• Find me on FaceBook

Healthy Family Food – Fit not Fat Families

MonthofMeals

I grew up, as I’m sure many of us did, in a meat and two veg dinner household. With a lovely roast dinner on a Sunday and a weekly homemade dessert. There were no pizzas or burgers or convenience foods, and a tub of vanilla ice cream in the fridge was considered a treat. Growing up in South Africa, a wider range of cuisines was part of the norm, ranging from Indian to Greek to Chinese, but weekly meals were pretty normal.

I wasn’t overweight and neither were any of my school friends. If any of us went through a chubby phase, it was just that, a phase. I certainly didn’t lack for anything and got to try plenty of delicious foods. So in an attempt to recreate a healthy family food culture, I have complied a list of my favourite wholesome ingredients and a weekly menu plan.

I think we need to pare things right back and go back to a weekly menu planner. None of us have endless time to shop, prepare food and clean up after. So if we keep a reasonable stock of healthy ingredients in the fridge and store cupboard, we only need a few fresh ingredients to whip up delicious weeknight meals.

When I plan a weekly menu, I have a vegetarian day, two seafood meals, one red meat meal and one or two chicken dinners. This is a healthy structure and in line with nutritional recommendations. Aim for planning five dinners per week, as the other two nights you can have something quick, use up leftovers or you may be out. This reduces food waste and also gives you a break.

 

Freezer Friends

The freezer can be your best friend or your worst enemy in healthy eating. So many highly processed, high fat, high sugar, high salt foods are frozen products. Those cartons of potato waffles, ice cream and ready meals might seem comforting as you always have food on hand to feed hungry kids, but they are non foods. I don’t often freeze home cooked meals – except soups – I prefer keeping some key ingredients in the freezer to help me whip up tasty, quick and healthy meals in minutes.
Frozen spinach  Larger supermarkets stock bags of frozen spinach where the spinach is frozen in small golf ball sized bundles. Simply add frozen to curries and stews or allow to defrost if using in another recipe. I love fresh baby leaf spinach as a salad leaf, but cooking it wilts it down to nothing, so frozen spinach is a great solution.
Frozen fish  There is nothing wrong with frozen fish. While the texture won’t be suitable for high end dishes like sushi, the quality is more than fine for daily recipes. Stock up on salmon and firm white fish such a hake, haddock and cod. Choose plain fish and not fish in batter or a crumb coating.
Raw prawns  You can buy shelled and veined frozen prawns from some supermarkets and all Asian markets. They are low calorie, good source of protein and easy peasy to cook. Just add them to your pan of stir fry or whatever you’re cooking and cook until firm and pink. To defrost, simply leave them in the fridge or rinse quickly under cold water.
Fish pie mix  Supermarkets and fishmonger sell small containers of fish pie mix which is a mixture of diced salmon, smoked fish and white fish. Buy fresh and pop a couple in the freezer for home made fish pies and seafood chowders. Very budget friendly and a great way to eat more fish.
Garlic cubes  I have yet to find a decent garlic paste, so I crush several bulbs of garlic and freeze the garlic paste in ice cube trays. One cube works out to roughly three cloves of garlic, but it does lose a little flavour in freezing so it’s not too strong for kids.
Bacon lardons  Not the healthiest ingredient, but a little bit of bacon, especially smoked bacon, goes a long way to add flavour to a dish. You can use from frozen as they defrost very quickly in the pan, just break them
apart with a wooden spoon.
Chorizo  The same goes for chorizo. It is quite a fatty sausage, but when sliced and fried, renders a delicious paprika and garlic infused oil that is perfect for frying you onions, veggies and meat in, no need to add extra oil. Chorizo ranges from mild to quite spicy, so try a few brands. Chop into lengths and wrap in cling film before freezing.
Grated cheese  I prefer strongly flavoured cheeses like mature cheddar and Parmesan. The stronger the flavour, the less you need. Freezing cheese changes the texture so while not ideal for sandwiches, frozen grated cheese is ideal for melting.
Berries  Frozen berries are so handy for smoothies and healthy desserts. Not all berries freeze well, but raspberries and blackberries are great. Crumbles are a great family dessert if you sweeten team with orange, cinnamon and vanilla and use less sugar. Use wholewheat flour and oats in the crumble topping.

 

