Eating well: can’t be that hard!

Breakfast

More and more, it’s being shown by science….yes, science! that food  is important to health.

It’s very easy to eat healthily, and it’s not any more expensive than eating badly. To get you started, you can click here to see a really good graphic that illustrates what we should aim for. And here’s a short video where Dr Wolfson talks about his take on a Paleo way of eating.

Start the Day Right
Used to be the tagline for some forgettable breakfast food or other. My breakfast these days is quick, easy and soooooo delicious.

Why so many wasted breakfast opportunities with boring toast and marmalade – even given that I made pretty stunning Cumquat Marmalade?

Pick a few leaves of Kale or spinach (if there’s some in the garden) otherwise rummage round in the fridge for something green. Shred it, and slice up a couple of mushrooms.

Heat a medium pan with a knob each of butter and coconut oil, put the mushrooms in first, and the greens on top, and put the lid on.

Break 2 eggs into a small bowl and give them a whisk with a fork. Add lots of pepper and salt. Tip in on top of the veg, flatten it all down with the fork so the egg mix is everywhere, put the lid on, and turn the heat to low.

If you’re quick, there’s time for a shower. But certainly time to get a chore or three out of the way. About 6-8 minutes later, and this will depend on how low the heat is, give the pan a shake, and upend the contents onto your plate.

A frittata (of sorts) fit for a king. And you won’t need to eat again till lunch.

Ready for the day!

Ready for the day!

Of course, you can use any veg you like, but you want something that will cook quickly. I’ve used tomato in the image.

5 from 1 reviews
Breakfast Frittata
 
Prep time
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Quick and easy breakfast to keep you going till lunch
Author:
Recipe type: Breakfast
Serves: 1 serve
Ingredients
  • 30g Kale or spinach
  • 50g mushrooms
  • 2 eggs
  • salt and pepper
  • butter and coconut oil
Instructions
  1. Heat a medium pan with a knob each of butter and coconut oil
  2. Slice mushrooms and shred greens
  3. Add mushrooms to pan, then put the greens on top. Place the lid on.
  4. Whisk eggs with pepper and salt, and pour into the pan, pushing the greens down into the egg.
  5. Replace the lid, turn the heat to low.
  6. About 8 minutes, more or less, depending on the heat.

 

Sweet Potato Pancakes
with Avocado Sauce

Want to add an extra serve or 3 of veggies to your day? And, with no pain whatsoever? Try this simplest of recipes. It’ll work for breakfast, lunch or dinner, or anywhere in between.

It’s a basic recipe, and you can change the main ingredient for whatever you have available. So it’ll work with pumpkin, banana, or anything else. Just be sure what you use isn’t too wet; zucchini would need to be rung out a bit to reduce the liquid. Banana is excellent with butter and lemon juice, and pumpkin with bacon isn’t all bad, either.

When you use less starchy ingredients (than sweet potato or pumpkin), you can increase the amount of almonds, and you can also add some ground flaxseed, which will act as a binder.

Sweet Potato Pancakes with Avocado Sauce
 
Prep time
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Total time
 
Quick and easy for any time of day. Use whatever you have in the fridge for a convenient snack or meal. Hot or cold, they are excellent.
Author:
Serves: 7 pancakes
Ingredients
  • Pancakes:
  • 100g Sweet potato, raw, peeled
  • 20g raw almonds, skin on
  • 1 egg
  • 1T coconut oil, melted and cool
  • ½ teas baking powder
  • pepper and salt
  • Avocado sauce:
  • ½ ripe avocado, peeled
  • juice of ½ lime or lemon
  • chilli powder or finely chopped fresh chilli
  • pepper and salt
  • olive oil
Instructions
  1. To make the pancakes:
  2. Process the almonds in a food processor until very finely chopped
  3. Add the sweet potato, cut into small pieces. Process until it too is finely chopped.
  4. Add the egg, baking powder and seasoning. Blend well. Add melted coconut oil and blend again.
  5. Heat a non-stick pan to medium heat, and drop in dollops of the mix. Put the lid on the pan, and leave until a few bubbles appear, and they firm up. They take a little longer than normal pancakes.
  6. Turn with a spatula, and cook until the second side is nicely browned. Continue with the remainder of the mix until all used. This amount makes about 7 pancakes. Double or triple the mix for larger quantities.
  7. To make the Avocado sauce:
  8. Mash the avocado or process to smooth, season well with the chilli and salt and pepper. Add olive oil if you like it thinner.
  9. Serve with a big dollop of avocado on each pancake

 

 

Fermented Vegetables At Home

Ready to eat

Easy, cheap and soooooooooo good for your gut!

