Wednesday 26 January 2011

Voluptuous Lettuce

Recipes suitable for:
Main meals for 2
Starters for 4

I love to invent recipes and those lettuce arrangements are irresistable. In case your kids don't like them, pretend that they are only for grown-ups anyway and protect your plate with your life. From those flavours they may come round to it very quickly - well, and wanting to be grown-up might help a bit!

The lettuce is whatever lettuce you like, really. I prefer the stronger nuttier flavours like rocket, lamb lettuce, watercress mixed with spinach leaves, Lollo Rosso or Romaine lettuce. But milder varieties work as well. I only use Extra Virgin Olive Oil and the vinegars are white and red Balsamico. It's all I have. If you have oils and vinegars you prefer - give it a shot. If that's the flavours you like and are used to the dish will adapt.

The amounts of olive oil and vinegar are estimates. Please adjust freely as you go along. For me it depends on the weather and my mood how sour or slippery I like it.
So far the recipe comes in three versions:

Pasta & Feta Cheese in Balsamic Dressing

Again, the pasta is whatever you like. I discovered corn pasta recently and love it - and they are of a nice yellow colour. With a stronger lettuce whole wheat pasta are nice, while a standard white flower pasta makes a more subtle dish together with mild lettuce. You even could do it with Ravioli or Tortellini, but be aware of the added calories.

I use dried pasta as I always have them in the house, but of course you can use an equivalent amount of fresh pasta.

15-20 Minutes

  • 2 mugs (150g dry) pasta
  • 250g Feta cheese (from ewes milk)
  • tomatoes
  • lettuce
  • 1 onion (preferably red)
  • fresh Basil (pot on the window sill)
  • 6 tbsp olive oil (or more if you like it)
  • 1-2 tsp flavoured oil otherwise add a bit of pepper and ground coriander
  • 2-3 tbsp red balsamic vinegar (or more if you like it)
  • Wash the lettuce and strain well
  • Mix the dressing from oil, vinegar, spices, roughly ripped basil leaves
  • Add the chunkily chopped onion, chopped tomatoes and chopped Feta cheese and stir.

If you are having it with guests keep the lettuce and mix covered at room temperature until they arrive. If you have to prepare it very early and have to put it into the fridge, get it out at least an hour earlier for it to warm up a bit. Although tomatoes might lose a bit of the flavour in the fridge. Once everybody is there:
  • Put on the kettle for the pasta and add them to the boiling water (use salt only if you really have to)

  • Place the lettuce on a big plate

  • Once the Pasta are ready, strain them and add them hot to the mix and stir in quickly. They are supposed to melt the outside of the Feta cheese a bit.
  • Place in the middle of the salad base and serve.

Using just very few tortellini or ravioli per person, this makes a great first course for 4 people. As this type of pasta doesn't mix in very well for warming up the mix you can put it into the Microwave for 1 minute and then stir before gently mixing it with the pasta.
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Potato & Shrimp in Sweet Chilli Sauce

I like the baby or Charlotte potatoes, but any potato you like will do. I keep them with the skin but that is not essential, although healthy. I cook potatoes in the microwave. Microwave pot, potatoes and 1/2" (1 cm) water, 6-10 mins highest setting (depending on amount and power). After half the time move them a bit around and test them. The prawns I  usually use are peeled, pre-cooked and frozen. This way I always have some in the house. But you can use any of those sea creatures. There are those thingies with the tails on. You might want to give those a try if you like. They look decorative - are a bit trickyer to eat, though.

Again the topping is a bit luke warm, thus makes it a great starter for guests if you divide the portion by 4.