Complex Carbs

Barley  Barley is a high fibre, slow releasing carbohydrate rich in B vitamins. Traditionally added to soups and stews, it helps thicken the sauce. Barley makes a great base for substantial salads, perfect for packed lunches. Barley has been found to be effective in managing and losing weight for Type 2 diabetics.
Brown rice  Brown is such an easy swop for white rice with exponentially more nutrition. Not just a side dish, but perfect as a base for rice dishes such as healthy jambalaya, paella, fried rice and Asian rice dishes. Brown rice is packed with B vitamins and is good for weight management.
Bulgur wheat  This is super easy to prepare, barely cover with boiling water in a bowl, tightly seal with cling film and leave to absorb for 10 minutes. A delicious, nutty texture and taste, this fills the gap for couscous type recipes but with more fibre.
Oats  I have written at length about the health benefits of oats. It’s in my Top 10 Superfoods list and can be used in so many ways. Besides breakfast porridge, muesli and granola, add it to crumble toppings for a healthier dessert, to bind meatballs and veggie bur
gers and added to banana bread and muffins.
Quinoa  This gluten free grain from South America is packed full of protein, gentle fibre and nutrients for energy. I cook quinoa at least once a week as it complements almost any cuisine, is extremely easy to cook and has a wonderful texture. As it is a protein grain, it can be helpful in losing weight.
Wholewheat pasta  Pasta is a family favourite and can be a healthy option if you choose the high fibre, wholewheat options. Not a huge difference in flavour and texture, your family probably won’t even notice the swop! Leftovers and pasta salads also make good lunch box fillers, a nice change from sandwiches.
Wholewheat pizza bases  Pizza is normally classed as a junk good, but when you use wholewheat pizza base, passata and loads of veggies as toppings, it makes a great family meal. You can also involve you r kids in assembling the pizzas which can encourage them to try new things.
Wholewheat tortilla wraps  I cannot do without these! You can of course use them for lunch box wraps but Iuse them for quesadillas, the ultimate quick low fat toastie. Place one tortilla flat in a non stick pan, no oil. Spread with pesto or relish, top with a little grated cheese and some slice peppers and spring onions. Place another tortilla on top and flip over when toasted underneath.

 

Plant Proteins

Anyone that follows my column knows that I support Meat Free Monday. This is a worldwide movement to encourage people to have one vegetarian meal a week to reduce the environmental impact of farming animals for meat. From a health point of view, cosying up to plant based meals has many health benefits. You’ll naturally reduce calories and saturated fats while increasing fibre and nutrients. It’s also very budget friendly and usually quick to prepare. You can choose any day of the week but I quite like Monday as I let my groceries run low then do my food shop during the week.

Beans  You can of course cook your beans from dried and do with my favourite beans such as cannellini beans. But tinned beans are brilliant. Stock up on butter beans, kidney beans, haricot and cannellini. These are great added to Mexican dishes, salads and almost any soup or stew.
Chickpeas  I cook up a 500g bag of dried chickpeas every week as I use them so much. Add chickpeas to salads, curries and soups. Turn them into veggie burgers and dips like hummus. The list of uses is endless! Highly nutritious and excellent for growing children and also woman’s health particularly.
Lentils  There are several different types of lentils and they all cook down to different textures. Red lentils go very mushy and are great for veggie burgers and soups. Brown and green lentils stay a little firmer so are good for dishes such as lentil moussaka. And put lentils stay nice and firm so are ideal for lentil salads.

I keep a good supply of dried herbs and spices, mustards, vinegars and other condiments to liven up recipes. But don’t buy too many bottles unless you have recipes to use them in. Don’t be afraid to try new things, you’ll be surprised what kids like to eat!

To book a place on the Month of Meals course click here.

Advertisements

Shop Smart, Cook Smart, Eat Smart

MonthofMeals

I run a ‘Kitchen Detox’ programme for people whereby I give their meal times and menus a make over. I compile a folder of recipes, menu plans, shopping lists, Pantry Pals and Freezer Friends based on a seasonal menu. With a little time and effort, you can do the same thing and save time and money while eating healthy meals.

Menu Planning I recommend doing this at least every three months so you are using more seasonal produce. If you aren’t sure what fruit and vegetables are in season, visit www.bordbia.ie. Decide how many dinners a week you cook at home, I normally work off five dinners as people go out or visit family etc. Collate at least ten recipes from your existing favourites and others you may find in cookbooks, newspapers and websites. These ten recipes you can run as a two week cycle that you repeat, fifteen recipes will give you a three week cycle. I would recommend a fish dish, an egg based dinner (eg frittata), red meat recipe, chicken dinner, and a vegetarian meal (especially using beans, lentils and chickpeas). The recipes should include lots of vegetables for nutrition and easier cooking. Keep a copy of all the recipes in a folder, even if you know them off by heart. You might even get family members to share the cooking that way! If you like experimenting, try a new recipe each week that isn’t in the cycle.

Pantry Pals and Freezer Friends Take your recipe folder and make a list of all the dried ingredients including condiments and cooking oils. These are items you should have in your cupboard at all times. Keep an eye on this so that you don’t end up with three bottles of the same thing as you’re not sure what you have. I believe in stocking my freezer with useful ingredients rather than frozen meals. These can then be used to make delicious dinners. Currently in my freezer I have chorizo sausage, tiger prawns, salmon fillets, parma ham, bacon lardons, smoked salmon, part baked bread, bags of breadcrumbs, peas and raspberries. I never freeze minced beef as it should be used within 24 hours of purchase. It also freezes into a horrible grey lump. Your butcher can be very useful in vacuum packing your favourite cuts of meat in the right portions.

Shopping Go armed with a list of what you need, this is vital. Top up the storecupboard items if needed. This is the time to take advantage of special offers, but only on items you know you use such as tinned tomatoes. The same goes for meat and other foods that can be frozen. Portion out the meat before freezing if the pack is too big. This prevents wastage and also eating more than we need to as you’ve defrosted the whole pack and you need to cook it then. Only buy the exact numbers of vegetables you need. The three pack of peppers is the classic example, where you may only need two. Don’t be afraid to swop a vegetable in a recipe, but don’t buy extra. Only buy fruit that you know your family will eat. My personal favourites are mandarins, grapes and bananas, so I know if it’s a mistake if I buy loads of other fruit. I am a firm believer in buying from your local butcher, fishmonger and greengrocer.