I’ll write a separate post on the whys and hows of good gut bacteria, but for now, why not make a start on tidying up the results of a lifetime’s poor eating habits? Give your gut a chance.

A printable version of the recipe appears at the end of this article.

Fermenting your own vegetables with a culture is really easy, and the results are truly delicious. Not to say time-saving and maybe even life-saving.

There are lots of ways to make fermented foods, and using a culture is just one.  But it is the easiest and most reliable, specially for beginners.  When you buy your culture, check on the amount of vegetables it is good for, so you get the proper result.

How do I use Fermented Vegetables
Once you start to eat this fabulous food, you’ll wonder how you got on without it in the fridge, ready at a moment’s notice to add flavour and serious nutrition to any and everything.

  • Add a spoonful or three to every salad. No-one else will even know it’s there if you mix it through
  • Have a spoonful on the side with grilled meat – steak, chops or sausages
  • Fill a half avocado with fermented veg for the quickest ever entree. Or have both halves for a quick lunch
  • Looking for a snack?  Grab a spoonful
  • Feel a sore throat coming on?  Start sipping on the juice
  • Got belly ache? Get a spoonful of juice, quick

Fermented veggies are so good
Once you’e made your own, you’ll be hard-pressed to go back to eating the commercial variety. You can so easily customize them and put your signature on them. I don’t have a definite recipe, except to use about 2 kg of vegetables, with 2/3 cabbage and 1/3 whatever takes my fancy.

I add grated lime if there are any on the tree, or maybe slices of lemon; I mince shallots if I remembered to buy them, or maybe just add a little garlic. Red capsicum sometimes, and a modest amount of red chilli.

How much to make, and how often?

Perfect size jars

Perfect size jars

I don’t make enormous quantities because I like to keep it in the fridge once it’s fermented, and there’s not a lot of space. So I hunted round till I found jars that are the perfect height for my fridge shelves, and fill about 4. Plus a smaller one with extra juice.

That’s about 3 months worth, but if it looks like running out, I just make the next batch. In less than a week, it’s ready to eat.

When preparing the vegetables, wash them all well, drain, and slice them to an even size, so they’ll ferment well. I grate carrot, shallot, ginger and lime rind, and slice the rest. I’ve tried using a mandolin but I think it’s easier with a sharp knife and cutting board.

Fermented Tomatoes

Fermented Tomatoes

You can, of course, use just one vegetable at a time – cabbage, or whatever you have a taste for.  I recently did a couple of jars of cherry tomatoes, having read a rave report of how good they are.  I’m not so sure about that though; I suppose I’m not that passionate about tomatoes at any time.

Reasons to use a culture for fermented vegetables

  • I don’t particularly like salt, and often recipes call for quite a lot when fermenting without a culture
  • It only takes a few days – 3-5, so jars aren’t hanging around the kitchen a long time
  • Results are reliable

A few notes on preparation for fermenting

Container for mixing

Container for mixing

You need a big container to mix all those sliced and chopped veggies, so get a plastic (or glass is better) tub and keep it JUST for food.

You don’t need to massage the cabbage till it gives up its juice when you use a culture, even though many recipes insist you do.

Leave space in jar

Leave space in jar

You don’t need to pack the vegetables tightly into jars – in fact, I have them in lots of liquid, so they easily stay submerged once fermented.  Then, there’s lots of extra fermented juice to be sipped on when you need an extra boost, or feel a bit ‘off’ in any way.

Make an extra litre of brine – 1Tablespoon sea salt to 1 litre water – to top up jars if needed.

Wear gloves when preparing the chillies, and wash them (the gloves) as soon as you’ve finished…..chilli is very nasty when it contacts mouth or eyes.

Making your fermented vegetables
So, it’s time to have a go, and actually get out the veggies and chopping board. Line up everything you’re going to need, so you don’t get halfway through and realize there’s no culture anywhere. By the way, I buy mine at any health food shop, or they are online.

First the Vegetables
The most tedious part is finely slicing the cabbage, but if you’re systematic, it’s not that hard.

Then process whatever other veg you’ll be using, keeping the onion family till last – to save the tears.  Mix all the veg really well in your big tub, especially if you’re adding grated carrot which tends to clump.

Next the liquid
Make the liquid. Use a good quality salt – don’t bother with cheap iodised salt, but rather get a good sea salt. Make sure to dissolve it completely in the litre of water. You can play with the amount of salt next time, but using some helps to keep the vegetables crisp.