20-25 Minutes
  • 2 good cups of prawns
  • potatoes (depending on hunger)
  • lettuce
  • 1 onion (preferably red)
  • fresh Basil (pot on the window sill)
  • 1-2 clove of garlic
  • fresh ginger
  • 8 tbs olive oil (or more if you like it)
  • 1-2 tsp flavoured oil (if you have and like)
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 2-3 tbsp sweet Chilli sauce
  • lemon juice (bottle to keep in fridge)


  • Wash the lettuce and strain well
  • Mix 6 tbsp of oil, the flavoured oil, ground coriander, thinly sliced onion and roughly ripped basil leaves
  • Finely chop the ginger and the garlic and keep them in separate piles
  • Wash the potatoes and prepare them for cooking.
  • Defrost/wash the prawns under cold water and strain well

If you want to have it for guests keep the lettuce, prawns (fridge), chopped garlic/ginger and the mix covered. When the guests arrive start cooking the potatoes (use hot water when cooking on the hob).
When the potatoes are almost done:
  • Arrange the lettuce into a nest on a big plate.
  • Heat the rest of the oil in a frying pan on medium heat.
  • Add the ginger first stir, then
  • add the garlic and stir.
  • If you like, add a bit of coriander powder and briefly fry,
  • then add the prawns and mix.
  • Reduce heat and stir in the Chilli sauce and
  • add some lemon juice to taste.
  • Quickly half/quarter (depending on size) the potatoes, add to the onion-basol mix and put it into the nest of lettuce.
  • Stir the prawns and put on top of the potatoes.

Variation 1 - Veggy Version
For a vegetarian version use a yellow and a red pepper and a handful of small broccoli roses instead of the prawns. Do as above, instead of preparing prawns:
  • Remove the seeds of the peppers and slice them.
  • Pre-cook the broccoli in the microwave for a 2 minutes (the moisture from washing is enough to steam them) or steam them until almost done.
  • When the peppers are still a bit crisp add the broccoli and the Chilli sauce. By the time the rest is finished they are done as well.
Version 2 - Potato Salad (veg)
This is a great addition to a BBQ. Leave out the lettuce and the prawn/veggy topping. Just create it as a potato salad adding some broccoli about 3/4 of the amount of potato you are using. Basically basil, onion, broccoli should be about the same volume as the potatoes.
  • Prepare the onion/basil mix as above,
  • add flavoured oil or a bit of chilli powder.
  • Steam/boil potatoes as above.
  • Steam small broccoli roses.
  • Mix it all together still warm.
  • Serve warm or keep at room temperature.
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Bulgur & Chicken in Orange Dressing

It's a shame that this one is more time consuming than the others, because it is my favourite. The bulgur is soaked and not cooked, thus it's 'al dente'.

The chicken is best if marinated for a while, the red pepper is best if smoked, and the mushrooms need a bit of attention as well. However this is a brilliant dish for guests as everything can be prepared and final touches are done in a jiffy.

And for vegetarians you just leave the chicken away and give them a bit more mushroom and peppers. If you want to be generous, then steam a few broccoli flowers to put on top.

Needs time
start: 4 hours before
final touches: 15 Minutes

  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 1 cup of bulgur
  • lettuce
  • 1 red pepper
  • 250 g mushrooms
  • 1-2 onion (preferably red)
  • 1-2 clove of garlic
  • 1 Orange
  • 5-6 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 tbs white balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander (fresh if available)
  • pepper
  • salt
  • 1 tsp Cajun spice
  • 1 tsp sweet red pepper powder

4 - 5 hours before:
  • cover the bulgur in water with a good 1/2" (1cm) water above the bulgur
2 hours before:
  • Mix 3-4 tbsp olive oil with Cajun spice and red pepper powder
  • slice the chicken breast and mix with the marinade
  • keep covered in the fridge
  • prepare the dressing
    • juice of 1 orange
    • 2 tbsp olive oil
    • 3 tbsp white Balsamic vinegar (increase amount to taste)
    • pepper
    • salt
    • ground coriander
    • garlic mashed
  • wash and strain the bulgur carefully and mix with the dressing.
  • keep covered for another 2 hours, stir after 1 hour.
When you have time:
  • Wash the lettuce and strain well
  • Peel the mushrooms. I have a rule of thumb. If the peel of the head comes off easily they get peeled, whether they are closed or not. From the base I cut off a few millimeters. If the base is hollow I remove it. This way I don't have to wash them. Mushrooms take on water very quickly, if you have to wash them do this quick and briefly and strain well.
  • Cut them in thin slices
  • Peel the onion, and
  • slice half of it thinly to get nice crescent shaped slices to decorate the salad leaves
  • the other half cut into chunky bits
  • roast the pepper either over an open flame of the hob (+1 minute of Microwave at the end) or under the grill.
  • take off the black peel carefully
  • remove the seeds and slice it into long stripes (keep at room temperature)
Keep everything covered until you are ready to go.