Cooking Aim to cook the right quantity for a meal, not loads extra. I think most leftovers hang around in fridges growing things. Or else we overeat and that’s not good for our pockets or waistlines. Unless you bring a portion into work for lunch which is a great idea. I do recommend cooking your own ham for sandwiches though, much cheaper and much nicer. A steamer pot is one of the best investments you can make as you can steam all your veggies and even fish. You retain much more of the nutritional value and it is very easy and less washing up! And please clean as you go, leaving everything to pile up will take you longer in the end to clean. Or some poor family will get that nasty job!

Why not book the Month of Meals cookery course?

Small Changes, Big Benefits

MonthofMeals
There are many small changes that you can make to your regular family meals that will have a big impact on your health in the long term.

 
1)    Avoid unhealthy fats
Avoid foods that contain hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats. These are known as trans fats and have been proven to be toxic in the human body and linked to diseases such as cancer, heart disease and hormonal disturbances. These are manufactured fats so will be found in processed foods as biscuits, baked goods and ready meals. Read labels carefully and learn to cook a few healthy meals to reduce the reliance on ready meals.

 
2)    Reduce salt
More than 6g of salt a day is linked to raised blood pressure and heart disease. Salt is also unhealthy for small children as their kidneys are developing and they cannot deal with the salt. Using herbs, spices, garlic and onions to add plenty of savoury flavour without loads of salt. Herbal salts like celery salt add a natural saltiness and are ideal for the dinner table for the ‘salt fiends’ to season their food with. There are also salts mixed with seaweed which give a natural salty flavour and extra minerals.

 
3)    Replace or reduce sugar
Sugar is completely devoid of nutrition, in fact leeches vital vitamins and minerals from the body to metabolise. Excess sugar consumption is linked to several diseases and inflammatory conditions. Use cinnamon, vanilla and orange zest for naturally sweet, aromatic flavours without the sugar. Dried fruit can also add natural fibre and sweetness to things like porridge without using sugar.

 
4)    Increase fibre
This can be done quite easily and painlessly. Swop out foods made with white flour or refined foods for the wholewheat or brown version. You honestly won’t notice the difference! I only use wholewheat pasta and brown basmati or jasmine rice. The texture has a lovely bite and I actually prefer it. I have oats porridge for breakfast but handfuls added to baking and crumble toppings is so easy and so nutritious. I also love using seeds like flaxseeds, chia, pumpkin and sunflower seeds for extra fibre and healthy fats.

 
5)    Healthier Winter Warmers
We’re entering the chilly season of steaming soups and warming stews. Cut down on the saturated fats by using skinless chicken pieces (the skin goes rubbery when cooked in liquid anyway), skinning the fat off the top of the casserole and not browning the meat in oil and just adding it in. I use plenty of chunky root vegetables and beans, lentils, barley or chickpeas for extra fibre. Soups are great to bulk cook and freeze for cold winter nights when there is nothing in the house and you are tempted to order a take away!

 
6)    Sauces and dips
One of the quickest dips I make is plain yoghurt mixed with a dollop of sweet chilli sauce. Choose a low fat or fat free plain yoghurt if you’re being extra healthy. I use veggies like red pepper strips, mangetout, baby corn, green beans carrot sticks as crudités for a lunchbox or pre dinner snack. Instead of cream drizzled over desserts , serve with plain low fat yoghurt or yoghurt sweetened naturally with vanilla.

 
7)    Cheese
I really love my cheese, but unfortunately it is on average 30% saturated fat which is not good for heart health. The answer is to select strongly flavoured cheeses so you are satisfied by the complex flavours rather than guzzling through mountains of the flavourless stuff. Especially in cooking, strong cheese like Parmesan, will give you a punchy flavour with only a few gratings. Ireland produces many fantastic cheeses so choose quality of quantity.

 
8)    Mayonnaise
Mayonnaise in salads can easily be swopped for a dressing made with low fat or fat free plain yoghurt, a squeeze of lemon and seasoning. This gives you a lighter, fresher dressing with less fat. On sandwiches, use either mayonnaise or butter, not both. I love mashed avocado, full of healthy fats, as a sandwich spread. Basil or sundried tomato pesto contain olive oil to moisten bread and add extra oomph to the boring sandwich.

 
9)    Fruits and Vegetables
We all know we should be getting five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. But according to a recent study by Bord Biá, only 28-32% of us are! So try topping cottage pies with mashed sweet potato or serve it on the side with stews. Add lots of chunky root vegetables to casseroles. Soup is the perfect vehicle to up your veg intake, cooking for no longer than 20 minutes to half an hour to retain the goodness. I use frozen berries in winter to make a purée to serve with my porridge or yoghurt. Baked apples, pears and crumbles make a healthy dessert and a delicious way to enjoy Autumnal fruit! Plan fruit and veg into meals and snacks to ensure that you get them in.