Mix the honey into the 1/2 cup of luke-warm water, then add the culture. Because it’s only a tiny amount, I add a little water to the packet to wash every last speck out into the mix. Let this mix sit for 10 minutes so the culture starts to activate in the honey water.


Stir the culture liquid into the salt liquid, then add all the liquid to the tub of vegetables, and mix thoroughly. Freshly washed clean hands make the ideal mixing tool for this job.

Then all that remains is to pack it all into your jars. Evenly distribute the veg between the jars, and a slotted spoon makes that easy. Only fill about 3/4 full. Then evenly distribute the liquid between them. You can tip the liquid into a jug to make that quick.

When you’ve used it all, if they still need topping up to cover the vegetables, you can make another litre of brine with 1 Tablespoon salt and 1 litre of water. Keep any that’s left over in the fridge until the fermentation process is finished, just in case you need another top up.

I weigh the vegetables down while they are doing their 3 day ferment on the kitchen bench. I use a small empty jar with the lid on – inside a plastic ziploc bag, if you like. For a heavier weight, add water to the jar.

Loosely cover jars

Loosely cover jars

Put the jars onto a tray, in case there’s any expansion and mess) and leave on a bench, out of the sun. Cover loosely with a clean cloth or tea-towel. Check that the vegetables stay submerged.

After 2-3 days, you may see a few small bubbles appear on top of the liquid.
By 5 days,the vegetables can be lidded and put into the fridge.  Be sure to date the jars. They’ll last for as long as you don’t eat them, and stay fresh and crisp for months.

Ready to eat

Ready to eat

Enjoy.

Fermented Vegetables...D I Y with a Culture
 
Prep time
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Cultured Vegetables Recipe
Author:
Serves: 4 jars
Ingredients
  • 1100g firm cabbage
  • 300g carrot grated
  • 2 limes grated rind
  • 2 red chillies (more or less) seeded and finely chopped
  • 90g shallot (proper shallot, not spring onion) finely chopped or grated
  • 1 head garlic (more or less) chopped or grated
  • ½ red capsicum finely sliced
  • 100 ginger peeled and grated (more or less)
  • 2 Tablespoons sea salt dissolved in 1 litre water
  • Vegetable culture 1 pkt (Mad Millie)
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 teas honey
  • This amount will fill about 3 1.5 litre jars
Instructions
  1. Wash and sterilize jars. The easiest way to do that is to put the jars in the oven at 100c for 15 or more minutes, then allow them to cool there. Put the lids (which are often plastic lined) into a saucepan with a lid, bring to the boil, then allow them to cool until ready to use.
  2. Prepare all the vegetables, slicing, chopping and grating them as you like.I slice the cabbage, grate carrot, finely dice chilli and red pepper, and process ginger, lime and garlic in the food processor.
  3. Mix them all together in a large container used just for food.
  4. In a jug, dissolve the honey in the ½ cup water. Carefully add the culture...it is only a tiny amount of powder, so make sure to get it all. I add a bit of the liquid back into the packet to dissolve any left behind. Allow it to sit for 10 minutes or so, then add it to the litre of salted water.
  5. Add culture liquid to salted water and mix well. Add all liquid into the vegetables, and mix through.
  6. With a slotted spoon, fill jars about ⅔ full of vegetables. Tip remaining liquid into a jug and evenly distribute between the jars. If the vegetables are not yet completely covered, make some extra brine, using 1 Tablespoon of salt and 1 litre of water. Use this to top up jars. Save any left over in case you need to do any more topping up.
  7. If vegetables need to be weighed down, use a freshly washed and dried small jar with the lid firmly screwed on.
  8. Place jars on a tray, out of the sun, cover with a clean towel, and leave for 3-5 days, until there are some tiny bubbles visible on the surface. Screw lids on, and move to the fridge.
  9. Will keep in the fridge for months.

 

 

 

Baking that’s Gluten-free, Dairy-free, Sugar-free

morning tea

http://www.suewaterworth.com
Haven’t they ever tasted really good food?  I guess not.

I wonder about the poor deprived people who write them, because apparently no-one has ever introduced them to food as pleasure.

Many of the so-called healthy recipes I try, especially those that are gluten-free, dairy-free and sugar-free, strike me as unpalatable, indigestible, sludge.

It drives me crazy, because cooking isn’t that hard.  There are ways of preparing food that go back a long way – and work.  If you’re prepared to spend a bit of time, and learn a technique or two, you’ll produce food as good as it gets.

Trouble is, no-one seems prepared to spend more than a few minutes preparing anything,  and then only if they can throw it all into the latest machine for 2 minutes max.