15 minutes before:
  • heat a frying pan (dry)
  • put in the chicken slices and fry on full heat until golden
  • switch down the heat to 1/2 power and turn them over
  • prepare a sheet of tin foil, shiny side up

  • Keep an eye on the chicken. It is done when on pressing it down with the back of a fork it feels solid. Take them out of the pan as they get done and wrap them im the tin
  • when the pan is empty add the chopped onions and glaze them, if it burns too much add a bit of water and stir, adjust the heat,
  • add the mushrooms and stir them in
  • stir from time to time

  • Meanwhile:
    • Place the lettuce on the plate and
    • stir the bulgur and place in the middle
    • drape the sliced onion and the smoked pepper strips around it
  • When
    • the mushrooms are done open the chicken parcel at one end and pour the juice into the mushrooms and stir
    • put them on top of the bulgur
    • drape the chicken strips around it

Variation 1 (mild chicken)
Same as above.
Instead of oil and spices mix oil and 2 tbsp of dark soy sauce to marinade the chicken.

Variation 2 (veg version)
Same as above.
Arrange steamed broccoli on top of the plate instead of chicken
If you want to do both versions in one go, take some of the mushrooms out and put it on the veggy plates before you add the juice to from the chicken.

Tuesday 25 January 2011

Weird Cheesecake

Download PDF
I know this kind of baked cheesecake from Germany, where it was a bit different from the usual recipe what made it very smooth and fresh.

When I came here I couldn't get some of the ingredients so I re-invented it the first time round - what made it very rich and creamy, much to the delight of our friends.

When I was looking for a protein bomb to support our new muscly lifestyle I re-invented it the second time - what made it weird, much to the disappointment of our friends.

Nevertheless, this recipe is very versatile, you can give it a lemon, orange or vanilla twist, you can play with the sweetness and you can play with the kind of fruit you can add. It is high in protein and low in fat (almost 0) and a slice of 1/12 of the whole cake has approx. 100 calories. If you are using sugar instead of sweetener that obviously will go up. I usually go easy on the sweetener/sugar. We prefer to have some maple syrup poured on top if we feel that it is not sweet enough.

protein bomb
low fat
Duration:1 hour 30 mins
You need:
Cold oven
Spring form (24cm/9.5'', or any other size)
Tin foil
2 Plates to match the form in size
2 Quark 250g (usually in the cheese shelves)
1 Yogurt 150g, fat free strained
2 Bananas, rather ripe

150 ml Orange Juice
4 TBS Lemon Juice (you may vary that)
2 Eggs medium-large
4 TBS Splenda sweetener

If you like:
Morello Cherries from the jar
Fresh or tinned raspberries
Natural vanilla extract
Try different kind of juice instead of Orange

If you find the outcome too soggy, that depends on the quality of yogurt and quark and which fruit you are using, then you can add 10g Corn flower the next time.

The stuff you are going to pour into the spring form is liquid and it usually runs through a bit as this cake doesn't have a base.

So take a sheet of tin foil which is bigger than your spring form. Put it on the table with the shiny side looking up, put the spring form on top and then form the tin foil nice and neat around the form so that it sits like in a bowl.

If you want to use fruits (best are actually pre-cooked and strained, fresh tends to have too much juice), place them on the bottom of the spring form.

Now fill the blender with all the stuff. The essentials are Quark, Yogurt, Banana, Egg, Juice. With the rest you can play, although I like it best fresh and lemony. 

Blend for a minute or a bit longer. It's supposed to get a bit of air in so that while baking the cake becomes a bit lighter.

Pop into the cold oven and bake on 140 degrees Celsius (285 Fahrenheit) for a good hour. Depending on how quickly your oven heats up. The cake should start to become a bit brown on the top, but only a bit. The picture above is a rather pale one, but my oven doesn't bake evenly. I have to stop it when 1 quarter becomes too dark. 

