JOANNA'S FOOD: family cooking, from scratch, every day

Friday, May 27, 2005

Toast and Marmite ...

We decided on a complete change - if no butter, then none of that fancy marge either. Early on we were pointed in the direction of the new marge that lowers cholesterol, but when I read the instructions, it turns out you have to eat it two or three times a day to have any effect, and that's not going to help a total change of eating habits. So olive oil. Problem: how can you eat toast and Marmite without butter?

So far, I haven't found anything that's quite right, but here are a couple of solutions. Put Marmite on the toast, then a thin layer of 0% fromage frais, or a little of the new ultra lite (ie under 5% fat) Philadelphia. Lucius doesn't like either of these ideas, and eats dry toast with Marmite, but I can't do that. Either way, it's not the same, it's not as nice, and you don't want to eat it so much. And that, of course, is the point.


Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Getting started ...

So what happens is, you decide to eat healthy heart food, you read some of the British Heart Foundation booklets they gave you in the hospital, you go to the supermarket full good resolutions, you read a few labels and discover everything is full of fat and salt and sugar, and if it's not it's got transfats, and you don't really know what they are but you know you shouldn't be eating them. And you think, well okay, he's on statins, it'll be okay, diet doesn't matter very much, the statins will take care of it. So then I thought about the 20 or so minutes before we reached the hospital when I really thought he might die, and thought that my genes are probably just as dodgy as his - and our children are too young to be orphaned.

When I came back from that shopping trip, I felt I had lost my culinary bearings - just how much saturated fat was there in parmesan? In Somerset goat's cheese? In a lamb chop? In a coconut? I bought piles of books, but they mostly seemed to be full of bland food utterly unlike what we were used to. Sue Kreitzman's books were the most useful, full of tips and useful recipes, but, even so, the whole thing felt rather staid, and not the kind of thing you could imagine Nigel Slater or Nigella getting the saucepans out for. So I read them, put them away, and got out my "proper" cookbooks. And started cooking again, adapting, discarding, picking up on new tastes.

And that's the key: as you eat more vegetables, less saturated fat, your tastebuds change, and you have to be receptive to this, start cooking things you might not have tried before. As you take out the saturated fat, you realise how much we have traditionally relied on this highly unsuitable food as a flavouring. And so you add herbs, spices. You learn that nuts are good to eat so long as they're not roasted and salted, and that not only are they not fattening, but they'll help you lose weight. You find that if you eat porridge or home-made muesli with lots of dried fruit at breakfast, you don't really want anything to eat until lunchtime. And then, if you eat - say - vegetable soup, some wholemeal bread and a salad, you probably won't get a chocolate craving in the afternoon. And if you do, well then dried fruit is good, and dried pineapple works the very best. And after a while, without ever trying or limiting the amount you eat or being faddy, you find you have more energy than before, and that you are two dress sizes smaller than you used to be.


This is well worth the very little trouble it takes.

When you read the ingredients list on shop muesli, it's rather surprising to find sugar and milk powder, and coconut (saturated fat problem) - and you thought this was a health food. Luckily it only takes a few minutes to make, and you don't have to make it very often. Get a really big bowl. Put in a packet of rolled oats. Stir in as many packets of dried fruit and nuts as you like - I like it to be at least half fruit and nuts, because it's almost the only way to get Lucius to eat them. At first I used to chop them up, but now I don't bother. If you've got a sweet tooth, then put in lots of fruit (dried cranberries and cherries, as well as raisins, apricots, pineapple, dates, although I draw the line at freeze-dried strawberries). I also always put in various seeds - sunflower, poppy, pumpkin, whatever there is. Mix it all together, and then store it in a big jar. It needs an occasional stir because the smaller things tend to sink to the bottom, and sometimes you need to add a few more bits before it's all finished up.

You can eat this in a variety of ways. Mostly, we just pour milk on it and eat it straight away. Often I eat it with 0% fat Greek yoghurt. Sometimes I grate an apple into it and cover it with apple juice. Even more rarely, I do this the night before, and then it's like a sort of uncooked porridge. At this point I have been known to add blueberries.

It is much more delicious than any muesli I have ever bought. My sister in law toasts the oatmeal, and that is very delicious, but too much trouble for me - the only time I tried, the first batch was undercooked, the second was burnt. The main thing is not to worry too much about the ingredients, just accept that it will taste slightly different every time you make it.


Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Onions and garlic

The onion family is very good for healthy heart eating. I used to roast whole onions (the small so-called cooking onions you get in a large bag in the supermarket) for about an hour, when we were having a roast dinner. Now I find them rather bland, because they have effectively steamed in their skins. They taste very sweet. You can do the same with a whole head of garlic, and then lop off the top and squeeze it like a delicious toothpaste onto bread, or eat it with whatever else you're eating.