I want to eat truly healthy food, and I want it to look and taste fantastic. And I’m not prepared to spend all day doing it.

Light and luscious Paleo Baking
The idea of Paleo style food can seem daunting, especially when you want to bake cakes, because you take out many of the baking basics, like flour, sugar and dairy.

But it’s possible, and this is where old methods come into their own. I’ve just devised a recipe for an apple cake that’s light and large and lucious.  It freezes well, and has no nasties. You could almost make a case that it’s good for you. And, what’s more, I’m sharing the recipe with you.

Baking without flour
Good cake needs good texture, and when you take out the flour, that texture often disappears, leaving  stodge in its place.

Rising agents like baking powder, work to some extent, but often the cake sinks as it cools, leaving a hollow centre and heavy texture.

What to use instead of flour
You don’t have to substitute another type of grain flour for the wheat; you can use nuts instead. I like to use a combination of almonds and cashews, because it cuts the almond flavour, and gives a finer texture.

Nuts all have different characteristics, so if you experiment with other types, start with small amounts, to work out how they behave.  Walnuts, for example, quickly become oily and turn into paste when you process them,   Delicious, but paste mightn’t be what you had in mind.

You don’t need special equipment to have fresh ground nuts – I use a small hand food processor, which, if you keep the blade sharp, works a treat. (It also finely and evenly chops a whole bunch of parsley.)

Hand processor for nut flour

Hand processor for nut flour

What, no sugar?
Then, there’s the matter of replacing the sugar. In general, while honey and  rice or maple syrups are often used, they’re still sugar, with a few trace minerals.

But, if you’re doing this for health, you have to find an acceptable alternative. Most sugar replacements have a nasty lingering after-taste.

Xylitol is the exception. It’s not a chemical, and is in fact derived from fruits and vegetable fibre. Check the package to make sure it’s not made from GMO plants.

It’s granulated and you can use it  just like sugar  though you need to cut the amount in half if you’re  translating a normal recipe.

It still has calories, but about  half as many as sugar.  With its super low GI, diabetics can use it. It can have a slight laxative effect if you have too much, so keep it under 40g a day.

There is a bit of worry that it can change your gut microbiome, so, it’s something that you use as a treat, not as a regular addition.

Replacing Dairy
Cakes need some fat or they’re dry and uninteresting. They don’t hold together as well, either.

Choose cold-pressed Olive or Coconut oils, preferably organic, because there’s not so much processing. The vegetable and seed oils aren’t a healthy choice; manufacturers commonly use genetically modified and pesticide laden seeds, and they process the oils using heat, chemicals and acids. A pretty toxic soup, really.

You can replace milk with any liquid you like, including water, so long as there’s already fat somewhere in the recipe.

The secret revealed
And so, what’s this secret to sky-high tender cakes? Well, it’s all in the eggs! Or at least, what you do with the eggs.

Beat till firm peaks form

Beat till firm peaks form

Beat whole eggs in a warmed bowl for up to 10 minutes, until they form a very thick and stable mix.  They’ll hold stiff peaks when you lift the beater out of the bowl, just like egg whites do when you beat them.  And you use the time it takes, to prepare everything else.

No need for a rising agent of any sort.

Sky-high cakes
To achieve this sky-high magic egg mix, you’ll need some sort of beating machine. I use my ancient Kenwood, but anything with a whisk attachment (or god forbid, a hand-held!) will work.

Don’t even think about using a food processor (no matter what the marketing blurb tells you). It won’t work, because it simply can’t incorporate enough air into the eggs to produce the volume you’re looking for.

Here’s a recipe for Apple Banana Cake to try your new secret technique.

Apple Banana Cake – Gluten, Dairy and Sugar-free

Cake with Blueberry sauce

Apple Banana Cake – Gluten, Dairy and Sugar-free

Serves 8

Ingredients:
Cashews           90g  (3oz) raw
Almonds           110g (4oz) raw
Olive oil            50g (70ml) (2oz)
Eggs                3 x 60g or more at  room temperature
Xylitol               50g (2oz) granulated
Apple               200g (7oz) 3 medium eating apples, lightly cooked and well drained
Banana           70g (2½ oz) very ripe, mashed
Vanilla essence I teas
Cinnamon        good big sprinkle

The complete recipe is repeated at the end, without the images.

Ingredients

Ingredients

Method:
Preheat the oven to 160C (325F)
Line a round 20cm (8”) springform pan with kitchen paper – see how here
How to quickly and accurately line your baking tin

Takes about 45-50 mins to cook

Warm the mixing bowl by filling it with hot water for a few minutes. Empty and dry it.
Add the eggs and start to beat then immediately, or they’ll scramble.