When finished leave it for a few minutes with the door half open and then carefully loosen the cake from the rim of the form and then let cool for a bit so that you can touch the form without mittens. 

Remove rim of the form and place one plate upside down on the cake. Now turn the whole thing over. Be careful there might be a bit of liquid accumulating (hence the pre-cooked fruit), remove the bottom of the form, place the second plate upside down on the cake, so that the cake is between the two plates now. Turn it back without pressing the cake too much. Now remove the top plate and the cake sits nicely the right way round on the plate that you put on second.

Let cool, and enjoy plain, with maple syrup, or whatever else you want to try it. I prefer it at room temperature so I usually pop my slice into the microwave for a few seconds, but that's your choice.

Keeps in the fridge for several days.

Wednesday 19 January 2011

Vit C - The Queen of Vitamins

First published in early spring 2008

When I was 23 years of age I had to see the doctors because of breathing problems due to our neighbours cat. All I had done was to help them move and I carried the cushions the cat had been sleeping on. They gave me inhalers and I had 3 years of hyposensibilisation treatment (you get a bit of the allergen injected in certain intervals to get your body used to it) which didn't work. I was promised that if I wouldn't take the medication - which contained steroids - I would develop asthma soon and be chronically ill. Well, throughout the period during which I got the treatments I DID feel chronically ill, I did'nt feel in control of my life anymore and I did'nt feel an improvement.
You may ask why I didn't just take some anti-histamine pills.Well, at that time I had stopped using contraception because my body didn't take it well.

"I'm hungry"

"Leave me alone"
My GP was very reluctant to give me a prescription for anti-histamine because there were no studies about these tablets and effects on the foetus. He recommended not to get pregnant for three month after I hadn't taken any of that stuff, because it needs that long to get washed out of the system.

That was some 25 years ago, these days things may have improved. However, I was desperate to find a relief that allowed me to study for University and to have a life without being worried once a month. Now I'm almost 47, and all I'm taking for my allergies is Vit C,... and I still didn't devolop an asthma ... and I own two cats!

This might not be working for everybody or for people who are critically ill. But it shows that there are cases where the usual treatment might not be the only or the best one. Sometimes a mix of standard medication and alternative treatment is the solution.

However, in my case:

Vit C it is!

Vit C plays a major role in many metabolic systems of the body, which to an extend feed back into one another. In other words: Vit C sticks it's nose into almost every game that is played in the body, and that is why it helps to lessen the impact of a virus or bacteria attack, as well as it works as a catalyser for certain medication, so that for example cancer patients need less pain killers.

Imagine the body being a big factory with conveyer belts criss-crossing; a bit like an airports suitcase transportation system. You pop something in at one end, and the belt starts running, triggers other unused belts within the factory to run, and if everything goes all right it is a smooth ride of belts.

Now imagine something that is involved in triggering almost every belt there is. Something like a police-suitcase that shoves the other ones into the right direction, and sorts out traffic jams and throws bad suitcases into the trash. This would be something like Vit C. 

Health diary needed!
It's just: In case of the body, what pops out of the other end is not a suitcase - but... poo - which will play a vital role in the whole game, I'm afraid. It may sound a bit as if I had an obsession there - given my article on 'How to go to the bathroom'. But think about it:

If you had a baby you would observe any bowel movement. This would give you a very first indication that something is not right. You would observe the colour, the consistency, the frequency and the time passed after the last meal. All that would give you an instinctive indication if everything is ok with your child. Only once we grow up we just find it disgusting. However, what happens inside remains the same procedure, and one can read information from it. There is basically no better means of home diagnosis than this free delivery from the inside. We put something into our mouth, it travels, gets changed here and there, and at every station where something happens it gathers information that gets transported to the outside - a bit like a spy. Basically it's a bit of a health diary. You only have to learn how to read it. 

Hiccups with the dosage
So let's go on with the story.

This factory is a sluggish system. It needs a while until police has arrived at every location needed, and eventually once triggered the conveyer belts start running one after another. But when they are running they are hard to stop, first they need to realise that there are no more suitcases coming before they are slowing down.