These days, I use the big Spanish onions, peel and slice them, put them on a roasting tray with some olive oil, and bake them for about half an hour. Sometimes I forget, and the edges get really black, and Lucius - amazingly - says they're even better that way. I occasionally add chunks of red and orange pepper to this mix, but generally it's just the onions. They go with everything, and they keep for days in the fridge. Rather like the salsa verde, they're useful to pep up something bland when you're in a hurry. Huge reward for little effort (I know that for this type of cooking I do have the advantage of the Aga; all the same, I'd switch the oven on specially to make roasted onions).


Here's something else from the onion family that we eat occasionally, this is a pungent Greek dip - we first had it at a small Greek restaurant run by an energetic old lady in a village half way between the site of the Battle of Lepanto and Missalonghi where Byron died (neither of which we visited).

Peel and cube 2 large potatoes; cook through. Process with 100g of blanched almonds (or pine nuts), 4-15 (yes!) cloves of garlic, 250 ml of olive oil, 1 tbsp red wine vinegar. Again, this is a recipe you can vary - I've never made it with blanched almonds, because I never have them in the house, and I'm really not going to start peeling nuts just to improve the look of the thing. I've got another version of this which uses bread instead of potatoes - let me know if you'd like that and I'll post it.

It really is worth a try. You can use it as a dip with chopped vegetables, or you can add it to soup and stew.

This week's experiment is going to be a sourdough loaf, which will involve making a starter which captures natural yeasts. I've tried this before, and only succeeded in making a nasty smell in the scullery. The new instructions are simpler, and only take five days to get to the breadmaking stage. I'll keep you posted.


Monday, May 23, 2005

Blogger seeking comments.... Do give it a go....

I've had lots of great emails and conversations with you about this blog, which is great. The blog would be hugely enriched if you occasionally contributed something in the comments ... then it's like a conversation - you can add a better idea, or ask about something, or just pass the time of day. It really is very easy to add a comment, just as easy as sending an email. In order that I don't feel hugely bossy, I am going to give you an extract from a blog written by a great friend of ours who got me started on this. She had exactly the same problem when she started her blog in December ... here are her instructions for how to blog:

"I have had so many wonderfully sustaining, touching, funny, irreverent emails in response to my blog ... that the only disappointment has been the near-zero take up on the comments front. If it works, it can be a brilliant further dimension to the blog, like a friendly mutually supportive forum, we are all friends together here I promise you. ...

To begin with, I thought that the reason I wasn’t getting any comments was because you were all too shy and retiring…. but I’ve changed my mind.Having asked several of you specifically to post comments, really quite clever people with degrees and Phds and ologies as Maureen Lipman would say, and discovering the only people who have found their way onto the blog are Nigel and Sally Swycher from La Jolla, California (America is another country and they do things differently there, so they don’t count) and a quartet of 11 and 12 year old girls from the City of London School for Girls. Now they are extremely bright and applied, and obviously a credit to their academic institution, which came 10th in the Sunday Times League Tables by the way, so I attach no blame or censure whatever when I say with all respect that what you probably need is a teeny bit of HELP.

I therefore contacted lovely patient David Cohen from Conde Nast who helped me set the whole thing up. He has logged onto the blog today and agrees that it's “not that easy” to navigate, which is IT-ese for impossible, and offers these “ simple and usable instructions”. Let me know if he’s lying.

Apparently, the way it works is:

You choose the post (i.e. diary entry) you wish to reply to. You click the "0 comments" (or "1 comment" etc) link at the bottom, which will take you to a new screen with just the post you have chosen and any and all comments already made to that post. Scroll down to the bottom of this and click "Post a comment".

This will take you to a log-in screen. If you have a Blogspot account you can log in, and the comment will appear under your username. This is not rocket science and could be an option if you fancy making frequent comments. If you don't, you can click "log in anonymously". Don’t worry, I am getting to the point very soon, now, so do wake up there at the back.

Either option will lead to a final screen where you can compose your message. If you log in anonymously you can simply add your name to the bottom of your comment, so I know it’s come from you. Be sure to click "publish comment", too, not sure what the precise wording is but it will be something like that.

If for any reason, you subsequently have second thoughts about your comment, such as there being someone who might log on who you would prefer not to read it, and would rather it were deleted from the record, email me ( and ask me to delete it. Apparently only I can do this because I am the all-powerful "Administrator" ..

Dave then concludes thus. And I have to tell you I have already majorly simplified his message. “I hope the above makes sense - I'm sure if you give out these instructions, once people have done it once or twice they'll see that it’s quite easy once they know what they're doing.”

