colourful and packed with flavour

This meal was a perfect start to the day. It contained pumpkin seeds which are a great source of zinc and iron. The rest of the salad included lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, roasted butternut squash, goats cheese, warm pitta bread, grated carrot and hummus. This was such a hearty meal which filled me for the whole day due to the combination of vitamins and sustainable food groups. Although butternut squash can be a pain to prepare, it is so delicious and cheap for the quantity it provides that it is well worth the effort every now and then.

Salad selections

I have met many people who think that having a salad is a boring option but I would never let that be the case! I think the key (as I do with most meals) is to add as much as you can. This not only pleases the eye, giving many varieties of colour but also then provides many flavours and textures.

Where I used to use lettuce I have now switched to spinach due to its high levels of iron, particularly important to women. For the best intake of iron, you must combine it with vitamin C which is why it’s important to include peppers. My favourite are the yellow and orange but each to their own. I would say cucumber, tomatoes and spring onions are the other essentials, then from there I like to add a variety of other ingredients.

A boiled egg is a great addition because as well as being so tasty, it is packed with protein and will help you feel fuller for longer. After a workout, I always try to include eggs. Avocado will do a great job at providing your essential fatty acids. This is a frequent ingredient on the menus in South Africa where they grow so well, yet it is also so easy to get your hands on avacados in food stores in England, they may just need to be left for a couple of days to ripen up.

Though pine nuts are expensive, they can last a long time as you only need to add a sprinkle to a salad and they add such nourishment. They are an excellent source of fibre as well as vitamins E, K, and niacin and they too contain protein. They act as an antioxidant and they are a brilliant source of magnesium and potassium which is important for maintaining a healthy heart. So basically, eat your nuts!

Other tasty add ons for me would include a few sun-dried tomatoes, some tinned sweetcorn and also beetroot, which is currently in season. Others may like to add olives and maybe some feta. The options are endless and no one could call this a boring plate!

After an essential doss of black pepper, the last decision goes to the dressing. Depending on what I have put in my salad I can vary between hummus (preferably moroccan topped), light mayonnaise or a light french dressing. Once again, the options go on and on…