And as it is a one way system the police will be popped out at the other end as well. So you will have to feed them to the system constantly. Humans can't produce Vit C themselves so everything that is needed to get the job done has to be shoved into the system. If you have loads of blockages or bad suitcases you need more and if everything is running smoothly you need less.

That is the first hiccup: There is no measuring system on how much Vit C is in the blood and how much is needed so that you would know your dose at any given time. Like diabetic who can measure the blood sugar - there is no such thing for Vit C.

The second hiccup is the sluggishness. Imagine a time of hight demand (usually in shape of a virus) and you would increase the intake. Then things seem to be sorted and you want to cut back to your standard dose. If you stop feeding the system instantly it runs out of police quickly while all the belts are running and running. That is no problem if there is no traffic at all. But if there would all of a sudden a bad suitcase (usually in shape of a nasty bacteria), then all of the police would have been transported away, and all the systems could be travelled easily and thus infected (usually in the shape of a cold coming back worse than before). For the new police to arrive at the right location would need time and it would be an even harder job (usually resulting in the patient moaning: Vit C is not helping either).

So if you wanted to reduce the dose after a phase of high demand, then you would have to sneak it out. Eating less and less every day, so that you still had a few of police clearing up bits and pieces until the situation has settled entirely.

The third hiccup is the runns which you get when you overdose. And there we are back to the loo issue. Vit C has an very straight forward impact on digestion. Too much makes you a bit bloated at first (so it gives you a warning, at least) and if you then go on taking more - better stay close to the cubicle.

However, this is your big chance to find the right dose!

Over time you will get experienced and once you start listening to your body you will know.

Arguments of Vit C Objectors - and My Objections
AoO: Vit C gets passed through the body very fast. Actually it doesn't show up in the stool - it just effects its consistency immensely. It shows up in the urin. Opposers of Vit C usage claim that it is not necessary to take it, as it comes in a decent amount with a healthy diet anyway, and that all you do is to produce very expensive urin. 

MO: Well, if you take high doses of Vit C like I do, there will be a lot of it just weed away. But I don't mind, I have a very reasonable source. The fact that Vit C is water soluble and that it passes through the system without getting stored, reduces dangerous effects of overdosing. And given my general health with all the allergy stuff going on that keeps me from eating the healthy diet mentioned above, I have to supplement it anyway.

However, I DO over-supplement. I want to make sure that at any time my conveyer belts are running smoothely and are policed. The more that a few of my conveyer belts are broken, which causes the allergies. To avoid the allergic reaction I have to have police blocking those belts. If a suitcase would travel it and fall off the faulty belt, the debris caused would make me itch. So that is one reason why I need a bit more than other people. The higher levels of Vit C makes the other parts run more efficiently and avoiding the faulty bits.
I promise you - that can be explained scientifically as well, but you don't want to read that! I find the conveyer belts much more entertaining.

A measuring spoon for 2.5 ml is approximately 1g of Vit C
So, how to dose?

Now the bowel movement comes into the game. Even as a child I was more often constipated than not. I never went to the bathroom without my fairy tale books. If I only would have known then! I sometimes left the bathroom hardly being able to walk from needles and pins in my legs, with the book finished - but not the business.

And wonder, oh wonder; when I started to use Vit C that problem normalised. The better I felt with the allergies the more normal I became in that department.
And then I noticed something new. Whenever a cold was approaching it started with constipation a few days before the nose was running.

Although during the first years things were a bit all over the place, and I had to learn a lot about myself. Just to give you an idea:

Recommended dose of Vit C per day is something around 100mg (it varies a bit for male, female, smokers and so on). It is important that you realise we are talking about milligramme!

Somebody healthy who would all of a sudden take something like 1 gramme might feel a bit of a bloat and if taking up to 5 gramme could lock the bathroom door from the inside for the rest of the day. In my first year of my Vit C addiction during the grass pollen time - oompf, I hate that one the most - I had up to 26! gramme a day. Whenever I was exposed I took a 1 gramme tablet which gave me a relieve for half an hour or so. But most importantly - I was hovering rather than walking from all the gas, but I was still constipated. Apparently my body was using most of that stuff. That got better year after year, and now I have my daily vitamin drink in the morning with 1g of Vit C powder which I get from an online pharmacy, and that's it! Very rarely I use tablets which I can carry with me these days. The past few years I always had to throw away the leftovers of the box because they were past the best by date. 