Let me know if he’s right."

DO give it a try
PS thanks Debs!

Salsa verde

Okay, well I think I've made everyone feel thoroughly daunted by posting that list of good things to eat. Those are just suggestions for what you can best eat instead of all the nasty saturated fats you are taking out of your diet. They come from the Superfoods book listed, as do the suggestions for how often you could be eating them for maximum benefit. We try to eat a lot of those foods, but don't always manage. And we don't worry about it, because our number one rule is NOT TO BECOME NEUROTIC ABOUT FOOD.

When we began this, the biggest problem seemed to be making food taste of something. No butter, not much salt, no cheese, it all began to seem rather tasteless. We eat enormous quantities of herbs, and quite a few spices. Lucius claims that spices are "wasted on him", but we now eat quite a lot of mild curry (cumin, maybe just a little chili), and he likes it a lot. (By the way, when making mild curry, be aware that coconut contains a great deal of saturated fat.)

Salsa verde

Salsa verde is something I always have on the go - it makes anything bland taste wonderful. We use it on potatoes, in soup, with boring chicken breast when I couldn't think of anything to cook. It takes five minutes to make, keeps at least a week, and is particularly useful for producing instant meals.

This is the basic recipe, which you must feel free to vary. It's slightly different every time I make it.

Process 2 cloves of garlic, some capers, a tin of anchovy fillets, a bunch of flat parsley, of basil, of mint, 1 tbsp Dijon mustard, 3 tbsp red wine vinegar, 8 tbsp good olive oil. You can vary the proportions. It's especially good with a lot of mint, and I often use coriander. The aim is to get a sauce the consistency of homemade mayonnaise (but it's quicker and easier to make).

Monday, May 16, 2005

Some basic rules

I made this rule sheet a couple of weeks ago, and, as I was writing it, became aware that we have been backsliding. So we've got sterner recently. But the idea of using strict rules for home eating is that then, when we're out, we don't have to fuss if we can't follow the diet. It's a way of life, so it needs to incorporate the occasional treat (thank you Isabel E for introducing us to the Artisan du Chocolat), the occasional lapse.

What the sheet below doesn't say is that processed food should be a no-no. Once you start reading the labels, you quickly realise that, however fancily they package it, processed food contains high levels of fat (mostly saturated), salt and sugar. These are all things to avoid. So you need to know how much of them you are actually eating - which means putting them in yourself. Or not.

I was given a really good piece of advice by a nurse in the cardiac department of the Ninewells Hospital in Dundee: don't think about what you're taking out of your diet, think about what you're putting in. So we started by concentrating on putting in the seven portions of fruit and veg (now I'm told it should be nine!), which naturally limits the amount of other things you can eat. And because cheese is largely off limits, I started to develop other ideas for flavourings to add when I would have added cheese. I'll post something in a day or two about the way I've tackled that problem (I think it's been our biggest problem, because we used to eat quite a lot of cheese without really noticing the totals).


* Do not think of what you are taking out of your diet, think of what you are putting in.
* Aim to eat seven portions of fruit and veg a day (this is the most important rule – if you’re only going to make one change, this should be the one).
* Eat more fish.
* Meat: twice a week max, and no more than the size of a cigarette packet at once (also cut away all visible fat). Never eat chicken skin.
* Cheese: once a week max, and no more than the size of a matchbox at once.
* Eggs: 2-3 a week (but as much egg white as you like, which means you can adapt lots of recipes which call for eggs).
* Butter, cream: never! Use olive oil instead. And fat free fromage frais.
* Pudding, if any, should almost always be fruit (fresh or cooked).
* A little black chocolate once or twice a week is fine; nuts &/or dried fruit are good to nibble on.


* Legumes: all kinds – green beans, baked beans, chickpeas, lentils etc
* Cabbage family – not just broccoli, but also Brussels sprouts, chard, rocket, cauliflower, watercress, kale, turnips, all kinds of greens
* Cereals: oats, wheatgerm, ground flaxseed, brown/wild rice, barley, wheat, buckwheat, rye, millet, bulgur wheat, spelt, couscous, etc
* Oranges, lemons, tangerines, limes, and grapefruit, unless you’re on statins, in which case never. It shouldn’t all be in the form of juice, as part of the goodness is in the fibre. The zest is good, too
* Pumpkin: also carrots, butternut squash, sweet potatoes and orange peppers
* Salmon, also halibut, tinned tuna, sardines, herring, trout, sea bass, oysters, clams
* Spinach: also kale, spring greens, pak choi, Romaine lettuce
* Tea: black tea is fine
* Tomatoes: also watermelon, papaya, guava
* Skinless chicken/turkey breast
* Nuts: walnuts, almonds, pistachios, sesame seeds, peanuts, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, pecans, hazelnuts, cashews. NB not roasted/salted
* Yoghurt, fat free and unsweetened
* Blueberries, red grapes, cranberries, loganberries, raspberries, strawberries, currants, blackberries, cherries
* Onions, garlic, shallots


* Be strict at home so you don’t have to fuss when you’re out.
* Don’t worry if you lapse, this is not “being on a diet”, this is a way of life. Just try not to lapse too often or for too long.
* Menna’s tip is to ask caterers for “no dairy”, and you’ll generally get plain cooked food, with no sauce, no fat, and fruit salad to follow.