 
10)    Meat and fish
This is where a bit of meal planning comes in handy as you want to monitor how much processed meat, read meat and fish that you eat. It is advised that we have no more than 50g of processed meat (such as luncheon meat) a day. Overconsumption is associated with a higher risk of certain cancers. Red meat should be limited to once a week as it is higher is saturated fat. Fish is a really healthy option, especially oily fish like trout, mackerel, sardines and salmon. Aim for at least two portions a week to really get the benefits of the healthy Omega 3 fats.

A Month of Meals

MonthofMeals

Weekly Meal Plan Structure
This meal plan structure is years in the making, and there are certain core principles that form the basis of it. One of them is that you only plan five dinners a week and leave wiggle room to use up leftovers and also have a day off cooking if you choose. This will reduce the amount of food that you buy and possibly not end up cooking.

I’ve written my course and book to try and use seasonal produce as much as possible. Fruit and vegetables in season taste better and are more budget friendly too. So do try and think about seasonality and buying good local produce. Use the structure I’m giving you to compile a file of recipes that you can repeat every two weeks or month. That is plenty of variety and will give you a chance to manage your food shopping and supplies better.

Meat-free Monday
As the name suggests, this is a day when you don’t eat any meat, chicken or fish and cosy up to a delicious vegetarian meal instead. This has a myriad health benefits from lowering saturated fat intake, increasing fibre and amping up your vitamin and mineral intake. There are many fab vegetarian dishes from cuisines all over the world, so you won’t be bored and with my recipes you certainly won’t go hungry! I always include a little protein in the form of beans, lentils, chickpeas, quinoa or cheese to keep you fuller for longer. You don’t want to be hungry a few hours after dinner and raid the biscuit tin! Vegetarian meals are generally easy to prepare, so ideal for a Monday night, when you’re organising yourself for a week ahead. By all means feel free to allocate a second vegetarian day, but having at least one a week is essential. This is one habit that my students really take onboard and convert to. It makes meal planning so much easier and is an excellent start to the week.

Go Fish! Tuesday
Like the card game tells you-Go Fish! This is one of your recommended two seafood dinners each week, one of which will be based on oily fish. We all have great intentions, but unless you plan and commit to getting your fish based meals, it’s not going to happen! There is no problem in using frozen fish, prawns and chowder mix. I either use frozen seafood or get fresh fish from my fishmonger. Many supermarkets now have fish counters where you can select your lovely fresh fish. This is far better than the prepacked fish hanging out in the fridge. With good quality fish and my super easy and tasty recipes you’ll be hooked on fish dinners in no time!

Cluck Cluck Wednesday
Chicken is probably the favourite choice of meat for family meals. It’s easy to prepare, quick to cook and you can choose from a huge range of recipes. As a white meat, you can enjoy chicken more than once a week. Most people tend to buy the skinless, boneless chicken breasts. I think this is because it has no skin, so it is lower in fat and many people prefer the ‘white’ meat. I really do encourage you to try skinless, boneless chicken thighs instead. The meat is far more tender and the fibres are looser so the thigh meat absorbs flavour much better. This is essential for dishes like curry when you really want the meat tender and the flavours to permeate. Without the skin, chicken thighs are a low fat option.

Freezer Treasure Thursday
This is a day where you are either going to cook a meal based on minced meat or sausages. Or you are going to raid your freezer for components of meals. For example, I freeze cured chorizo sausage, tiger prawns, Parma ham, petis pois, smoked salmon, fish pie mix and bacon lardons. These ‘Freezer Treasures’ form the base of many a delicious weekday meal. If you choose Minceperation, you can use beef mince to rustle up meatballs, burgers, kofta, chilli-not just spaghetti bolognese! Why not try turkey or pork mince for a change? Sausage hotpots using really good quality sausages are another great idea for this theme. This is one day that you probably have family favourite recipes for already.

Fishy Friday
This is your second seafood day for the week. If you haven’t had your oily fish, now is the day to allocate a recipe for it. Fish actually cooks very quickly, most people tend to over cook it. So a fish based meal at the end of a busy week is ideal. At a push, there are really good traditional fish and chips shops that use excellent fish and decent, non hydrogenated cooking oil. Why not pick up a fish dinner takeaway and tart up the meal with a crunchy salad and guacamole as a healthy sauce. You can make your own baked sweet potatoes fries seasoned with Cajun spice and minty pea purée by blitzing just cooked frozen peas, mint and a little creme fraiche together. Sounds cheffy, but super easy to whip up!

Fridge Forage Saturday
This is a really important theme to allocate. Before you do your weekly grocery shop, you need to have a a good forage and use up all those bit and pieces of leftovers, veg, cheese etc. You can also use this opportunity to give everything a good clean out and make sure there are no science experiments mouldering away. One of the best ideas to use up leftovers is a frittata, which can do double duty as breakfast and lunch. Other dishes I routinely make are stir fries with all the bits and bobs, quesadillas, fried rice and noodles. If you make a habit of doing this, you will also see what items you are over buying-thinking that you will eat and then not. For leftover fruit, crumble is a great dish or a fruit sponge with the peeled and chopped fruit at the bottom.