And another hiccup
Being used to my morning routine and feeling well, I sometimes neglect to listen to my body. That's what happened to me this winter. When the first cold came rolling in, I didn't increase the dose and then sneaked it out as I would have done during the first alert years. So part of my series of colds and the severity of them quite likely was home made - I'm very sorry that you had to listen to my moaning all winter long!

The best course of action once my sensors screamed 'attack coming' would have been to have a vitamin C drink three times a day, and for acute attacks to carry the tablets (Tesco, 500mg) with me for instant relieve. And once things got better to first reduce the amount of tablets and then to only two drinks per day for a few days, to then reduce to standard morning drink.

Silly me didn't do any of this. Well, open plan office with a lot of sneezing and coughing people doesn't really help to stay healthy either, and I might have caught the one or the other bug anyway. However, I'm sure I could have saved me at least parts of the trouble.

So let's look forward to spring with it's flowering trees.

Cheers to the Vitamin C drink!

Thursday 6 January 2011

The Big Sugar Experiment

first published Easter 2009


Why on earth does sugary stuff have to taste so good? Even when meat is roasted it’s the sugars that are built in the brown crust making it so damn tasty. And it smells so good! It’s not the sugar itself, but everything that is made with sugar smells irresistibly yummy.

Unfortunately to a lot of us sugary things are addictive. One starts with a single biscuit one day, and ends up of having eaten a whole bar of chocolates by lunchtime the other. Once I reach that phase almost everything is lost and I am out for a kill if somebody would dare taking my sweets from me.

Sugar is meant to give the body energy and one is supposed to feel up and running, but unfortunately – again – that is just not the case for me. Periods during one is on the ‘up’ are getting shorter and the sugar crash becomes harder and harder to endure. Hence the need for having the chocolate bar close at all times. Handbags, cars, sport bags, next to the computer, in my drawer at work, everywhere is a stock of sweets.

And sugar seems to have some direct impact on the guts. I have no scientific proof, but I can eat a pound of onions and not getting as bloated as after one week of constant sugar intake. I guess it has to do with some chemical reaction, like the one that happens when you mix warm water with yeast. It makes nice bubbles. And when sugar is added the bubbles go bonkers.

This feeling of hovering through life alongside with nipping waist bands results in a profound grumpiness. Unfortunately grumpiness makes me act like an insubordinate child, refusing any sensible action and making me sink into lazy arm chair hugging, subsequently leading to padding around all sorts of body parts, and the need for more sugar…

So this is not just about weight loss: this is about getting balance into wonky mood levels caused by sugar hype and crash, and to get rid of the veil of numbness that is caused by a metabolism going berserk. Vicious circles are a sure sign of addiction and hence I thought of a scheme to help me come off it:

The Big Sugar Experiment!

Step 1: During a weekend eat everything sweet in the house. Hopefully that will make you feel really bad, bloated and nauseous, but happy in a way that nothing goes to waste.

C’mon, it’s just ONE week!
Step 2: Reduce sugar intake as much as possible for one week. Skip sweets, chocolates and biscuits altogether. For the rest of the sugars reduce them as much as possible. Some dishes only become palatable if they have sugar in it: sugar in coffee or tea? Try to use a little less and drink a cup less. If you like ketchup or other dishes containing sugar, again: try to use less sugar or eat less of the dish. Just be aware where there are sugars in and how much you eat or drink of it.

The rest of the food and drinks stay untouched. This is about sugar - only deal with one nuisance at a time.

Well done!
You did one week – You surely can do another!
Step 3: After each week you get to decide whether or not you want to go ahead with the experiment. You either can stop and stuff your head with sweets again, or you can skip sugar for another week – c’mon, it’s just ONE week!

Sh.. happens – what if you slip?
You just ignore it. However, your penalty is that you will have lost the option of choice at the end of the week, and that you will have to stick with the experiment for one more week.

It is getting easier with every week, believe me! Are you with me? Join me in the:

The Big Sugar Experiment

... and let me know how you are getting on.