Add the Xylitol

Add the Xylitol

Once the eggs have some volume, and are thickening, add the xylitol granules and continue to beat until the mix is very thick and stable. This takes several minutes. When you lift the beater, the egg foam will show a firm peak.

Firm peaks

Firm peaks

While the eggs beat, grind the nuts to a fine powder.  Process each variety separately because almonds are harder than cashews, and will take longer. Mix the nut flours, add the cinnamon, and set aside.

Hand processor for nut flour

Hand processor for nut flour

Prepare the apple and banana. The cooled apple pulp wants to be fairly dry, but with a little texture, rather than a smooth puree, so eating apples work better than cooking varieties. Mix apple with the banana.

Fruit pulp

Fruit pulp

Slowly add the vanilla and the oil to the still beating eggs. When well mixed, remove the beaters, and carefully fold in the nut flour, alternating with the fruit.  Use a large wide spatula with an under and over movement to fully incorporate into each other.  Click here for a quick YouTube video showing you how to do it.

Gently scrape into the prepared tin, smooth the top and place into the centre of the heated oven.  After 40 minutes, test with a skewer or toothpick. Carefully push the skewer into the centre of the cake, and if it’s cooked, it will come out clean.  If not, cook for a few more minutes.

Skewer comes out clean

Skewer comes out clean

Remove the tin from the oven, and place onto a cake rack to cool. Release the clip, but leave the cake in the tin until it cools.

Light and airy cake

Light and airy cake

Then carefully remove the paper.

Paper peels easily

Paper peels easily

This cake freezes well, and you slice it, stand the pieces slightly apart on a kitchen film covered tray, then put the tray into the freezer.  When frozen,  plastic bag them for use one piece at a time.

Sliced ready to freeze

Sliced ready to freeze

It’s a very adaptable recipe – you can use almost anything you can think of to replace all or part of the apple, so long as you have a similar sort of texture and water content.
You could also try these, using fairly dry puree or mash:

  • pear
  • zucchini
  • pumpkin
  • sweet potato
  • ripe banana
  • carrot, finely grated or mashed
  • all apple, with some raw and finely chopped or grated

I served it with some fresh blueberries and a blueberry cream;  I mashed some blueberries and stirred through enough thick coconut cream to make it good!  Yum.

Here’s the recipe complete.

Apple Banana Cake – Gluten, Dairy and Sugar-free

Serves 8

Ingredients:
Cashews          90g  (3oz) raw
Almonds         110g (4oz) raw
Olive oil          50g (70ml) (2oz)
Eggs                3 x 60g or more at  room temperature
Xylitol             50g (2oz) granulated
Apple              200g (7oz) 3 medium eating apples, lightly cooked and well drained
Banana            70g (2½ oz) very ripe, mashed
Vanilla essence I teas
Cinnamon        good big sprinkle

Method:
Preheat the oven to 160C (325F)
Line a round 20cm (8”) springform pan with kitchen paper
Takes about 45-50 mins to cook

Warm the mixing bowl.   Add the eggs and start to beat then immediately, or they’ll scramble.
Once the eggs have some volume, and are thickening, add the xylitol granules and continue to beat until the mix is very thick and stable. This takes several minutes. When you lift the beater, the egg foam will show a firm peak.

While the eggs beat, grind the nuts to a fine powder.  Process each variety separately because almonds are harder than cashews, and will take longer. Mix the nut flours, add the cinnamon, and set aside.

Prepare the apple and banana. The cooled apple pulp wants to be fairly dry, but with a little texture, rather than a smooth puree, so eating apples work better than cooking varieties. Mix apple with the banana.

Slowly add the vanilla and the oil to the still beating eggs. When well mixed, remove the beaters, and carefully fold in the flour, alternating with the fruit.  Use a large wide spatula with an under and over movement to fully incorporate into each other. See how to do that

Gently scrape mix into the prepared tin, smooth the top and place into the centre of the heated oven.  After 40 minutes, test with a skewer or toothpick. Carefully push the skewer into the centre of the cake, and if it’s cooked, it will come out clean.  If not, cook for a few more minutes.

Remove the tin from the oven, and place onto a cake rack to cool. Release the clip, but leave the cake in the tin until it cools.  Carefully remove the paper.

Chicken Liver Pate – Dairy-free and Gluten-free

A plate of ideas

Once the lead-in to almost every dinner-party, and a staple of the ‘drinks’ party, Chicken liver pate seems to have fallen from favour somewhat. But it’s still really easy and worthwhile to make at home.