Flintstone Funday Sunday

This is a reference to Fred Flintstone and cooking up big joints of meat on the BBQ or Sunday roasts. I grew up with a Sunday roast with all the trimmings, followed by a really good homemade dessert. Not on the scale of a Christmas dinner of course, but still a special meal that takes more planning and longer to cook but not difficult to do. Coming into Summer you may well choose to have a BBQ on Sunday. Or you you may be out and about and doing no cooking, a well deserved day off! Many keen home cooks use one of the weekend days to try out a new recipe. This is the time to do it when you have a little more time and no hungry family members hanging off you looking for their dinner. Whatever you choose, don’t feel under pressure. It should be relaxing and enjoyable for all, including the main cook in the house.

Weekly Sweet Treat

I believe it’s what you eat 80% of the time that determines your overall diet and wellbeing. Having one really good, homemade dessert a week is something to look forward to and is what I would consider moderation as far as treats go. The common practice of having a ‘treat drawer’ that you dip into daily can be a slippery slope. They may small treats, but how many are you snaffling? Growing up, we just simply didn’t have crisps, chocolates and treats on the house on a daily basis. A box of Vienetta would have been considered the height of luxury! But now I realise how lucky I was to have real food and that is the real treat. Not processed food in boxes and plastic wrappers.

I hope you print this article off and stick it on your kitchen notice board as a helping hand for your meal planning and grocery shopping.

To book a place on the Month of Meals course, log onto http://www.rozannestevens.com
Twitter: @RozanneStevens

Celebrating The Best of Irish Cuisine for St. Patricks’ Day

This St. Patricks’ Day I don’t want to drink green beer or have a shamrock milkshake! I want to celebrate all the wonderful foods that I-as a blow in from South Africa-love about Irish food culture. While there are many traditional dishes such as seafood chowder that I adore, for me it’s all about the raw ingredients. If you start with superb ingredients the rest is easy-you are going to have a good meal.

Best Beef and Lamb

I have written a BBQ Cookbook, and trust me, in all my recipe testing and research, Irish meat really came out tops. Especially the beef and lamb. Producing excellent meat starts on the farm with well cared for and well fed animals. This quality meat then needs the hands of a skilled butcher to mature it and treat it with respect. I’m pleased to say that Connemara Lamb has been awarded PGI status (European Protected Geographical Indication). In short this means that Connemara lamb joins the illustrious ranks of champagne, Parma ham and the like as a unique and protected traditional food. The indigenous vegetation that the animals graze on gives the meat a wonderful taste but also makes it rich in essential fatty acids-the good fats.
And typical of Irish innovation, two family farmers in Tipperary have imported a special breed of Piedmontese cattle from Italy. This breed produces very tender meat that is low in saturated fat and calories-less than chicken-but high in essential fatty acids. This is the heart healthy answer to all meat lovers’ prayers who have had to cut back on meat due to high cholesterol and a history of heart disease.
www.irishpiemontesebeef.ie
www.connemarahilllamb.ie

Best Butter

I have always been a champion of proper butter in cooking and on bread, and not margarine and plastic fats. When margarine was originally developed during the food shortages of the Second World War, hydrogen gas was bubbled through vegetable oil to change the molecular structure and make it solid. Like a pseudo sort of butter. Unfortunately this was the birth of hydrogenated fats which are completely toxic to the human body. Fair enough, modern margarines are emulsified, but they are still man made. Butter was then erroneously vilified as a major cause of heart disease.
I am delighted to say that butter has regained it’s place as a natural, nutritious food. Especially Irish butter which is made from top quality cream so has a higher concentration of vitamins and minerals. Research shows that butter protects arteries, kills candida, has anti cancer properties, prevents tooth decay, is a great source of Vitamin E and K and prevents infection. And as for heart health, butter contains lecithin which helps metabolise cholesterol. Take that plastic fat!
www.abernethybuttercompany.com

Brown Soda Bread

When I first moved to Ireland, I lived on brown soda bread and smoked salmon for the first two weeks. I was totally captivated by the moist, nutty texture of the bread. The secret is in the stone ground flour and good buttermilk of course. This stoneground flour is very course and quite unique to Ireland. You will struggle to find it anywhere else. In the American Food Pyramid, they recommend two servings of wholegrains a day as they have recognised the value of high fibre, unprocessed grains and carbohydrates. Our culture of eating highly processed white flour baked goods, breads, biscuits and pastries has a direct correlation with the rising obesity and rates of Type 2 Diabetes. We would do well now to bin the sugary cereals and cakes and have a couple of slices of good, wholesome brown soda bread instead. With a generous shmear of real butter too.

Cabbage

Cabbage is part of the Cruciferous group of vegetables, along with broccoli, kale, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts etc. Kale has become very on trend as the latest superfood, but it is a just a frilly sort of cabbage. All the vegetables from this family are potent tumour and cancer preventers and fighters. A number of compounds in cabbage have been isolated and studied and it is found to be particularly beneficial in preventing stomach cancer. Cabbage lowers cholesterol, boosts the immune system with plenty of Vitamin C , iron and zinc. Excellent for blood clotting and wound healing, cabbage is good for the skin too.