* Anything by Sue Kreitzman.
* Superfoods, by Steven Pratt and Kathy Matthews. Written in American self-help style, but interesting (the basis of the good things to eat section).
* in the BBC Good Food book series, a little square book called 101 Low-fat Feasts has lots of good ideas.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Something a little more glamorous

Having started blogging this morning on a whim, I am now worrying that the kedgeree recipe will give the impression that we have become earnest, sandal-wearing, bean-eating near veggies, who only eat food that is brown, mushy, ugly and tasteless. Well, no, actually. As this unfolds, I will explain some of our new basic recipes, which take the place of the saturated fats we used to use as flavourings (butter, cream, etc). But in the mean time, I'm going to post a fantastic Raymond Blanc recipe I tried this week.

Essence of tomatoes

This requires two short bursts of activity, and can be made ahead. It is utterly delicious. The ingredients seem a little extravagent, but the pulp can be used either to make a stock (that's what I did this week, and it is going to be the basis of a beetroot risotto this evening), or to add to the bolognese sauce to increase daily veg portions without making people feel deprived of meat. (Actually, now I come to think of it, this is the ideal way to add veg to mince, because it wouldn't make it watery.)

Process: 2.5kg good tomatoes, 1 stick of celery, 1 shallot, half a bulb of fennel, 1 clove of garlic, some thyme, a little tarragon (I don't grow this, and couldn't find it locally), some basil, 1 tbsp sugar, 2 pinches of cayenne pepper, 5 drops of Worcs sauce, 3 drops of Tabasco (I might leave this out next time). Leave this to marinade all day.

Next you have to strain the pulp. I've got a fine seive, and that worked well. But you could use muslin, or a kitchen cloth. RB says that it needs straining for "at least 15 mins". Well, it's not nearly long enough. Half an hour would get most of the juice, a hour would get it all. DO NOT THROW AWAY THE PULP (see above). Chill the tomato essence.

You could just drink this wonderful cold soup like this, with a few drops of olive oil and some finely shredded basil leaves. But it is even better - and more glamorous - with tomato chopped into it. What you do is skin and deseed six large plum tomatoes, chop them up small, and put this mixture into the bottom of your soup plates. If you want real glamour, you can arrange them using a ring (we used an egg-poaching ring, but a napkin ring would do as well), and gently spoon the soup round it, and then float the shredded basil and oil round the tower. There isn't always time for this sort of caper, but even without it, the soup is delicious, and a lot cheaper than a visit to the Manoir au 4 Saisons.


This morning I made kedgeree for breakfast. It took not much more than 10 minutes, and was delicious. As we were eating it, I wondered if, next time, I would remember how I had cooked it. And then it occured to me that if I blogged my food discoveries, I'd never lose them in the general household muddle that is my filing system. It would also make it easy for all those people who have asked about our new, post-heart-attack diet.

We try to eat kippers once a week. Living, as we do, as far from the sea as you can get in the British Isles, it is sometimes tricky getting hold of decent, undyed kippers. If we manage to get those (Tesco is our best source), I put them in foil in the oven for 15-10 minutes to heat them through without stinking out the house. We eat them on toast with tomatoes, either raw or also cooked in the oven. But, if we can't get decent kippers, and have to resort to dyed fillets, they're not so good cooked in that way, because they taste rather harsh. So ...


I cooked one mug of basmati rice and a cardamom (split open) with two and a half mugs of water. Once I got the rice on, I put the 3 kipper fillets in a flat serving dish and poured boiling water over them. Then I chopped up 3 spring onions and a handful of parsley. When the rice had absorbed all the water (watch carefully, or it sticks to the bottom of the pan; you lose the bottom inch or so of rice astonishingly quickly, and you have to soak the pan for an hour to free it), I covered it with a tea towel while I drained and flaked the fish in the same dish. I added the rice, a small pot of 0% Greek yoghurt (150g) and the greens.

The yoghurt was much nicer than all that butter people generally use in kedgeree, because it gave it an edge. Half way through eating it, I thought that it would have been even better if I had finished it with lemon zest and juice. Next time.