All the images will enlarge if you click on them.
Chicken livers are a great source of protein, Vitamins A & B group, and minerals including iron, selenium and zinc. That’s not a bad list for a humble pate. And a great reason to make some soon.Chicken Pate

I used to make it with lots of butter and cream, but this recipe uses coconut oil instead, to keep it dairy-free.  It works well, the only difference is that at room temperature, it will soften quickly.  So if you want it to stay out of the fridge for some hours, you’ll need to use butter for a better consistency. Or you can add some gelatine to keep it more stable.
See  note at end of recipe.

Recipe: Chicken Liver Pate
400g (1lb) chicken livers
2 medium brown onions, chopped
3 Tablespoons coconut oil
1-2 Tablespoons coconut cream
Pepper and salt,  & nutmeg
1 Tablespoon Balsamic vinegar (or Brandy, Port or Marsala)

Melt 1 tablespoon coconut oil in a pan big enough to hold the livers in one layer. Add the chopped onions, and saute until translucent and just starting to lightly brown. Remove to the food processor, and chop.

Melt 1 tablespoon of coconut oil in the same pan, add the livers and put over medium heat. As soon as they start to change colour, I like to cut them into smaller pieces with scissors. This allows them to cook more evenly.

Add  a good sprinkle of salt, pepper and nutmeg. Turn or toss them a few times until there’s only the slightest pink to be seen inside. But don’t cook them till they’re grey! Use a slotted spoon to remove them from the pan, leaving any juices behind.

Add the livers to the processor with the onions, and, while they whizz, add the Balsamic vinegar to the pan, scrape all the browned bits into the liquid, and put over high heat until it is thick and  bubbly.

Scrape this into the processor with 1 tablespoon coconut oil and 1 tablespoon of coconut cream, and whizz some more.

Taste for seasoning, remembering that when cold, it will have less flavour.  So have it on the ‘well-flavoured’ side, but be careful not to overdo the nutmeg.  It should be soft and smooth, so add more coconut cream if you like.

Line suitablely sized small containers with plastic wrap, and fill the pate into them.  Smooth the top, cover with the plastic, and refrigerate for several hours until set. Then eat within a few days or freeze immediately.

Boring pate presentation

Boring pate presentation

And here it is, ready to eat in all its boringness

This pate freezes well, but sometimes needs a little attention when thawed to give it a good texture.Thaw in the plastic wrap in the fridge if possible. Tip into a small bowl, and using a fork, mix well. Quite quickly, it will change from being dry and crumbly to a smooth pate.

Refrigerate again until ready to use.

Note on gelatine. Soak 2 teaspoons of powered gelatine in 30mls (1 oz) cold water. Stand the container in hot water and allow the gelatine to melt completely.  When the livers are well blended, pour the liquid into the processor, and make sure it is well incorporated.

Give biscuits the flick
Do something more interesting when you serve your lovely pate. Biscuits are just boring useless carbs, so why not ring in a few tasty changes, and give your gut a treat at the same time:

  • eat pate as a small wedge – in your fingers or on a spinach leaf
  • fill tiny hollowed tomatoes – drain first
  • fill small fresh mushroom caps; cut if necessary
  • fill a celery stick that’s then cut slantwise into small pieces (add a sliver of Brie if you’re not dairy-free)
  • spread onto Pear slices – soak in water that you’ve added lemon juice or Vit C powder to stop them going brown
  • spread onto small rounds of fresh cucumber or zucchini – salt lightly and drain on a clean tea towel
  • spread onto small rounds of cold baked sweet potato

 

 

photo by:

Kombucha: what’s that?

Kombucha

Kombucha has made a come-back. Straight out of the hippie 60s and 70s, when it went by names like ‘mushroom tea’ and ‘hippie juice’. Now it’s acceptable by the mainstream – well, sort of….!  And is called simply Kombucha. And everyone wants it. Plain, coffee, fruit flavoured.

It’s rebirth is directly related to the sudden rise in the interest and science around good gut bacteria. Even the conservative medicals can’t miss this one. Can they?

It’s clear that after decades of knocking off our beneficial organisms with buckets of antibiotics, and the sanitising of everything in sight, we need all the variety of gut bacteria we can get.

And while probiotics will do the job, it’s a pretty expensive hobby. Kombucha, on the other hand, is cheap as chips.  Just a pot of sugared tea.  Easy peasy. And tastes fizzy and fantastic.

What’s a Scoby?
Kombucha is loaded with bacteria and yeasts, which is where it’s ‘mushroom’ gets the name – scoby = Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast.