Oats

I have written several columns about oats as I think this humble food has nutritional super powers. Organic oats grown in Ireland are particularly nutritious, containing up to twenty times more vitamins and minerals as oats grown in Europe. Our rich soil and low levels of pollution are thought to contribute to this.
I really do think having porridge or muesli for breakfast and ditching junky cereals would go a long way to address our obesity and diabetes epidemic. I use oats in baking and in a number of savoury recipes such as meatballs and lentil burgers, but breakfast in key. Oats are an excellent source of two types of fibre that makes it a hunger busting slow releasing carbohydrate. This fibre also helps lower high cholesterol while the silica is soothing on the digestive tract. Potent antioxidants provide protection against cancer, especially colon cancer. Oats are particularly effective in combating stress as they are packed with B vitamins, so the perfect start to a busy day.
Macroom Oatmeal (026) 41800

Oysters

Ireland is famous for it’s oysters, traditionally served with a pint of the black stuff. I have had the pleasure of tasting a huge variety of Irish oysters, each species is quite unique. The are many oyster festivals around the country and well worth a visit! I don’t think sweet talking Irish men need any help in this department but there is nutritional evidence explaining why oysters are an aphrodisiac.
Oysters are known for their high levels of zinc and selenium. It’s these minerals that give oysters their reputation as an aphrodisiac, as zinc in particular is vital for healthy reproductive organs and well as building resistance to colds and other illnesses. Oysters are also packed with anti ageing Vitamin E and Omega 3 Fatty Acids for heart health. The selenium and B vitamins have a particular affinity with brain and mental health. A good source of vitamin D, which helps your body absorb calcium for string bones and teeth.
www.galwayoysterfestical.com

Salmon

I fell in love with Irish smoked salmon when I moved here 14 years ago. Coming from South Africa where we import mainly Norwegian salmon, having an abundant supply of salmon at hand never fails to make me happy. Fresh salmon of course is a delight, but my heart lies with the smoked stuff.
I’m sure you have read many articles banging on about the health benefits of salmon, but it is worth repeating. The essential fatty acids in oily fish like salmon do all sorts of good things. Proven to lower bad cholesterol, balance hormones, reduce inflammation and improve circulatory problems. The Omega 3’s found in salmon are so important for our health and wellbeing. Out of all my research into health topics and conditions, Omega 3 fatty acids seem to be lacking across the board. We should have at least two servings of fish a week with one being an oily fish such as salmon.
www.burrensmokehouse.ie 

Wexford Strawberries

There is nothing like the heady fragrance of a punnet of juicy ripe Wexford strawberries as you drive back to Dublin trying to restrain yourself from snaffling the whole lot! There is something very special about Wexford and pockets of Louth. In French viniculture terms, we would call it the ‘terroir’. This term describes the unique microclimate of soil, sunshine, humidity and wind that makes Wexford the ideal place for growing spectacular strawberries. Softer, juicier varieties are grown for the local market as they don’t have to travel far. Now you know why imported strawberries have that rock hard edge! Strawberries are packed with vitamin C, with an average serving giving you twice the recommended daily amount. They also contain ellagic acid which has anti cancer properties and destroys some of the toxins in cigarette smoke and polluted air. Full of B Vitamins to support the nervous system and help the body cope with stress.
www.sunnystrawberries.ie

Recipes taken from Relish and Delish Cookbooks by Rozanne Stevens.
Twitter: @RozanneStevens

Back To School Lunchboxes

When I was about eight years old, I went through a chubby phase. My mom, a primary school principal, dealt with it very well. Rather than make a big deal out of my rotund silhouette, she changed the contents of my lunchbox. Gone were the white bread sandwiches with leftover meatballs and chutney, and in were yoghurts, cherry tomatoes and cucumber sticks.

And I can genuinely say that it has changed my attitude to and taste in food till this day. I love popping sweet cherry tomatoes like grapes and I often eat half a tub of hummus with celery for lunch on the go. But I am realist and I know that not everyones’ tastes are the same, and kids in particular can be fussy. Plus there is also the question of budget, food preparation and time. So here is a basic structure of how to put together a lunchbox that is healthy, tasty and affordable.

Something Starchy           

During a busy school or work day, we need healthy, unrefined carbohydrates to give us energy and to fuel the brain. Traditionally this would be a sandwich which can be good, bad or indifferent depending on the bread and the filling. If you are stuck on white sliced pan try using tortilla wraps, seeded or brown buns, brown bread or wholewheat pita pockets for added fibre and B vitamins. I am a huge fan of the BFree gluten free wraps. Or you can take a slightly different route and bake a tray of savoury muffins or scones. These can be baked in batches of 12 or 24 and can be frozen successfully if well wrapped. It may seem like a lot of work, but they are so quick and easy and really tasty. Swop out regular flour for spelt flour for added nutrients. Cold pasta, couscous, bulgur wheat and quinoa salads are also great for a filling and tasty lunch.

Fresh Fruit              

I’m sure all moms are tired of bruised apples and black bananas coming back in the school bag. So stop banging your head against a brick wall. Try different fruit and  presentation. Kids like individual portions and easy ways to eat it. Very popular are small bunches of grapes and ‘easy peeler’ citrus fruit like mandarins and clementines. And a sure winner are cubes of fruit on a bamboo skewer-I use watermelon, pineapple, gala or cantaloupe melon and strawberries. It may seem like a lot of work but here is how you manage. Buy one pineapple, half a melon of your choice and a punnet of strawberries (the Irish season runs till December). Peel and chop up the pineapple into chunks. Use a melon baller to scoop out balls of melon (it is quicker, trust me), don’t worry about the seeds in the watermelon. Chop the top off the strawberries to get rid of the leaves. Store the fruit in airtight containers in the fridge for three to four days. Use the fruit for lunchbox skewers, breakfast and after school munchies. If it is ready and easily accessible, it stands a better chance of being eaten.

Veggies                    

The bit of wilting lettuce or soggy tomato slice in a sandwich don’t really make veggies appealing. In my experience, a surprising number of kids who wont eat cooked vegetables, like them raw or slightly steamed. So chopped up raw veggies in a lunchbox are a perfect filler. They provide vital vitamins, minerals and fibre, and also digestive enzymes and water. But not even I eat plain raw veggies – I like a tasty dip to go with them. Good old hummus is still my favourite, and the tahini (sesame seed paste) in hummus is also an excellent source of calcium and healthy fats. Chickpeas are so nutritious and that makes hummus a winner.  You can also make great dips using plain yoghurt and herbs or nut butters.

Dried Fruit, Nuts and Seeds       

I always pack a small bag of mixed nuts, seeds and dried fruit. A homemade muesli bar or nut butter are also a good option. This fulfils several dietary needs: healthy fats and oils for brain function, something sweet to fill the gap and plenty of fibre. I buy my nuts and seeds in bulk and store them in the freezer to keep them fresh. This is one of the best tips I can give you, it is more economical and the nuts and seeds taste so much better. My favourites are sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, pistachios, pecan nuts and flaked almonds. For dried fruit I always have unsulphured (sulphur is used to give dried fruit a bright colour) sultanas, dried cranberries, apricots and apple rings. I use nut butters on sandwiches, in dips and and with a drizzle of honey on oat crackers.  My current favourites are cashew and almond. These are available in health shops but can be quite expensive. My best find is a completely fresh peanut butter with nothing added maded by The Hopsack Healthshop in Rathmines. At only €1.59 a jar, it is a steal and packed with goodness. Warning: it is addictive!

Water    

I am going to sound like a real kill joy here but the only really safe refreshment is water. Fizzy drinks are an absolute no no, and even cordials contain too much sugar and additives, unless you dilute them very well and choose an additive free brand.  A small carton of fruit juice is okay, if your child is still drinking water. You can freeze the carton and pop it into the lunchbox to keep the contents cool for after school activity fuel.

 The other consideration is the actual lunchbox itself. I can’t stand the pong of plastic that the contents take on after a few hours in a school bag. The ideal would be a glass container with a square lid, but this is quite heavy. I found a range of Sistema plastic lunchboxes that are a better kind of plastic (BPB free) and they have nifty compartments. There are also funky flasks available for hot food and little cooler bags. Really too cool for school!

 Useful Contacts:

Howards Storage World: Tele: 01 294 8003

The Hopsack Healthshop: Tele: 01 4960399

BFree Foods: www.bfreefoods.com

Rozanne Stevens

Rozanne Stevens launched the very first Avonmore Cook & Taste Awards 2013

Cook with Avonmore Facebook Cookery Competition

Launching on the 13 August, Avonmore will be hosting a cooking competition on their Facebook page with a €1000 cash prize. You can enter any recipe that you like, sweet or savoury, as long as it uses an Avonmore product. Enter a much loved family recipe that you enjoy making or come up with something new. Recipes can be as simple as you like, but should be well tested for other Facebook followers to replicate and enjoy.

http://www.facebook.com/cookwithavonmore

 

Avonmore Cook & Taste Awards 2013

Want to WIN €1000? Simply submit your favourite recipe via our Cook & Taste Facebook App. Check out the very first Avonmore Cook & Taste Awards 2013 here http://www.cookwithavonmore.ie/comp

Play the video to learn more about the competition.

Kids in the Kitchen

Parents are facing the horror of back to school costs and kitting kids out in new uniforms, books and stationary. This, after a long summer of trying to keep kids entertained, which is expensive business.  So for inexpensive and non weather dependent fun, get them into the kitchen for some creative cooking and inadvertent learning. Cooking is a skill that will serve them well throughout their lives as well as being a great summertime activity especially in wet weather.

We have all read alarming articles in newspapers and magazines about the rate of obesity in children in Ireland today. As a parent, getting your son or daughter involved in the kitchen from a young age is one of the best things you can do to establish a lifetime of healthy eating. Research has also found that children typically gain weight two or three times faster over the summer. Why? Kids are often less active and spend more time per day in front of the TV or computer. Plus, children often have the freedom to eat all day long during the summer months, whereas during the school year, kids have structured eating times. Time in front of the TV usually leads to mindless snacking throughout the day, as kids eat out of boredom instead of hunger. Add to this sweet treats, regular ice-cream stops and hot dogs at the park and you’ve got a recipe for a summer-long of unhealthy, unbalanced eating.

And if you need other reasons to get kids involved in the kitchen, cooking is a skill that helps kids to read, do maths and organise their work logically. Teaching your children to have fun in the kitchen also encourages children to be more creative with food and to experiment more with different flavours and textures. An amazing fact is how much youngsters enjoy the food they have made. It is no longer mysterious but delicious!​

Most importantly have fun. Any mess you create can always be cleaned up. And will be so worth spending time with your kids in a fun, creative way.