A Scoby

A Scoby

The number and types of bacteria vary between batches, depending on the makeup of the scoby, and also what organisms get in during the fermentation process.

It’s really important to use a properly cleaned glass container which is kept covered. Carefully wash your hands before lifting the scoby out, and make sure all the other containers and utensils that you use have been freshly washed.

There’s plenty written about how good or how bad Kombucha is – and I’m not going there.  I like it, and continue to make it.  Read everything you can find, then make up your own mind.

The scoby quickly takes on a flat round form, rather like a thick pancake, except that it usually has a layer of weird bits on one surface…brown and stringy.

Scoby separated into two

Scoby separated into two

It will start to get thicker after a few batches, until it’s like two layers joined together. Now is an ideal time to separate them, and give one to a friend. You can also cut a single layer in half, since it will soon grow into a round again.

It should never look like mold, or smell unpleasant – the smell is a bit yeasty towards vinegar. If you have any doubts about it, throw it out and start again – it’s not that hard.

There are a number of ways to start making your own. And you’ll find the recipe at the end.

  • beg borrow or steal a scoby and add it to sugared tea
  • find someone who has one who would be prepared to give you half
  • buy a bottle of commercial Kombucha, (raw, unpasteurised) and use a cup of that as a starter. Look for a little blob floating around in it.

When you go the commercial route, it will take about 3 weeks for the scoby to develop, so you’ll need to be patient. But once it’s grown, each batch will only take around a week, depending on the ambient temperature.

 Bottling the Kombucha

Bottling the Kombucha

You decide when the Kombucha is ready to drink.  I like it just lightly acid, with a pleasant fizz.  Some people like it tart or even vinegar-like. Whatever tastes good for you.

Flavour added

Flavour added

Flavours and colours
Once it’s ready, you then bottle it off and start a new batch. You’ll probably want to strain it before bottling, as there are often weird floaty bits that look pretty suss.  They’re not; just the bacteria doing their job,

You can now flavour it if you want by adding fruit, berries, herbs or spices. I like it with added fresh lemon, including the skin. And fresh ginger is a great addition.

If you put the liquid into sealed bottles, you need to be aware that it continues to ferment, and there is a danger that the bottles can explode.  You can get proper Grolsch Flip-top bottles that prevent that.

There are some really good websites Here and Here that will tell you all you ever want to know about fermented foods, and many offer supplies as well.

The ingredients

The ingredients

 

Kombucha recipe
(Using a SCOBY)
Use glass containers, and limit the use of metal (which the bacteria don’t seem that fond of)

1.5 litres water
1/2 cup sugar
4 tea bags or equivalent amount of loose tea (Use real tea – black, green or white. Herb teas can be added, but only as added flavour, not part of the basic amount.
1 cup kombucha from the last batch
1 scoby

Boil the water, and add it to the tea and sugar.  Stir well to dissolve the sugar. Allow it to steep for at least fifteen minutes. When it’s cool pour into a clean jar, add the starter kombucha, and mix well.

I dissolve the sugar and tea in just 500 mls of the boiling water, then when it cools, add the remaining water, cold.  Much quicker than waiting for the larger amount to cool.

Once you’ve developed a good relationship with your scoby, and understand it, you can mess a bit with the quantities. I use a little less sugar, and sometimes a little more water. Just pay attention to the look, smell and taste.

Be sure the liquid is actually cool before adding the reserved cup of Kombucha and the scoby….if it’s even tepid, you could kill your new best friend.

Slide the scoby into the jar.  It may sink, float or just hang around, especially at first. Later, it will sit prettily on top of the liquid, completely covering the top.

Cover the jar with paper towel, a coffee filter, or clean teatowel.  Date it, and put in a cupboard away from dust, sun and disturbance.

After about 4 days, you can start to taste it until it is fermented to your taste.  Goes faster in warm weather, and slows down when it’s cold. Usual is 7 days.

When you’re ready, carefully lift the scoby out with clean fingers, and put it into a clean dish.

Bottle off the liquid, (remembering to keep a cup aside as starter, then wash and dry the jar and start the whole process over.

Once you’ve bottled it off, it’s a good idea, especially in warm weather, to keep it in the fridge, in order to keep it from fermenting too much.

Using commercial Kombucha
If you’re starting from scratch, without a scoby, use the same tea/sugar mix, and add 1 cup of commercial, unpasteurized Kombucha.

Check every week that it is looking and smelling healthy. Soon, you should see a jelly-like blob appear – and grow.  That’s good. After about 5 weeks, you should have a recognizable, if a bit tatty, scoby.