Kitchen Basics for Kids:

  • An understanding of metric measures weights and measures. Kids should know that weight is a measure of mass and to use weighing scales – I prefer digital scales. Liquids are measured as volume and a measuring jug or measuring cups and spoons are used for this. Also that a teaspoon has a volume of 5ml, a tablespoon measure is 15ml and a cup measure is 250ml. So for example, if a recipe calls for 60ml, you can measure out 4 tablespoons.
  • Greasing and lining cake and loaf tins. Grease a cake tin with butter, the foil wrapper is ideal for this. Sprinkle over a little flour and shake around the tin. Alternatively, cut out the right size parchment paper and stick it to the buttery tin.
  • Peeling fruits and vegetables. I use an Oxo peeler (a brand available from most kitchen departments), which is sturdy, easy to use and has a finger friendly design
  • How to crack open and separate an egg. I still use the back of dinner knife: give the egg a sharp tap and pull apart the shell with both thumbs. Juggle the egg between slightly parted fingers and allow the white to drip into a clean bowl.
  • How to whisk egg whites or cream to ‘soft peak’ or ‘stiff peak’: This is a basic instruction in baking recipes and essential to making meringues, mousse and whipped cream for desserts. If your child over whips and the cream becomes butter, add a pinch of salt, crushed garlic and some chopped herbs, and voila, you have delicious garlic butter!
  • Sieving dry ingredients together. Place the sieve over a large mixing bowl. Pour in the dried ingredients and sieve into the bowl by holding the handle of the bowl and tapping alternative sides of the sieve. Lift high over the bowl to incorporate more air for light, fluffy baking.
  • Rolling out dough and cutting out shapes. Lightly flour the work surface. Shape the dough with your hands into a smooth, even ball. Using a rolling pin, lightly flatten the ball of dough. Roll out the dough using even strokes, rolling away from you. Only roll in one direction, otherwise you will create ridges. Lift the dough slightly and turn 90° to get an even thickness. Use cookie cuts to cut out shapes or line a pastry tin. Lightly dust the cutters with flour and push straight down, do not wiggle. Gather the leftover dough and re roll.
  • Peeling and crushing a clove of garlic. Pry a clove of garlic away from the bulb. Slice off the bottom of the clove; peel the papery skin away from the garlic. Make a small mound of course sea salt on a chopping board. Place the garlic clove on top. Using the slightly serrated edge of a dinner knife, ‘shave’ pieces of the garlic clove onto the board. Mash the garlic into the salt, the coarse texture helps to mash the garlic. The salt will also help protect the garlic from burning.
  • Proper hand washing. Hands should be washed before and after handling food. Lather up with soap and warm water for at least a minute to properly wash away germs. Get in between the fingers and the backs of both hands and use a soapy nail brush if in doubt. Lather up at least an inch past the wrist. Rinse well and dry hands thoroughly on paper kitchen towel which can be thrown away. Manky tea towels are a germ breeding ground.
  • Making a white sauce. Weigh out 50g of butter and 50g of plain flour. Gently heat 500ml of milk in a saucepan. Melt the butter slowly in a pot and add the flour. Stir vigorously for a minute to ‘cook out’ the flour. Add a little of the warm milk and stir with a wooden spoon or a whisk to form a smooth paste. Gradually add more milk, stirring all the time to avoid lumps. Season with salt, pepper and freshly grated nutmeg. Add cheese and a little English mustard for a cheese sauce.
  • Grating safely. I am very careful in the kitchen, especially with sharp edges like knives and graters. Even so, my worst kitchen injury was with a box grater that wobbled and tore lumps out of my thumb (not pretty). For safety, place a wet cloth under the chopping board to prevent slipping, remove the grater insert (if there is one) and place the box grater flat on the board. Hold the grater securely down with one hand and grip the block of cheese or carrot firmly with a clean, dry hand. Use only downward strokes and turn over the cheese if it becomes too angled.
  • Clean as you go. This is a hygiene rule that is enforced in professional kitchens the world over. Because it works. Leaving a big pile to the end actually doesn’t save you time and effort. Even if little ones make a botch of the cleaning, encourage their efforts. Of course you as the adult can do it quicker and faster. But hopefully teaching this routine will lead to tidier teenagers. We live in hope anyway!
Rozanne Stevens
Rozanne Stevens launched the very first Avonmore Cook & Taste Awards 2013

To keep up the habit when school starts, get kids to make ‘lunchbox fillers’. A Sunday night baking session of healthy muffins, muesli bars, sandwich fillers, mini meatballs, diced fruit and veg dip like hummus.

Cook with Avonmore Facebook Cookery Competition

Launching on the 13 August, Avonmore will be hosting a cooking competition on their Facebook page with a €1000 cash prize. You can enter any recipe that you like, sweet or savoury, as long as it uses an Avonmore product. Enter a much loved family recipe that you enjoy making or come up with something new. Recipes can be as simple as you like, but should be well tested for other Facebook followers to replicate and enjoy.

http://www.facebook.com/cookwithavonmore