It’s recommended that you toss this liquid, (except for one cup for the starter) and start at the beginning, as above. Your plants or compost will be delighted with the discarded liquid.

Coffee Kombucha

Coffee Kombucha

Coffee Kombucha
If you love coffee, and in Summer, iced coffee, you can use coffee instead of tea as the base.
NOTE: Once you use the scoby with coffee, you can’t return it to tea.  So wait till you have one big enough to separate.

Use strong coffee in place of the tea with the same amount of sugar. You don’t need to use the cup of starter for this one.

Kombucha is a great drink to have instead of canned junk drinks; it’s refreshing and the sugar has pretty much been used up in the fermentation process.

And those beneficial bacteria will not go astray.  Try it; it’s a fun and very healthy thing to do.

 

 

 

 

 

Chocolate – Food of the Gods

Chocolate shoe
Click on any of the images in this post to enlarge them

Chocolate is no ordinary food.
It’s not something you can leave, something you like only moderately.
You don’t ‘like’ chocolate. You don’t even ‘love’ chocolate.
Chocolate is something you have an affair with.   Geneen Roth, Feeding the Hungry Heart

Where it all began
Chocolate started life in the Amazon rainforest around 4000 years ago. Dull pods hiding their buried load of cocoa beans hung from ancient trees that 17th C naturalist, Linnaeus, aptly named Food of the Gods.

Cocoa bean pods

Cocoa bean pods

The Aztecs and Maya Indians used these beans to make a frothy drink that they used both as a stimulant and restorative. Sometimes they fermented it, and used it for fertility rituals. (What’s changed?)

Finally in 1503, Columbus brought cocoa beans to Europe.  Soon after, Cortez realised they were a great currency to exchange for Aztec gold, so he got plantations going. Money it seems, does grow on trees.

And that wasn’t the only time they were used as money….there was a time you could get a courtesan with 12 cocoa beans, and with 100 beans you could own a slave.

Dark chocolate

Dark chocolate

How come a bitter powder made from these unremarkable seeds has us under its spell? Everyone (well, almost everyone) knows you can’t live without good chocolate. That sometimes, you even have to rush out late at night to get some.  Could it be our bodies’ innate intelligence knows what’s good for it?

No more guilt
Because, the results are in.  Research shows that chocolate is good for you.  Guilt begone and rejoice!

Happy hot choc

Happy hot choc

There’s no shortage of studies to prove the point and that’s not surprising – can you imagine turning down the chance to run such a study?

And I bet they have volunteers falling over themselves trying to join. Tough job, but someone has to do it I guess.

What’s so good about chocolate?
It makes you feel good…. Fills you with serotonin, the ‘happy hormone’….. Reduces anxiety.
Casanova knew all this,and drank it before bedding his conquests. Who needs science?

Double antioxidants

Double antioxidants

It engages all our senses – taste, touch, smell, sight, sound. And the better the quality, the more this is so. You really do get what you pay for.

What’s the science say?
You can find reputable studies on Pubmed, which show cocoa or chocolate:

  • reduces total cholesterol
  • limproves gut microbe activity
  • is full of antioxidants and flavanoids
  • helps lower blood pressure and enhance blood flow
  • mimics the psychoactive effects of cannabis – lessens pain
  • seems to lower heart disease rates among those who eat it

But make sure you’re getting chocolate that’s at least 75% cacao solids, or the sugar and fats will probably outweigh ANY benefits.

Read the labels
The difference between brands can be huge, in both cocoa and chocolate,  (and most other things for that matter) so don’t assume they’re all the same.  It’s time to stop listening to the advertising, and start reading the labels.

The table below shows a supermarket brand compared to 2 good quality organic brands…..and notice how all of them differ – 300% more sodium and 200% more fat in the No brand, while Organic B has much more protein and minimal sodium. That matters!

100g Cocoa No brand Organic raw A Organic raw B
Protein 18.8g 17.8g 26.8g
Sodium 474mg 160mg 5mg
Total Fat 21.6g 10.7g 11.1g

Chocolate as Art
There’s a whole other side to chocolate that isn’t often on public view.  Professional chocolate makers and high-end chefs battle it out for supremacy at events such as Salon du Chocolat.

Held every 2 years in Paris, the cream of the crop work at making high art  from chocolate. It is totally breath-taking to see them in action, and then to see the finished pieces.Take a look at some of the possibilities below.

  • All sorts of chocolate
    All sorts of chocolate

So however you look at it, chocolate’s pretty enjoyable.  But make sure you appease those chocolate gods – and only eat the best.  Quality wins over quantity every time.

Hot Chocolate anyone?

Hot Chocolate anyone?